Founded in 1970 to represent Texas farmworkers, TRLA has grown into the nation’s third largest legal aid provider and the largest in Texas. TRLA provides free civil legal services to residents in 68 Southwest Texas counties, and represents migrant and seasonal farm workers throughout the state and in six other southern states. TRLA also operates public defender programs that serve at least 10 Texas counties, representing low-income and indigent people accused of felonies, misdemeanors, and juvenile crimes. TRLA serves about 23,000 clients each year. However, more than 2.6 million residents of Southwest Texas are considered eligible for TRLA services, a ratio of almost 21,000 potential clients per legal aid lawyer. As a result, thousands of low-income Texans still lack access to civil legal representation.
TRLA attorneys specialize in more than 45 practice areas, including family, employment, foreclosure, bankruptcy, subsidized housing, farmworker, civil rights, and environmental law. TRLA serves its clientele through its Mercedes headquarters and branch offices throughout Southwest Texas. Its Southern Migrant Legal Services (SMLS) office in Nashville, Tenn., serves migrant farm workers in that state and five others: Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas.
TRLA is funded principally by Legal Services Corporation, the federal agency that provides financial resources to legal aid organizations throughout the nation, and by Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF), which was created by the Texas Supreme Court in 1984. TRLA receives smaller grants from a variety of federal, state and local agencies, foundations, and corporations. In addition, the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense funds TRLA’s growing public defender program.
TRLA has developed other special programs that serve specific client populations: Legal Aid for Survivors of Sexual Assault (LASSA), funded by TAJF; the Texas Foster Youth Project, and Texas C-Bar, which provides legal services to small businesses and nonprofits.