Business and community leader and advocate Priscilla Guajardo Cortez has been selected to lead Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas, which helps low-income individuals access the civil justice system by providing volunteer attorneys who donate legal advice and representation. In 2016 alone, the 35-year-old organization provided legal services valued at nearly $5 million to more than 7,000 clients, thanks to its 600 volunteer attorneys.
Cortez comes to the executive director position from the University of Texas System, where she was executive director of philanthropy, and as a nonprofit development consultant for Lee and Associates. Her many accomplishments at UT System included pioneering regional fundraising strategies, leading efforts on collaborative fundraising among the System’s 14 institutions, and raising millions of dollars for higher education initiatives.
Her two decades of experience also include nonprofit governance and program management, including serving as legal counsel and director of special projects for Southwest Key Programs, an Austin-based national nonprofit organization committed to keeping at-risk youth out of institutions.
Cortez and her husband, John-Michael Cortez, helped to create FuturoFund Austin, the first-of-its kind Hispanic-focused giving circle, to raise philanthropic support for Austin nonprofit organizations in the areas of education, arts, and health. The all-volunteer group has given grants totaling more than $150,000 since it was founded in 2008.
She received her law degree from St. Mary’s University, a master of education in higher education administration from the University of Texas at Austin, and undergraduate degree from Texas A&M University.
In her new role as executive director of Volunteer Legal Services, Cortez—an attorney herself—will focus on expanding the organization to serve even more low-income clients in need of legal services through raising more money, improving outreach efforts, and expanding the staff to address the growing needs in Central Texas.
VLS is best known for its effectiveness in addressing the inequality in the justice system by being a matchmaker of attorney volunteers with clients who need their expertise and representation to overcome pressing civil legal problems such as home foreclosures, evictions and landlord/tenant disputes, divorce and child custody cases, and domestic violence. VLS supports its attorney volunteers with resources, trainings, and mentorship from judges and other leaders in the legal community.
According to Volunteer Legal Services board chair Susan Kidwell, “Priscilla brings passion, excitement, and new ideas to VLS. We look forward to her leadership in guiding the organization into the future and ensuring that people most in need have equal access to justice,” Kidwell says.
“I’m honored and couldn’t be more excited to join the dedicated Volunteer Legal Services staff and Board in advancing our important mission,” Cortez says. “More than ever, VLS programs and services are urgently needed. The widening income inequality across Central Texas coupled with the high cost of legal services makes access to justice impossible for the most vulnerable in our communities. We have an incredible opportunity to have an even greater impact, and my goal is to bring the resources and recognition the organization needs to do so.”
About Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas
Volunteer Legal Services of Central Texas helps low-income clients access the civil justice system by providing volunteer attorneys who donate free legal advice and representation, and by supporting and training those attorneys. In 2016, nearly 600 VLS attorneys served more than 7,000 people, donating 19,086 hours of free legal services valued at $4,924,522. For more information, go to http://www.vlsoct.org or call 512-476-5550.