Human Rights Initiative Executive Director, Bill Holston, to receive 2015 SMU Dedman School of Law Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service

DSC_0847For immediate release

Contact for comment: Kavita Khandekar, Marketing & Development Director 214.273.4334

On March 19, 2015, Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law will present Executive Director of Human Rights Initiative of North Texas, Bill Holston, the Distinguished Alumni Award for Public Service. Before coming to Human Rights Initiative, Holston was a partner in the Dallas law firm Sullivan and Holston.  During his time in private practice, Holston volunteered with Human Rights Initiative for over 10 years, representing survivors of torture and persecution in their application for asylum. His service to Human Rights Initiative is unparalleled and in 2005, the agency’s volunteer attorney program was re-named in his honor thanks to a generous gift from Charlie and Meredith Stimson.

In 2012, Holston left his career in private law to become the Executive Director of Human Rights Initiative. In the last three years, Human Rights Initiative has continued to grow under Holston’s guidance reaching new milestones in fundraising, legal and social services, and staff development. With Holston’s charismatic leadership, Human Rights Initiative enters its 15th year bigger and better than ever!

Bill says, “I’m very gratified to receive this award. It is an acknowledgment by this excellent law school of the critical nature of pro bono legal services to the community, the bar and our nation.  It’s a recognition of the excellence of the legal services provided by Human Rights Initiative, now celebrating our 15th year.  HRI’s reputation is based on the principles of excellence instilled by our founders and maintained by our gifted staff. I hope that the award is inspiring to young lawyers to make pro bono work a priority in their professional life.”

We are so proud of our leader, Bill Holston, and could not think of someone more deserving of this award.

Pro-Bono Perspective

In October 2014, Human Rights Initiative was in a frenzy. The thousands of unaccompanied minors who had crossed the border earlier that summer were now being pushed through the immigration court system and we were stepping up to help them.  Our attorneys were attending 2-3 hearings a week, often on the same day and sometimes with little more than one day’s notice.  We were holding legal clinics once a week to try and match children with attorneys willing to help. And of course, we continued with the hundreds of cases we already had before the “surge” began. During this same time, our star Women & Children’s Program attorney, Melissa, was getting ready to take her maternity leave. To say that we were worried would be an understatement – being “one person down” during our busiest time was a scary thought.

In late October, we heard from our good friend, Michelle Reed, at Akin Gump that their firm would be placing an attorney in our office for three months.  Sarah Crow, a long-time HRI pro bono, was the chosen attorney and she would begin her “secondment” in November. Collectively, our office breathed a sigh of relief.  We knew Sarah would be a great asset to our team, especially during a period of chaos.

Sarah fit in seamlessly.  Not only in her work as an attorney, but also as a funny and kind co-worker. As an agency, we feel incredibly honored to have had the opportunity to work so closely with Sarah.  And to top it all off, she even wrote a blog post of us, discussing her experience.


Crow_Sarah_highresI saved a life today. I saved a ten-year-old girl from certain poverty, abuse, trauma, and even death. And she knew that I saved her, so she hugged me. It brought me to tears.

As a lawyer in private practice, it’s easy to get lost in my routine and to forget how much power lies in my law license. I sincerely enjoy my practice as a financial restructuring lawyer at Akin Gump. I like the adrenaline that a new case brings, working on a large team of sophisticated professionals across the globe, and studying complex legal and factual issues. But sometimes I forget that I have the power to help a person who needs it. Not that I can save the world. But today there was one sweet, sassy, little girl who had suffered mind-blowing trauma and fled her home country of Honduras to find a little bit of peace in the United States, and I had the knowledge and power to help her and to stop her from being returned to an unspeakable horror.

That’s why I love HRI’s mission: to promote international human rights through local service to refugees and immigrants who have suffered human rights abuses. I don’t have all the answers—I don’t know how to #bringbackourgirls or how to address the “border surge.” But when one of those innocent children ends up in my hometown of Dallas, Texas, and—by the grace of God—finds their way to HRI, I can help by volunteering to take her case.

HRI excels at its mission by providing volunteer attorneys with all the necessary resources to succeed. At the outset, the HRI legal team carefully analyzes each client’s case and formulates a custom strategic plan. When an attorney volunteers to take a case, they are provided with that plan, plus a complete packet of case-specific information and step-by-step instructions. The HRI legal team then guides the attorney through the whole process, start to finish. No specific experience, immigration or otherwise, is needed. Just the desire to help someone and the motivation to see it through.

Working with HRI and its top-notch team of professionals has been one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences of my career. It feels good to have changed a client’s life for the better, but this experience has also changed me. I’ve never been more personally committed to helping those around me, one client at a time.

Sarah Crow
Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP