Archive for May, 2010

New Loan Forgiveness Program for Civil Legal Aid Attorneys

A new loan repayment assistance program was just announced from the U.S. Department of Education for attorneys working in civil legal services. Equal Justice Works has all the info you need, but here’s a summary quote from them to get you started:

A new loan repayment assistance program for civil legal aid attorneys is going to become available soon. The Civil Legal Assistance Attorney Student Loan Repayment Program (CLAAP) will repay a portion of eligible federal student loan debt for civil legal assistance attorneys who are employed full-time. The attorneys will need to remain employed for three years or pay the assistance back. An attorney may be awarded up to $6,000 in repayment assistance in 2010 (actually received in 2011), and may be prioritized to receive assistance in future years if Congress continues to fund the program. An attorney may receive a lifetime maximum of $40,000 in assistance.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – May 28, 2010

  • 5.26.10 – New York Law Journal – the “Attorney Emeritus Program,” a project spearheaded by New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to engage retired lawyers in pro bono service, “has enlisted more than 120 retired lawyers since January to offer free legal advice and representation to poor New Yorkers in foreclosure, debt collection, housing, family and other civil cases.”  The program, now guided by a 30-attorney advisory council representing all corners of the profession, hopes to tap into a projected, large-scale increase in retirees as the first Baby Boomers turn 65 next year.  Lippman anticipates the volunteer numbers to swell and hopes that the project may be “permanent piece of the puzzle” in delivering legal services to low-income clients.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: in January, the New York Times covered Chief Judge Lippman’s announcement of the program’s beginning.]
  • 5.26.10 – Louisville Courier-Journal (covering Kentucky and Indiana) – in Clark County, Indiana, officials announced the launch of the Clark Legal Self Help Center, a resource for low-income people in need of free legal assistance on civil matters.  The Center will be staffed by volunteer attorneys and law students, and will offer help with reviewing court documents, determining the nature of legal problems, and directions on how to find an attorney if needed.  Law students will handle most of the initial meetings with individuals seeking help; volunteer attorneys will also participate in the program, but will not necessarily establish attorney-client relationships.  Those who are eligible may be referred to Indiana Legal Services for additional help.  Link to article.  
  • 5.25.10 – New York Law Journal – this week the Pro Bono Institute released a report, Law Firm Deferred Associates and Public Interest Placements: Survey Report and Preliminary Assessment, documenting findings from surveys done over the winter to analyze how well deferred associates’ public-service placements were progressing.  The report’s findings paint the phenomenon in a largely positive light.  Public interest organizations that are hosting deferred associates are generally very satisfied with the contributions made by the associates, and demand to host associates in the future remains high.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: here is a link to the full Pro Bono Institute report, as well as a link to a PSLawNet Blog post reviewing the report.]
  • 5.25.10 – Triangle Business Journal (North Carolina) – the Duke University School of Law is expanding its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for students on public service careers.  The LRAP now “will cover 100 percent of loan payments for graduates making $60,000 a year or less, up from $35,000. The program also provides some assistance, on a sliding scale, for graduates making between $60,000 and $75,000. Additionally, Duke has eliminated the cap on lifetime loan repayments, which previously stood at $80,000.”  Only federal loans are eligible for the LRAP program.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: Duke joins at least four other law schools – Northwestern, UVA, Cal-Berkeley, and Georgetown – in tailoring its LRAP program around the College Cost Reduction & Access Act’s Income Based Repayment provision.]
  • 5.24.10 – WHYY Radio Station Website (Serving Philadelphia/New Jersey) –  “State budget cuts may mean less legal assistance for New Jersey’s poor.  The budget plan reduces funding for Legal Services of New Jersey by 33 percent.  Legal Services President Melville Miller says the funding reduction means they’ll have to cut their staff and turn away about 11,000 people seeking assistance, many of them trying to avoid foreclosures and evictions.”  Link to brief blurb.  [Ed. Note: last week, Legal Services of New Jersey released An Open Report to New Jersey Concerning Funding for Civil Legal Services and Its Human Consequences, highlighting the severe funding cuts that are plaguing legal services programs throughout the Garden State, and making the case for the importance of adequately funding programs.] 
  • 5.24.10 – National Law Journal – a case arising out of Georgia in which an indigent, capital criminal defendant sat in jail for four years because of problems with funding his defense and is now asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to review right to counsel claims “comes at a time when an increasing number of legal challenges are being made to underfunded and overburdened state indigent defense systems” across the country.  The Georgia indigent defense system has long been plagued by problems.  And while legislation in 2003 to shore up the system offered promise, adequate funding remains elusive.  Link to article.
  • 5.23.10 – The Citizen (New Hampshire) – a bill to make free legal services available to New Hampshire’s veterans is winding through the state legislature.  While the bill’s passage is expected the funding mechanism for the program is uncertain.  The funding, if obtained, would allow the New Hampshire State Veterans Council to hire staff attorneys to represent veterans on a variety of matters, including home foreclosure and consumer debt issues, as well as family law and veterans benefit cases.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: for additional coverage of a national trend toward expanding legal services/resources for veterans, see two items below (El Paso Times).]
  • 5.23.10 – Dallas Morning News – the conviction integrity unit that operates out of the Dallas County District Attorney’s office has for several years been working with DNA evidence to ensure the propriety of past convictions and exonerate the wrongly convicted.  Now, the unit is expanding the scope of its activities to the more time-consuming review of convictions where there may be some question of guilt but no DNA evidence is available for review.  The unit’s work has captured national attention because it is unusual for a prosecutor’s office to have devoted so many resources to post-conviction reviews.  Link to article.
  • 5.21.10 – El Paso Times [Special Feature Article] – “Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans is a new State Bar of Texas Committee established…to develop and assist pro bono legal clinics throughout the state for military veterans and their families who cannot afford or do not have access to legal services they need.”  El Paso Lawyers for Patriots is the local extension of the statewide initiative.  The local program “is developing a coordinated network of El Paso lawyers to assist veterans and active-duty military and their families who cannot afford or have no access to legal services through the El Paso Bar Association and veterans service providers.”  A local judge also recently established a Veterans Mental Health Treatment Court to “address cases involving combat veterans and active military personnel involved in the criminal justice system due to conduct related to post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries or other mental diseases and disorders as a result of military service.”  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: there is a national trend involving the legal community establishing diversionary judicial programs and other resources for veterans with legal problems.  See the PSLawNet Blog’s March 16 post, linking to news coverage of the trend.]
  • 5.21.10 – Blog of the Legal Times – “The Justice Department is studying Monday’s Supreme Court ruling barring life sentences for juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes, possibly with an eye toward improving rehabilitation programs for juveniles in prison.”  Link to blog post.  [Ed. Note: the PSLawNet blog posted about the Supreme Court decision – Graham v. Florida – and linked to news coverage here.]

