Archive for November, 2011

Job o’ the Day: Policy Intern at the National Low income Housing Coalition in DC!

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is looking for students for their Spring 2012 Policy Internship position. The policy intern tracks new legislation, attends and summarizes Congressional hearings for Memo to Members, participates in visits to Congressional offices, and develops materials for use in lobbying the House and Senate to accomplish NLIHC’s mission. 

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is dedicated solely to ending America’s affordable housing crisis.

Sound interesting to you? Check out the listing at PSLawNet!

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A Positive Look Back On Law Firm Deferrals and Public Interest Placements

By: Steve Grumm

The Legal Intelligencer, based in the Glorious City of Philadelphia, has a piece reviewing the phenomenon of associates whose law-firm start dates were deferred taking short-term public interest placements.  This mostly affected the law school graduating class of 2009, but also some subsequent grads. 

According the article, while deferrals certainly marked a rocky patch on a law-school-to-law-firm employment path that was typically smooth, some deferred associates enjoyed rich experiences that have impacted their careers, and lives, for the better.

The bulk of the piece focuses on Ballard Spahr’s deferral class:

When the “bottom fell out of the legal market” in 2009, [Ballard’s pro bono counsel] Mary Gay Scanlon said, [the firm] found itself unable to provide work to several dozen recent graduates who had accepted positions in the firm.

“We quickly said: ‘Wait a minute, maybe we can salvage something for everyone here. We can make sure that these young lawyers — some of the best and the brightest — have good work to do for this year,'” Scanlon said.

The firm offered stipends to first-years to develop their skills elsewhere.

Not all deferred associates practiced law in the interim. Ballard Spahr made the temporary job location dependent on individual interest. Thus, the young lawyers worked in corporations, government agencies and public interest firms, with one deferred associate going to graduate school.

When deferred associates started at Ballard Spahr in 2010, Scanlon said their experiences developing new abilities in areas of personal interest to them were a plus to clients.

A major post-deferral benefit to the firm was the associates’ commitment to pro bono programs. Deferrals created “in-house experts and in-house advocates for a variety of different pro bono opportunities,” said Scanlon, bringing “strength in new areas” to the firm.

Scanlon noted that big firms appreciate this kind of specialized knowledge.

“Poverty law is not a part of our daily practice,” she said, and it’s highly beneficial to have “someone who’s an expert in U visas or a whiz with asylum or SSI disability cases” in-house

The piece goes on to look at the public-interest work of deferred associates from various firms, whose placements included stints in civil legal services, immigration and civil rights advocacy, and even an academic placement in Kenya, which last year implemented a new constitution.

I am most intrigued by the thoughts of one Ballard associate who practiced family law with Philly’s Community Legal Services:

As a trial attorney at Community Legal Services, [Lisa] Swaminathan handled cases from start to finish — mainly child welfare cases.

“That was the experience that I was looking for … [to get] to court … to know the people who I was representing, to learn how to work for a client,” Swaminathan said.

At the end of her deferral year, Swaminathan chose to stay on at CLS for an additional year, taking a temporary position the shop funded through stimulus money.

With two years of public interest work under her belt, Swaminathan finally joined Ballard Spahr this September.

Scanlon called Swaminathan a “star.”

She brings to the firm a client-focused philosophy of work from her two years at CLS.

“I learned … that [my clients were] the driving force behind everything I was doing, and it can be harder to learn that when you’re just starting out,” Swaminathan said.

Working with colleagues in the public interest community, I played a small role in facilitating deferral placements in 2009.  (In 2010 I wrote a status report of sorts about how deferrals played out.)  I was hopeful that the experiences would give the associates an understanding of the opportunities and challenges of public interest practice.  I further hoped the associates would come away with positive feelings so that they would become tomorrow’s pro bono advocates and financial supporters.  But I also hoped that the associates would develop skills and expertise that would be useful in their law firm practices.  I’m sure this trifecta did not come to fruition in every case.  But this article is welcome news.

