Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA)
Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, or TRLA, as it is affectionately known in some circles, is a non-profit agency that specializes in providing free civil legal services to the indigent residents of Central, South and West Texas. TRLA's staff includes approximately 175 lawyers and 65 paralegals and social workers located in 19 offices throughout the state. Program headquarters are in Weslaco, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, with branch offices located in Austin, El Paso, Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Del Rio, Eagle Pass, Harlingen, Edinburg, Laredo, Sinton, and Victoria. TRLA also houses its Southern Migrant Legal Services Project out of an office in Nashville, TN.
Migrant and seasonal farm workers, domestic violence victims, victims of elder abuse, the homeless, and displaced workers are among the many clients served each year by TRLA staff. Cases range from routine family law counseling to complex litigation in state and federal courts from the local Justice of the Peace to the United States Supreme Court. TRLA is the largest legal aid provider in Texas, and the third largest of its kind in the entire U.S.
TRLA provides services in direct civil legal representation, operates hotlines and other phone-based services, engages in community legal education, and supports other area service providers. TRLA collaborates with a number of nonprofit organizations throughout the state including domestic violence shelters, community development corporations, and housing and revitalization organizations to name a few. TRLA also provides staff and volunteer private attorneys to assist nonprofit organizations with legal issues through one of its projects, Texas C-BAR.
TRLA clients share two very important characteristics: they are overwhelmingly Latino, and they are oppressively poor. Southwest Texas consistently has three of the five poorest counties in the nation, and the unemployment rate in many border counties rarely dips into single digits. The employment available is mostly low-wage and often sporadic, driving tens of thousands into the migrant labor stream each harvest season. Over 90% of TRLA's clients are of Mexican descent. Upwards of one-half of the clients speak Spanish as their primary language, as do the vast majority of TRLA staff.
An experienced and talented staff allow TRLA to provide very high quality legal services to these clients. TRLA recruits bilingual attorneys from law schools throughout the country, and in spite of very low wages, attracts many lawyers who would be welcome in the most prestigious law firms in the country.
TRLA opened a Public Defender office in Del Rio that includes the counties of Val Verde, Edwards, Kinney and Terrell. TRLA will provide the full range of legal representation, from initial screening to trial to appeals, in misdemeanor, felony and juvenile cases in the 4 counties.
Recently TRLA opened another Public Defender office in Willacy County which also provides the full range of legal representation, from initial screening to trial to appeals, in misdemeanor, felony and juvenile cases.