Norma Trusch and Jack Emmott, two Houston-based family lawyers, Collaborative Law Institute of Texas past and present board members, and collaborative proponents who have spearheaded efforts to bring pro bono collaborative law services to a wider range of Houstonians seeking divorces, were honored this week with the Trailblazer Award from Houston Volunteer Lawyers for their work.
This past November, Trusch led the initial training session for Houston Volunteer Lawyers members willing to help couples settle their divorces in a modified version of collaborative law. According to Alissa Rubin Gomez, executive director of Houston Volunteer Lawyers (the non-profit arm of the Houston Bar Association), divorce has been one of the most commonly-requested legal areas for clients seeking HVL's legal services since HVL opened its doors in 1981, but it hasn't been able to offer those clients the collaborative option.
In receiving the award, Trusch noted, “The greatest demand for pro bono representation is in the area of family law, but many potential volunteers are uncomfortable in family court. Collaborative Law offers an opportunity for corporate and civil attorneys to help meet the needs of those who cannot afford to hire an attorney without having to go to family court to litigate. I look forward to the time when our pilot program goes statewide and the benefits of collaborative law become available to all Texans, regardless of their ability to pay.”
Upon receiving his award, Emmott said, “I agree with Norma that the Collaborative Law process should not be a privilege of the purse. The clients we are working with have expressed gratitude for the unique opportunity to benefit from the process, which previously had not been available to low income consumers. We are fortunate that Alissa Rubin Gomez is such an enthusiastic supporter of the process and the program; her enthusiasm is contagious and carries over to the entire program.”
He added, “Professionally, the rewards Norma and I received cannot be measured by dollars or fees earned. As John Bunyon expressed, ‘You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.’ That is the hallmark of the program and the hope it holds for low-income families who have the same needs for resolution and peace as all families regardless of their financial resources.”
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Houston Volunteer Lawyers offers divorcing couples the opportunity to schedule three two-hour meetings with lawyers in order to arrive at a settlement in a process that Trusch and Emmott coordinated to streamline, with the option for additional meetings if lawyers are willing to extend the pro bono services. The first divorcing couples in the program are currently working through their cases, and their lawyers expect the couples to reach settlement in the coming months.