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How to Work for the United Nations or Other Inter-Governmental Organizations

Today’s post on possible career routes into Inter-Governmental Organizations like the United Nations comes from Sara Rakita, Associate Director of the Public Interest Law Center at New York University School of Law.  Sara has worked extensively on human rights and the rule of law, primarily in Africa. Before joining PILC in 2006, she served as a long-term consultant to the Ford Foundation, where she was responsible for piloting and setting up TrustAfrica, a new African grant-making foundation that is now based in Senegal. Sara spent five years as an Africa Researcher at Human Rights Watch, including two years as the organization’s representative in Rwanda. Sara has also consulted for Amnesty International, Global Rights, USAID, and the Austrian development agency.  Sara holds a J.D. from NYU, an M.I.A. from Columbia University, and a B.A. in international studies from The American University. She is fluent in French and has a working knowledge of Spanish and Russian.

Lots of people would love to work for the United Nations or other Inter-Governmental Organizations (IGOs), but it’s not always apparent how to get there. Indeed, there is no single path.  In an effort to demystify a process that is not always transparent, this post will explain some of the main channels into IGOs. Get the scoop on IGOs after the break!

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Duke is Latest Law School to Tailor LRAP to Federal Programs

Duke Law School just announced an expansion and change to their loan repayment assistance program (LRAP), raising the salary cap for 100% forgivement from $35,000 to $60,000, and requiring students to participate in the income-based repayment plan established by the federal government as part of the CCRAA in 2008. In doing so, Duke joins 4 other schools by our count (University of Virginia, Georgetown, Northwestern, and University of California – Berkeley) in dovetailing their LRAP program with the federal system.

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Georgia Case Raises Questions about State’s Indigent Defense System

 The National Law Journal this week wrote about a case arising out of Georgia in which an indigent, capital criminal defendant sat in jail for four years because of problems with funding his defense and is now asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to review right-to-counsel claims.  The appeal “comes at a time when an increasing number of legal challenges are being made to underfunded and overburdened state indigent defense systems” across the country.  The Georgia indigent defense system has long been plagued by problems.  And while legislation in 2003 to shore up the system offered promise, adequate funding remains elusive.

The defendant is appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court after an unfavorable ruling from the state’s hight court.  Here is an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article on the case from this past March, noting that “[t]he Georgia Supreme Court on Thursday narrowly rejected a bid to bar prosecutors from seeking the death penalty against a defendant who has sat in jail for more than three years awaiting trial because there has been no money for his defense.  The 4-3 ruling said the state did not violate Jamie Ryan Weis’ right to a speedy trial and placed some of the blame on the defendant and his attorneys.” 

Georgia’s underfunded public defense system has received a good deal of coverage recently.  The Georgia Supreme Court heard arguments in a case very similar to this one earlier this month, according to another Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.  And, the Associated Press recently covered the sad financial state of the system.