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GW Law Addresses Local Needs with Six New Pro Bono Programs

by Kristen Pavón

Paul Schiff Berman signed on as George Washington University Law School’s Dean this year, and in the short time he’s been at GW Law, six new pro bono programs have been developed.

The programs allow students to gain valuable hands-on experience while tackling a variety of issues, including illegal and unnecessary school exclusion in D.C. public schools and public charter schools, sealing criminal records, and providing legal assistance to the homeless, as well as to unrepresented litigants in administrative hearings.

Here are the new projects:

  • GW Cancer Pro Bono Project
  • Homeless Pro Bono Project
  • GW Street Law at the Arlington County Detention Facility
  • Suspending Suspensions Pro Bono Project
  • District Record Sealing Service
  • DC Office of Administrative Hearings Resource Center Pro Bono Project

You can learn about each project at Dean Schiff Berman’s blog.

I think the Suspending Suspensions Project is especially interesting! What do you think? What innovative pro bono projects are available at your law schools?

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Constructive Alternatives to the Criminalization of Homelessness

by Kristen Pavón

Today, I attended a free webinar hosted by the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty on their 2011 report on the criminalization of homelessness in the U.S.

Here are some of the highlights:

Types of Criminalization Measures

  • Making it illegal to do things in public that people must do — for example, sleeping, sitting and storing personal belongings.
  • Selective enforcement against homeless persons of seemingly neutral laws — loitering, jaywalking, etc.
  • Restrictions on sharing food with homeless persons in public places.

Survey Results

  • 73 percent of respondents (reported arrests, citations, or both for public urination/defecation
  • 55 percent of respondents reported arrests, citations, or both for camping/sleeping in public
  • 55 percent of respondents reported arrests, citations, or both for loitering
  • 53 percent of respondents reported arrests, citations, or both for panhandling
  • 20 percent of respondents reported arrests, citations, or both for public storage of belongings
  • 7 percent increase since 2009 in begging/panhandling in 188 cities
  • 10 percent increase since 2009 in loitering in public places in 188 cities

Alternatives to Criminalization

  • Temporary [legal] encampments
  • Increasing public restrooms
  • Clinics to help homeless persons apply for various forms of identification
  • Leverage housing resources in local communities with an effective framework (see below – 100,000 Homes Campaign)
  • Outreach programs that connect homeless individuals with providers to divert them from the criminal justice system.

100,000 Homes Campaign

This campaign, which is setting out to house 100,000 homeless individuals by July 2013, provides local communities with an organized system to leverage their housing resources to house homeless individuals. The model is pretty simple but is great because it supports the locality throughout the process.

  1. Build a local team.
  2. Clarify demand (this means, among other things, creating a registry of the homeless population in your community).
  3. Line up supply.
  4. Move people into housing.
  5. Help people stay housed (through ongoing supportive services).

Misc. Nuggets from Webinar

  • Homeless persons face barriers to employment, housing, public benefits and healthcare as a result of receiving a citation.
  • Criminalization measures do not address root causes of homelessness
  • On average, it costs $6,100 a year to house a homeless person in permanent supportive housing.
  • Costs of shelter, jail, and hospital services: $6,600; $25,500; $35,000; and $146, 730, respectively (based on Utah data).
  • Criminalization of homelessness can violate homeless individuals’ civil rights, including first, eighth and fourth amendment rights.

The webinar and slides will be available on the National Law Center’s website. Also, you can download the 2011 report on the criminalization of homelessness (which includes a 151-page advocacy manual!!) here.

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Job o’ the Day: Summer Internship at the Miami Immigration Court!

The Miami and Krome Immigration Court is looking for a law student to fill their internship position for the summer of 2012. This position offers an excellent opportunity to develop research, writing, and analytical skills. Students will work under the direct supervision of Judicial Law Clerks and perform research and writing assignments for Immigration Judges. 

The Miami and Krome Immigration Courts are part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review in the US Department of Justice.

Sound interesting to you? Check out the listing at PSLawNet!

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Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Loses ALL of its Homeless Prevention Legal Services Funding

by Kristen Pavón

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley‘s homeless prevention legal services have been completely eliminated — a loss of $443,228 — because of Westchester County’s 2012 budget.

