Archive for June, 2012

$$$ + Public Interest Jobs: Options to Consider

You may be already making monthly payments on student loans – or you may still be taking them out. Regardless of your current financial situation, it pays to become financially literate and aware of the various options for loan repayment and forms of assistance that are available if you’re interested in a public service career.

Check out PSLawNet’s Financing a Public Interest Career page to get started!

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Job o’ the Day: Supervising Attorney for the Mobile Legal Help Center at NYLAG!

NYLAG has an immediate opening for a supervising or coordinating attorney for its Mobile Legal Help Center (MLHC).  Created through a partnership between NYLAG and the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program, the Mobile Legal Help Center is the country’s first-ever legal services office and courtroom on wheels.  Attorneys provide counseling, advice, and direct representation without leaving the vehicle.  A video link with the courts enables access to judges for emergency hearings, including domestic violence and eviction cases.  The MLHC contains three private meeting areas for attorneys and clients and is equipped with high-speed Internet and state-of-the-art technology.  It travels throughout the five boroughs and parts of Long Island and Westchester, focusing on areas with limited public transportation options.  Through the MLHC, low-income New Yorkers in need of legal help can overcome obstacles such as geographic isolation, health and mobility issues, and childcare concerns.

NYLAG is seeking an exceptional attorney who possesses the enthusiasm and flexibility to ensure the provision of high quality legal services through the MLHC.  This attorney’s primary responsibility will be to coordinate and supervise the legal work that occurs on the MLHC.  The attorney will supervise volunteers both while they are on the MLHC and on certain MLHC cases selected for representation.  The attorney will also coordinate the MLHC work of NYLAG staff.  Further, this attorney will handle a modest caseload of cases which fall within his or her area or areas of legal expertise.  It is anticipated that this attorney will staff the MLHC at least two days a week.  In addition to working with NYLAG staff and volunteers providing service on the MLHC, this attorney will serve as the immediate supervisor of the paralegal who coordinates the schedule and other administrative aspects of the MLHC and the driver and back-up drivers.  This position requires some work on evenings and weekends, when the MLHC is providing services.

Founded in 1990, the New York Legal Assistance Group provides high quality, free civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford attorneys.  Our comprehensive range of services includes direct representation, case consultation, advocacy, community education, training, financial counseling, and impact litigation.

Find out how to apply at PSLawNet!

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Public Interest News Bulletin: June 29, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.

Let’s immediately get the SCOTUS stuff out of the way.  My colleague Maria summarized the recent blockbuster decisions here.  (And SCOTUSblog has their as-always nuanced coverage.)  With that done…

There is a good deal of recent news about the fiscal challenges confronting state and local governments.  Layoffs are very much in the spotlight.  There is not good data on how many lawyer positions have been impacted so far during this period of post-recession fiscal reckoning.  Anecdotally, we know that many state/local government law offices are smaller than they were five years ago.  And on another front, this fiscal news can’t be good for legal services organizations which rely – or relied – on state grants. Let’s look at what the news is telling us:

  •  the New York Times reports: “Companies have been slowly adding workers for more than two years. But pink slips are still going out in a crucial area: government…. Government payrolls grew in the early part of the recovery, largely because of federal stimulus measures. But since its post-recession peak in April 2009 (not counting temporary Census hiring), the public sector has shrunk by 706,000 jobs.”  On the state level, while revenues are back up there is fiscal angst about impending pension obligations.  Municipalities are up a creek, with property values – property taxes being the municipal bread and butter – having declined so precipitously.
  • the Wall Street Journal explores how state and local funding is likely to shape up over the next few years: “Forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisors projects state and local government spending and investment will fall to about 10% of GDP by 2020, which would be the lowest level since the mid-1960s…. State and local government has subtracted from U.S. economic growth in every quarter since the middle of 2010.  Their 11.9% share of 2011 GDP was the the lowest since 2006….Much like the taxpayers they serve, these governments are going to be saving more.”
  • Sign of the times: Stockton, CA, a city of ~300,000 people, is going into bankruptcy.   

Unrelated: here’s yet another report on The Millennial Generation.  (I don’t remember being the object of such scrutiny as a Gen Xer, maybe because social scientists were about as interested in us as we in them.  We were invisible, latch-key kids even to researchers.  Hah.)  The 2012 Millennial Impact Report looks at the generation’s attitudes towards engaging the nonprofit community.  Tip of cap to the ABA’s Cheryl Zalenski, who via Twitter brought this to my tweetention.  Wow.  First and last attempt to coin a Twitter word.  Already embarrassed.  