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Pro Bono Institute Reports on Deferred Associates in Public Interest Placements

This week the Pro Bono Institute has issued Law Firm Deferred Associates and Public Interest Placements: Survey Report and Preliminary Analysis.  The report is based on two surveys performed by PBI in February: one of law firms who had deferred associates working in public interest placements, and the other of public interest organizations.  As for the methodology, about 170 public interest organizations responded to part/all of the survey, and about 45 law firms responded. The findings generally comport with much of the other evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, gathered thus far about this unique phenonmenon.  It is still too early for law firms to assess in any depth how things will play out for their associates, because many associates are still in their deferral periods or have only just recently returned to the firms.  The public interest orgnizations that are hosting deferred associates have broadly favorable reviews of the associates’ work.  Just about 75% of respondents to a question about associate contributions in the public interest organization rated those contributions as either 4s or 5s on a 0-5 scale (5 being the best).  Here are some quotes from the public interest organizations:

[The deferred associates] are a wonderful resource to our clients. Although they cost us time and our logistical resources, we recoup that through their work. It also builds on our relationship with their firms and hopefully makes them into well-rounded lawyers when they return to private practice.

The deferred associate served an essential role as co-counsel for a complex Medical Assistance case that culminated in an 8 hour administrative hearing in her final week.

One deferred associate saved our youth program which would have otherwise been lost.

Although most reports are quite positive, and the phenomenon generally has been received in the pro bono community as a large success,  it has not been all smooth sailing.  The report notes that:

Complaints reported by respondents included administrative difficulty with firms’ “rigid” procedures, as well as minimal firm involvement in placing associates. Lack of coordination with firms regarding benefits and oversight, as well as poor communication with the firm overall, and brief associate stays were also cited as problems, as was the desire for greater associate availability in rural areas.

We encourage you to read the full report, and here’s some New York Law Journal covearage of its release.  Speaking of deferred associates and New York, here is a separate report that the New York City Bar and City Bar Justice Center produced about how deferred associate placements are working out in NYC.  And here is a link to a piece that we contributed to the ABA Division of Legal Services’ Dialogue magazine about how this phenomenon has been playing out nationwide.

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Interested in Child Advocacy? Great Piece on Intersection between Poverty and Abuse

Public interest attorneys are often faced with situations that are complex, with many causes and intersecting problems. It can be difficult to disentangle things, but many organizations are trying to move towards a model of comprehensive services (that’s the whole idea behind medical-legal partnerships, which we’ve blogged about before). Child advocacy can be particularly complex, as attorneys work with children whose families face enormously diverse challenges. Rutledge Q. Hudson of the Center for Law and Social Policy wrote an excellent blog post today on the intersection of poverty and child abuse. In it Hudson states, “Families should be able to get the range of supports they need whether they turn to their pediatrician, child care provider, school, community center, or social services office.” It will be up to child advocacy attorneys to determine how and where they can fit into the web of comprehensive services as well. This post does a great job of giving an overview of how all these pieces fit together.

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Pilot Program in Baltimore Provides Small, Low-interest Loans to Low-income Residents to Help Them Avoid Predatory Lenders

Lawyers who work with low-income clients well know how consumer debt problems can plague the communities they serve.  Individuals and families who fall on hard times and need bridge money to cover the rent or pay utilities often end up using the services of “payday” and other high-interest lenders, and many of the borrowers end up digging themselves deeper into debt rather than avoiding it. 

The Washington Post profiles an FDIC staffer, Joan Lok, who is shepherding an… 

innovative pilot program [in Baltimore] that provides small dollar, low interest loans to those in need through a coalition of financial institutions, local community-based organization and other partners.Lok said the goal of the Borrow and Save Loan Program is to help low and moderate-income borrowers break the perpetual payday borrowing cycle, establish healthy banking relationships, gain personal money management skills, and learn the benefits of saving and asset building.

“We are trying to fill a void,” Lok said. “Our program not only helps solve emergency loan needs of individuals, but can cause people to look at their personal finances and change their behavior.”

The Baltimore-based pilot program provides loans between $300 and $1,000 with a repayment term of up to one year at an interest rate of 7.99 percent, compared to cash advance brokers that charge interest rates of 30 percent or more for two week loans.

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Thinking About Working for Government in New Jersey? Make Sure you Want to Live There!

If you’ve thought about working for the State of New Jersey (at any level, including the Public Defender and State’s Attorney offices), make sure you’re willing to live in-state! The State Senate just passed a measure that would require all public employees to live in the state as a condition of employment. The Newark Star-Ledger covered the story, which explains that the measure is not final – it must still be approved by the Assembly (though it was passed handily by the Senate, 26-9). Many jurisdictions require emergency personnel to live in-state or in-town, but this is one of the broadest measures out there.

