While attending the UNT Dallas College of Law (UNTD COL) John VanBuskirk always stood out. He was noticeably older than the other students as well as a retired major in the U.S. Air Force and Army, but the thing that separated John from his peers most was his unrivaled dedication to pro bono work. Before graduating from UNTD COL in 2017, John logged nearly 800 pro bono hours. He was recognized for his amazing efforts by being awarded the Regional Equal Justice Public Interest Law Student Award and the Dallas Association of Young Lawyers Foundation Community Commitment Scholarship.
In November of 2019, John VanBuskirk was named Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year by the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP), a joint project of the Dallas Bar Association and Legal Aid of North West Texas. As a proud UNTD College of Law alum, John shared some of his takeaways from law school during an interview with UNTD COL Communications.
As the oldest member of the school’s inaugural class, life experiences taught John the importance networking while in law school and how it can pave the way for future business and employment referrals. “Networking is stressed from the beginning of law school. What I found out after graduation is that my classmates were actually my first network,” he said, fondly. “My first dollar as a licensed attorney came from a classmate, who later hired me again and then sent me a referral too,” John added. “Former classmates have also provided me with leads on jobs, and I’ve done the same for some of them. I was in class every day with my classmates and had the opportunity to show them that I worked hard, was on time and reliable. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to show them I was the complete opposite.” The lesson is understanding that your first interview begins on day one of law school.
John was recently recognized as an ATJ Pro Bono Champion in the latest issue of the Texas Bar Journal. He shared how much that award meant to him and where he felt it all began. “It was humbling to be featured in the ATJ Pro Bono Champion article. I believe the groundwork for that honor was laid at UNT Dallas College of Law,” he said, “which makes law school affordable so graduates can make legal representation accessible to folks who can’t afford an attorney – I am not the only UNTDCOL graduate who has taken that to heart.”
With a firm belief in community lawyering, even while in Law School, John found time to commit almost 800 hours those who couldn’t afford fair legal representation. “I was in the inaugural class. When we began, there were no organizations to join and there was no law review. To start building my law school resume, I decided to focus on pro bono work,” he said. John took every opportunity to get in 35 or 40 hours doing Pro Bono over Spring Break, and more opportunities during the summer. “I learned a lot about law, people, and about myself during my pro bono work. I assisted with a legal clinic with the Dallas Volunteer Attorney Program (DVAP) on my 10th day of law school and I was hooked.”