This week in access to justice (or lack of):

  • indigent defense funding in Guam (yep, Guam);
  • Biglaw pro bono down
  • in CA, San Jaoquin County’s budget for prosecutors and defenders is leveling after years of cuts;
  • the rising cost of indigent defense in the Hawkeye State; 
  • a recent LSC summit about using technology to promote access to justice;
  • from Indiana, a look at the county-state push-pull over indigent defense funding;
  • funding to the rescue for the cash-strapped NOLA public defender;
  • with newly imposed caseload guidelines, Washington St. cities must figure out indigent defense funding;
  • “Pro Bono Partnerships Between In-House and Outside Counsel – Why Everyone Wins”
  • the Volunteer State sees a volunteer lawyer uptick;
  • maybe a new funding stream for Legal Services of New Jersey;
  • the impact of LSC cuts on Central PA legal services programs;
  • push for public defender pay boost in Philly;
  • Michigan commission says, “Change the public defense system.”
  • Montana’s public defense program needs more state funding;
  • Super Musical Bonus

The summaries:

  • 6.29.12 – the public defender in Guam is advocating for a budget boost to ensure his office effectively serves clients.  Money quote from Public Defender Services executive director Eric Miller as he made his case to local appropriators: “We want to be careful shepherds of your resources, but we also need to be careful shepherds of the constitutional rights of our clients,” Miller said. “Every law office needs training for their staff, and that is why we put it in the budget.”  (Story from the Pacific Daily News.)
  • 6.28.12 – AmLaw data suggests Biglaw pro bono is flagging: “Large law firms’ pro bono work continued to drop last year, both in terms of hours per lawyer and number of lawyers contributing 20 hours or more. Behind the decline are structural changes which suggest that a turnaround may not come anytime soon, according to the new report on the Am Law 200 in the July/August issue of ALM’s The American Lawyer and online at  Average pro bono hours per lawyer fell to 54.3 last year, down almost 12 percent from a 2009 peak, while the percentage of lawyers contributing 20 hours or more dropped to 43.5. Of the 169 firms responding to the survey, nearly two-thirds had a lower pro bono score than the year before.” (Here’s the article from Marketwatch.) 
  • 6.28.12 – Stockton’s bankruptcy notwithstanding, the county it sits in, San Jaoquin, may see leveling funding for prosecutors and defenders after years of cuts: “For five years, budget cuts have nipped away at the number of people working in San Joaquin County’s criminal-justice system.  County government has cut more than 30 percent of the positions in the District Attorney’s and the Public Defender’s offices.”  Indeed, the public defender looks to be hiring.  “The Public Defender’s Office was expected to add two positions before the board agreed to add about $646,000 to raise that number by four.”
  • 6.28.12 – this piece looks at the rising cost of indigent defense in Iowa, and the question of whether there are ways to better manage those costs.  There is a quite a bit of focus on whether some defendants who are assigned public defenders are actually incapable of paying for their defense.    (Story from the Gazette.) 
  • 6.27.12 – LSC’s recent technology summit: “LSC convened the 2012 Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice on June 21-22 in Silver Spring, Md.  Nearly 50 participants – including technology experts, academics, private practitioners, representatives of legal services programs, courts, and governmental and business entities – were invited to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing service of some form to all with a legal need.   This gathering, the first of two planned in 2012, focused on development of ideas.  A follow-up, tentatively planned for the fall, will focus on implementation.  Fourteen white papers were produced in advance of the summit and were used to focus the discussion.  They will be published, some in print and the rest online, by the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.”  (Here’s more on LSC’s website.)
  • 6.26.12 – in Indiana, an op-ed looks at some of the factors influencing the fiscal push-and-pull as county and state governments endeavor to fund indigent defense programs.  (Op-ed in the Star Press.)
  • 6.26.12 – some funding comes to the rescue for the NOLA defender’s office: “The Orleans Parish public defender’s office will soon restore services slashed during a budget fiasco in February, partly thanks to recent increases in fees that criminal defendants, traffic violators and seat belt scofflaws pay along with their fines…. The moves signal some stability — though at a far lower budget — for an office that has faced criticism for spending well beyond its means and waiting too long to cut costs.  The bloodletting in February, which created what Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter labeled a “constitutional emergency,” eliminated more than 20 lawyers, including many of the most experienced attorneys in the office, and a half-dozen investigators and staffers.”  The office will actually be hiring some lawyers now that funding circumstances ahve changed. (Article from the Times-Picayune.) 