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Five Questions for a Public Interest Leader: Kelly Tautges, Director of Pro Bono at the Chicago Bar Foundation

Kelly Tautges serves as the Chicago Bar Foundation’s Director of Pro Bono.  She had started her career in a large law firm, and after five years moved into the public interest arena, and away from practicing law.  These days, Kelly works on several fronts to encourage continued innovation in the delivery of pro bono services to low-income clients, and to promote partnerships between the private and public interest bars.  We recently asked Kelly about how the legal services and pro bono communities are set up in Chicago, how her career path has unfolded, and what advice she would offer to aspiring public interest lawyers.

Kelly, tell us generally about the Chicago civil legal services community, and comment on CBF’s role in it.

Chicago is home to a legal aid community that includes around 40 legal aid providers.  The providers range from organizations with one or two lawyers to organizations with almost 100 attorneys, and from those focusing on particular subject areas to generalists handling cases in many areas.

Even with this breadth of available legal aid providers in Chicago, the needs of those who cannot afford a lawyer substantially outweigh the available services. There are only about 300 legal aid attorneys in Chicago to serve the more than 1 million people who qualify for their services.  In addition, Chicago’s private bar has strong commitment to pro bono work and helps supplement the efforts of our dedicated legal aid attorneys. Despite the hard work happening in our pro bono and legal aid system in Chicago, the majority of low-income individuals are left to attempt to resolve their complex legal problems largely on their own.

The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) takes a system-wide approach to improve access to justice by bringing together all of the stakeholders—including legal aid organizations, the courts, law firms, and individual lawyers—to strengthen and improve Chicago’s pro bono and legal aid system.   Very generally, the CBF works to advance the work of our community’s pro bono and legal aid organizations, supports our legal aid attorneys and works to make the courts more user friendly.  We accomplish our work through grants, advocacy, pro bono and other partnerships.   The CBF is funded primarily though support from individual lawyers, law firms and corporations.

My role at the CBF is to focus on pro bono: helping people get involved with pro bono, working with organizations and other stakeholders to identify and set up new programs, supporting existing programs and creating collaborations and partnerships to efficiently and effectively involve pro bono volunteers to address client need.    I also work on a new initiative called the CBF Legal Aid Academy that provides training and professional development opportunities to legal aid attorneys through the pro bono contributions of legal consultants, lawyers, educators and firms.

How badly has the recession affected your funding of legal services, and other funding sources?

Like most communities, many major sources of funding for legal aid in Chicago, especially state support and IOLTA funding, are under severe stress.  At the same time, a lot of great things are happening here that demonstrate the legal community’s strong support of the pro bono and legal aid system.   For example, we just finished the CBF’s  4th Annual Investing in Justice Campaign, which raised more than $1.1 million to support Chicago’s pro bono and legal aid organizations.  80 firms, corporate legal departments and other organizations participated this year, up from 54 firms and organizations last year.  More than 2,500 individual attorneys personally contributed to the campaign, up from about 2,000 individuals last year.  The Campaign is a great example of how Chicago’s legal community is coming together to support our pro bono and legal aid system even in these challenging economic circumstances.

You began your career at a law firm and subsequently transitioned to CBF.  Why, and how did the discernment process play out for you?

In many ways, I took the path of least resistance when I first graduated from law school and started my career at a large Chicago law firm.  I was lucky to graduate at a time when good jobs were plentiful, and I received an offer from the firm where I was a summer associate.  I took this law firm job because I was concerned about my debt, knew that I liked and respected the people in my department, and was confident that I would get great litigation experience.   Just over the five-year mark, though, I knew that it was time for me to leave my law firm practice.   Volunteerism and service have always been a big part of my identity, and while my pro bono work while in private practice was rewarding, it was not enough.  I wanted to work in the public interest full-time.   I decided to take the leap, and I left the firm.

After some time off, I began looking for a public interest position.  I knew it would be tough, and I was right.  Even though it took some time and rejection, though, I found a position that was a perfect fit for my background and skills.  The CBF had just announced the Director of Pro Bono position, which was new at the CBF.  I feel very fortunate that I was able to find and be offered such a wonderful position.

What advice do you offer law students who are on civil legal services career paths but who are scared about economic conditions?

My advice would be to stick with the commitment of working in legal aid, but to be flexible and open-minded about the route that may be necessary to get a legal aid job.  There are many different ways to make a difference and to help people in need, and lawyers may want or need to take positions outside traditional civil legal services as part of their process to ultimately get the job that they want in legal aid.  Also, be creative: finding fellowships and identifying areas and organizations that are likely to have new funding are great ways to get into legal services.  Finally, I would encourage those interested in legal aid to meet with members of their community’s legal aid network to learn about the legal aid landscape, to identify volunteer opportunities and to find leads for legal aid employment.

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