Promoting Pro Bono
Philip Vickers inspires colleagues to help others move forward in life
Published in 2019 Texas Rising Stars magazine
on March 14, 2019
Updated on July 18, 2019
At a Fort Worth nursing home for low-income people, one of the residents, a disabled man in his 50s, met a woman and married her, then watched as she moved to a different facility and began dating someone else. He wanted a divorce, but he was short on funds. That’s when he approached Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.
The case fell to Philip Vickers, a litigator who had been wanting to take on some pro bono work. “That’s how I got started,” he says.
Growing up in Brady, a hunting community on the edge of Texas Hill Country, Vickers was inspired by his mother, a teacher recognized for giving time to a variety of school-related activities and community groups like the local Chamber of Commerce and a domestic violence shelter. He wanted to give back, too.
Vickers, now 39, studied political economics at Michigan’s Hillsdale College. Determined to pursue some sort of graduate degree, he chose the University of Texas School of Law, where he served as editor of the Texas Review of Law & Politics. “I was just following where the path led me,” he says. He started as a U.S. District Court trial clerk, then pursued litigation.
After joining Fort Worth’s Cantey Hanger in 2007, Vickers reached out to Legal Aid of Northwest Texas. Its primary need was family law. “Not my specialty,” he notes.
He jumped in anyway. The agency provided Vickers with access to its staff to help him take on cases involving divorce, child custody and child support. One woman who needed help with a divorce had married by proxy a man imprisoned for driving a robbery getaway car.
Short-staffed with its own attorneys, who must focus on the most complicated and crucial cases, Legal Aid depends on pro bono work by attorneys like Vickers to handle other cases, such as helping a single mom get child support.
“It’s a very fulfilling thing,” Vickers says. “Your clients are so happy. You’re helping them overcome something that’s an impediment to them moving forward in life.”
Vickers helped one father reconnect with his family even though he was way behind on child support. “He was able to meet the daughter he hadn’t seen for a decade,” Vickers says. “He was trying to make good on his child support. It was a case where we were able to create reconciliation.”
Eager to involve his colleagues at Cantey Hanger, where he is vice chair of the firm’s litigation section, Vickers proposed a partnership with Legal Aid in which each associate would take on a few cases a year. He reasoned they could appear in court, maybe even go to trial, picking up useful experience. That partnership, launched in 2010, continues today.
Vickers is also a committee member and former chair of the Tarrant County Volunteer Attorney Services, a group connecting lawyers with those needing pro bono help. Founded in 2012 by the Tarrant County Bar Foundation, TVAS also offers to train attorneys in family law basics—again, clients’ most pressing area of need. TVAS’ services have grown to encompass estate planning and guardianship.
Not content to just recruit colleagues at his own firm, he co-wrote a May 2016 Texas Bar Journal article with Fort Worth lawyers Megan Cooley and Shauna Wright, arguing that pro bono work serves the greater good. “Your firm’s pro bono service plays an important part in the overall prosperity of your city,” they wrote. “Just as there is a societal economic cost to poverty, pro bono legal services provide an economic benefit.”
For Vickers, the commitment is a matter of faith. “There are instructions in the Bible to help widows and orphans, and that’s kind of what you feel you’re doing when do you this kind of work,” he says. “Doing pro bono is a way to feel your skills are going toward something that isn’t just about the bottom line.”
How You Can Help
These organizations need attorneys to donate legal services for low-income residents:
Tarrant County Volunteer Attorney Services
tvasdoingourpart.com; [email protected];
Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans
Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas
Houston Volunteer Lawyers
The Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid
Equal Justice Center
Lone Star Legal Aid