Public Interest News Bulletin – March 30, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  It was a pleasure to see friends and colleagues from out of town as both the Association of Pro Bono Counsel and the Pro Bono Institute held meetings in DC this week.  Especially now, in the aftermath of a recession that gutted legal services funding, and with further cuts to the Legal Services Corporation’s budget quite possible, it’s critical for access-to-justice stakeholders to find effective ways to channel law-firm and corporate resources into public interest work.   It’s fitting then that this week’s bulletin features several items related to this important task.  

  • Florida’s legal services community is hoping for a $2 million appropriation from the state legislature;
  • President Obama has asked the Senate to reappoint five LSC directors for new board terms;
  • the intersection of pro bono and attorney professional development;
  • a look at pro bono successes in my hometown, which is also home to universe’s most glorious baseball franchise, about which you will read much more next week (teaser or warning?);
  • a Massachusetts legislator wants to narrow the scope of indigent defense eligibility;
  • the fundraising success of D.C.’s “Raising the Bar” initiative.

This week:

  • 3.28.12 – the stakes are high in Florida, where the legal services community is depending on a state government appropriation to fund their work.  Bill Abbuehl, exec. director of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, highlights the fact that IOLTA proceeds in the Sunshine State, which historically have been a key legal services funding stream, have plummeted by 88% in 3 years.  State legislators have appropriated $2 million for legal services, but this has to get past Gov. Rick Scott.  (Full piece in the Daytona Beach News Journal.)
  • 3.28.12 – the intersection of pro bono and attorney professional development inside law firms.  Pro Bono Institute president Esther Lardent looks at why and how pro bono work offers skills development opportunities for law-firm associates.  As it happens the folks I work with at NALP, who approach this from the professional development side, will be doing some work on this issue over the next few months.  I’m very much looking forward to spending time in pro bono issues again after having started my career with a pro bono clearinghouse.
  • 3.27.12 – the Philadelphia-based Legal Intelligencer has run a “Pro Bono 2012” special edition.  It includes pieces on how pro bono work aid in attorney professional development and on law school pro bono.
  • 3.26.12 – a Massachusetts state representative, citing budgetary concerns and questions financial eligibility screen system for clients who request indigent defense services, is advancing a bill that would limit access to those services based on the type of crime alleged and severity of possible punishment.  From Wicked Local (great name!): “To reduce spending, [Rep. David] Linsky has proposed indigent defendants charged with misdemeanors unlikely to lead to jail time shouldn’t get court-appointed lawyers.  ‘We’ve identified 41 very minor offenses that wouldn’t be eligible for court-appointed counsel. In 99 percent of the cases, they don’t lead to jail time,’ he said.” 
  • 3.25.12 –3.23.12 – the Blog of the Legal Times reports on the fundraising success of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission’s new “Raising the Bar” initiative.  “Raising the Bar” encourages law firm monetary donations to legal services providers by asking them to donate certain portions of overall revenue.  Twenty-three firms’ combined donations totaled $3 million in contributions.  Here’s more about “Raising the Bar” from the AtJ Commission’s website.  

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