  • 6.25.12 – “Officials in cities across Washington state say that even as they’re trying to find ways to cut budgets, new guidelines from the state Supreme Court will force them to cough up more money for people who are accused of crimes but can’t afford their own attorneys.  By a 7-2 vote this month, the justices adopted new case limits for public defenders — lawyers appointed to represent poor defendants. The standards say that beginning in September 2013, public defenders should not handle more than 300 to 400 misdemeanor cases or 150 felony cases a year, limits designed to make sure the lawyers have enough time to devote to their clients and ensure those defendants are getting their constitutional right to an attorney.”  (Read reactions from city officials and attorneys in the full AP article.)
  • 6.25.12 – A piece entitled “Pro Bono Partnerships Between In-House and Outside Counsel – Why Everyone Wins” looks at the legal industry’s and corporate America’s general views of pro bono; how law firms and corporations can work together to grow their pro bono programs; and why individuals, businesses and the general public benefit from pro bono partnerships….  Lawyers must continue to view pro bono as an integral part of their professional responsibility. Moreover, serving others who may be less fortunate “makes for a better company and better life,” as noted in AmLaw Daily’s recent piece entitled “The Purpose-Driven Firm.” What that means is that law firms will benefit by ensuring that pro bono is a vital part of their business plans and practices, but equally important, its lawyers will take great satisfaction in doing the right thing while enhancing their legal skills.  (Full article in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.)
  • 6.25.12 – pro bono’s on the rise in, appropriately, the Volunteer State: “The Board of Professional Responsibility released data showing that more than 46 percent of Tennessee attorneys reported performing free (“pro bono”) legal work for deserving Tennesseans, an increase of six percent from last year. This is the highest percentage of pro bono reporting since attorneys began to voluntarily report pro bono in 2009 and more than twice the level of reporting during the initial year. The figure released does not include attorneys who that have yet to renew their licenses and report hours.”  (Full story in the Chattanoogan.)
  • 6.25.12 – Legal Services of New Jersey has been hard hit in the recession.  So this potential good news must be welcomed: “People would pay more in fees to cover upgrades to the state’s court system and legal services for the poor under a bill that won final passage approved in the Senate today.  The bill (A763) would raise $27.1 million through the fees. The state Supreme Court would decide which fees would increase and by how much, though no single fee hike could exceed $50. Legal Services of New Jersey, a nonprofit organization that represents indigent clients in civil cases, would get $10.1 million from the fee hikes.”  (Full story at   
  • 6.25.12 – this piece in the Altoona Mirror looks at the impact of LSC funding cuts on Central Pennsylvania legal services providers, includine Laurel Legal Services and MidPenn Legal Services.
  • 6.24.12 – pay parity!  “An experienced assistant [DA] in Philadelphia, one with seven years on the job, can make $65,000 yearly.  A public defender with exactly the same experience makes a lot less: $51,500.  To close these sorts of gaps and to fill two dozen vacancies, the Defender Association is playing hardball with the Nutter administration, which funds the office.  Unless the city gives the association more money, it says, as of July, it will no longer staff three of Philadelphia’s 67 criminal courtrooms and cut back staffing in a fourth courtroom.”  (Story from the Philadelphia Inquirer.)
  • 6.23.12 – “The state should establish uniform standards for court-appointed attorneys because counties have failed to provide adequate defense, according to a governor’s commission report released Friday.  The Indigent Defense Advisory Commission, established by Gov. Rick Snyder in October, determined Michigan’s county-based system has resulted in an “uncoordinated, 83-county patchwork quilt” of public defense systems that has failed to provide adequate legal defense for people who can’t afford a lawyer. According to the report sent to Snyder and legislative leaders, a 13-member state commission should be formed to establish standards for indigent defense and to oversee the quality of the county-based system.  The commission also recommended the Legislature supplement county-based funding where necessary.” (Here’s the Detroit News article, and here’s the report of the Indigent Defense Advisory Committee.)
  • 6.21.12 – in Montana, “The State Public Defender’s Office continues to tell state lawmakers it needs more money. “A legislative committee heard a report today outlining how the office is short on resources. The public defenders will have to compete with many other requests for a piece of the state’s projected budget surplus…. Several Republicans on the committee also called for the Public Defender’s Office to start charging a small fee to those using the service as a way to raise funds—say $10 or $20.”  (Story from Montana Public Radio.) 

Super Musical Bonus: outrageously hot weather of the type DC is currently experiencing makes me want an ocean. Here’s Sun Kil Moon covering Modest Mouse’s “Ocean Breathes Salty.”