Lucille Oppenheim, the vice president of LSHV’s Board of Directors spoke out on behalf of the entire board yesterday against the devastating cut and put the program’s elimination in context.

Legal Services of the Hudson Valley has been representing indigent, disabled and low-income working families and their children since 1967, when we began operations in Westchester County. At the request of state and federal funders, we expanded throughout the Hudson Valley, based on the excellence and cost-effectiveness of our work. Our legal services is one of the basic safety net services provided to those in need throughout our county. It is clearly not a “nice to have” service, but rather as essential a service as medical care and education.

We are astonished that Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s recently released 2012 budget totally eliminates legal services for poor, disabled and low-income households facing eviction or foreclosure.

The representation provided by Legal Services of the Hudson Valley ensures that parents have a roof over their heads for themselves and their children. Without housing, families face homelessness, and a downward spiral of family instability, physical and mental health problems and educational deprivation for their children. The categorical slashing of county funds, eliminating the option for struggling families to get back on their feet, does not eliminate the basic need for stability. Not only do families suffer, but local taxpayers must pay for sheltering the homeless and/or provide significant rent subsidies to keep families housed. This will cost much more to us as county taxpayers than our homelessness prevention program. The elimination of eviction-prevention funds amounts to the destruction of the community safety net at its most basic. Balance this against the fact that our eviction prevention program saved the county government (and us taxpayers) more than $1.6 million last year.

The concept that categorical tax cuts is an ideal way to balance a budget overlooks not only the importance of quality of life, but more basically glosses over the deep investment needed in human capital which has always kept our country strong going back to our founding fathers.

Every dollar in the eliminated homeless prevention budget has a face on it: the single parent recently laid off, grandmothers on fixed incomes being evicted, disabled persons who no longer can work, children in a family being foreclosed, and many more examples. As a former child advocate attorney representing children, I have seen first-hand the civic importance of assuring equal access to justice for the coming generation. A zero-based budget with a zero investment in our children and their families is very short-sighted.

Read more here.

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Retiring Boomer Lawyers Ramp Up Pro Bono Efforts, and Large Firms Are on Board

The Washington Post has an article on a trend-in-the-making that’s been the subject of much recent discourse in pro bono circles: retiring or retired grayhairs senior attorneys ramping up their pro bono practices.  This makes sense, of course.  Baby Boomer attorneys will be retiring in large numbers quite soon.  The wonders of modern healthcare being what they are, there will be a large number of financially secure retirees who are in very good health and who wish to stay engaged with the practice of law, albeit free of the billing stresses.  Many will be attracted to the idea of full-time public-interest work, as well.

In an interesting development, some large law firms see a transition from fee-paying practice to pro bono as a nice way to help senior attorneys wrap up their careers.  This means that attorneys could essentially retire but could maintain a full-time pro bono practice using law firm resources.  Here’s a little bit from the Post article, “Shifting the Pro Bono Paradigm”:

[M]any law firms in Washington are rethinking how they structure retirement and compensation for senior lawyers. Eleven firms, including Arnold & Porter, are working with the D.C. Access to Justice Commission on a project called the Senior Attorney Initiative for Legal Services. The program, created by the commission, targets a generation of attorneys who have retired or are on the cusp of retirement — the type of lawyers who at many firms make up a good chunk of the rainmaking roster — to encourage them to stay at their firms, transition commercial work to younger attorneys, and take more pro bono cases in-house.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” said Jess Rosenbaum, (no relation to Robert Rosenbaum) executive director of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, a group of local judges, lawyers and law professors tasked with helping low- and moderate-income residents access the civil justice system. “It used to be you had a handful of lawyers wanting to transition to pro bono, and they would have to go to a pro bono organization.”

Now, firms are trying to keep those lawyers by providing resources such as office space and staff to support pro bono work. A few, such as Arnold & Porter and Arent Fox, already have “phase-down” programs for senior lawyers to ease into to retirement over several years as they ratchet down chargeable commercial work and ratchet up pro bono involvement.

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