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Supreme Court 2012-13: A Banner Year for Justice

By: Maria Hibbard

It’s been a banner year for the Supreme Court, and a well-publicized cliffhanger through the end of the term. Immigration, healthcare, privacy – although the subjects vary, here are the highlights of decisions likely to impact the access-to-justice community in some way:

  • U.S. v. Jones–it’s obvious that we have less privacy in the digital age–either by choice or by convenience–but the definition of what constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment is constantly evolving to keep up with digital devices. In Jones, the Supreme Court held, 5-4, that a GPS device placed on a car for surveillance purposes does constitute a search. The good news–“Big Brother” can’t watch you quite yet without having a good reason.
  • Maples v. Thomas–Maples, a death row inmate represented by two pro bono associates at a large law firm, was barred from appealing from his conviction because the associates left the firm and missed a deadline for deciding an appeal. The court voted 7-2 that Maples had shown sufficient cause to excuse the procedural default judgment. Although this doesn’t happen often, it shows that a man’s life shouldn’t be bargained with even if representation decides to leave.
  • Lafler v. Cooper and Missouri v. Frye–the court once again dealt with the effect of lawyers who caused inappropriate outcomes for their clients in this pair of cases, holding that the Sixth Amendment right to effective counsel applies throughout the process of plea negotiations. In order for this there to be a valid claim for ineffective assistance of counsel, though, the defendant has a strong burden to show that the lack of or deficiency of counsel caused irreparable prejudice on the decision. In Frye, where the lawyer simply did not inform his client of the plea bargain offers before they expired (resulting in a guilty plea and a much longer sentence for the defendant), this harm the lack of communication caused is obviously clear.  We’ve posted about overloaded public defenders and the changes coming in Michigan’s indigent defense system – potentially, these rulings could help spur reevaluation of programs elsewhere.
  • Minneci v. Pollard— Although a Bivens action, or an action enabling an inmate in a government-run prison to sue for violation of his constitutional rights, has long been valid, the court held 8-1 that an inmate cannot sue employees of a privately-run prison for constitutional rights violations because the claims could be pursued under state tort law. In light of the trend of the government trend to increasingly rely on private companies and contractors to run the operation of prisons and the mass incarceration of minor drug offenders, this decision might set a strong precedent in coming years.
  • Miller v. Alabama and Jackson v. Hobbs–in this pair of cases, SCOTUS ruled that life without parole for juveniles violates the prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” in the 8th amendment. This ruling adds another element to the complicated and ever-changing definition of what “cruel and unusual punishment” really means – SCOTUSblog has a great guide to the precedent surrounding this issue here.
  • Arizona v. U.S.–in a complicated ruling that left both sides claiming partial victory, the 5-3 decision struck down the provisions of the 2010 Arizona immigration law that made it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to be in Arizona without documentation papers, to apply for or get a job in the state, and allowed police to arrest people who had committed crimes that could lead to their deportation. The “show me your papers” provision is still left intact, but could be challenged in lower courts again. This ruling will certainly deter the development of future copycat legislation in other states, and is welcome news for undocumented immigrants in Arizona who may have lived and worked in the U.S. for years.
  • Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida–the dramatic 5-4 decision, written by Roberts, joining the left of the court, held the individual mandate constitutional under the taxing power – even though it violates the commerce clause. Plenty of ink has already and will be spilled elsewhere about the implications of the decision, but this monumental case will make affordable healthcare accessible to millions more Americans – often, the same community that civil legal aid organizations serve. Although there will always be continuing legal battles surrounding healthcare, access to affordable care may automatically eliminate some need in this area.


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Do these words go together: “public interest” and “law firm?”

Believe it or not, “public interest” and “law firm” can be used in the same phrase – a small niche practice of firms devote all or a significant portion of their time to “plaintiff side” work, partnering with public interest organizations and/or representing labor unions, associations, and government bodies.

Even if you thought you would  never work at a law firm, researching these organizations is still valuable – especially after considering the fact that public interest positions are more competitive than ever.

Check out our Public Interest Law Firm Careers page on PSLawNet!

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Lawyers Love Paper – Civil Legal Aid Can Love Technology As Well

By: Maria Hibbard

If there’s one thing I learned in my first year of law school, it’s that lawyers love paper. Outlines, textbooks, rulebooks, and more outlines – lawyers may be the only people who still have their noses in a book in a futuristic day when our smartphones are attached to our bodies.

In this digital age, though, it’s time to talk seriously about the potential to harness the functions of the many rapidly developing digital tools and streamlining access to legal resources. The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) held a Summit on Technology and Access to Justice discussing this very issue just outside D.C. last week, and as Richard Zorza writes, it is an exciting time to think about how investing in the development and security of low-cost or free online legal tools can help improve access to justice – even in the face of constant budget cuts and funding struggles.

The Technology Initiative section of the Legal Services Corporation annually makes grants to legal services organizations to develop tools and services that harness the power of technology. This speaks to the legal services community’s commitment to better employing technology – and, for today’s tech-savvy law grades, the  increasing need for individuals to have access to easy-to-read, accessible legal resources online opens the door for a potential Equal Justice Works or Skadden fellowship proposal at a welcoming organization.

Just as examples how the legal services community is engaged on technology issues, here are some of the projects discussed at the recent summit and at the Technology Initiative’s annual conference in January:

  • provides Creative Commons licensed civil legal aid resources that can be easily referenced and edited, as well as a “Plain Language Gadget” that can help take out “legalese”
  • and encourage civil legal aid organizations to share resources in order to avoid “reinventing the wheel” where it’s not necessary
  • Legal Services of Northern California maintains the Google API project, an initiative that shows how secure cloud-based case management systems can be integrated with the Google Apps platforms to maximize efficiency in organizations
  • and provide a jumping-off place for access to civil legal services organizations and resources for pro bono work

With the help of these tools and many others, it should ever-easier to maximize productivity and maintain the data about clients and services that is needed for civil legal aid organizations to compete for competitive grants from LSC and other funding sources, showing how increased access to civil legal aid can save society money in the long run. The LSC strategic plan for the next four years outlines concrete ways in which it can spur civil legal aid organizations on towards using data and technology to move forward. It’s certainly a developing area in the access to justice community, though: how can your ideas help innovate the system?

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Job o’ the Day: Fall Law Intern at the U.S. Small Business Administration!

The U.S. Small Business Administration (“SBA”) is offering academic year internships through its Office of Litigation within the Office of General Counsel.  This unpaid internship can provide students with course credits and valuable experience in a wide range of litigation work and exposure to a variety of issues.

SBA was created in 1953 as an independent agency of the federal government to aid, counsel, assist and protect the interests of small business concerns, to preserve free competitive enterprise, and to maintain and strengthen the overall economy of the nation.

The main sections, each headed by an Associate General Counsel, are Financial Law and Lender Oversight, General Law, Litigation, and Procurement Law.  OGC advises the Agency with regard to its various financial, contracting, and training programs; and also represents SBA in administrative and court proceedings, involving areas of law such as employment, procurement, and contract.

Intern assignments include legal research, drafting legal memoranda, and section-specific assignments.  Interns will likely have the chance to interact with SBA’s top management, staff at the White House, Office of the Inspector General, Justice Department, other federal agencies, banks, and major corporations.

The Law Intern Program includes mentoring, formalized training, and a writing seminar.  The Brown Bag Lecture Series provides interns the chance to attend weekly panel discussions on topics ranging from current issues in OGC to clerking after law school.  Interns will also have many opportunities to meet and interact with SBA attorneys.  Happy hours, baseball games, and golf trips are just some of the fun social events interns will attend!

Find out how to apply at PSLawNet!

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Back to the Basics: PSLawNet’s Job Search Fundamentals

So, it’s getting to be that time again – recruitment is getting ready to get going for rising 2Ls, and the “what-comes-after-graduation” question is looming in the background for rising 3Ls. Whether you’re a law student or recent graduate, check out PSLawNet’s job search fundamentals page for great resources about redoing your resume, networking, and crafting the perfect cover letter.  It’s never too late to review the basics again!

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Job o’ the Day: Executive Director at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid!

Jacksonville Area Legal Aid (JALA) is seeking an Executive Director to lead this nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide high quality legal assistance to low income and other special needs groups and to stimulate and empower groups of poor people to accomplish energetic and affirmative advocacy, all to alleviate the circumstances, incidents and causes of poverty.

JALA’s next Executive Director will arrive at a time of both challenge and opportunity.  JALA’s strengths include its reputation for effective litigation and diversity of legal practice, its experienced, nationally recognized staff, its history of delivering quality legal services, and its diverse funding streams.  Its challenges include the current economic crisis, delivering services in the face of increasing demand and decreasing resources, and increasing its funding base.

The deadline to apply is July 6 – find out how to apply at PSLawNet!


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So, you want to be an AUSA? What about a public defender?

If you’re thinking about a career as either a prosecutor or a defender, make sure to check out our recently updated Prosecutor/Public Defender Careers page!

There, you’ll find links and in-depth reports from law schools around the country about how to launch a career on either side of the courtroom.

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