Archive for The Legal Industry and Economy

Public Interest News Bulletin – August 24, 2012

By: Steve Grumm (with an assist from John Kapoor)

Happy Friday, ladies and gents.  An important housekeeping item: the PSLawnet Blog is becoming the PSJD Blog.  We are relaunching our PSLawNet public interest jobs database as PSJD, effective 8/27.  The blog will move from to (link not active yet).  Those of you who receive from me a weekly email message about this bulletin will continue doing so.  Launching PSJD, which will offer an even better jobs database and career center for the public interest community, represents an exciting transition.  We look forward to all that’s new, but just as much look forward to our continued daily blogging.

Some nonprofit news before the public interest news.  This Nonprofit Quarterly post came to my attention this week.  Entitled “A Too-sad Truth about the Nonprofit Sector,” the post laments the culture of martyrdom which many nonprofits take on.  This can manifest itself in unreasonably low salaries and a shortage of office resources to work efficiently.  Many of the best nonprofit law offices, in my experience, tend to emphasize “law office” over “nonprofit” in terms of how they operate and present themselves to the world.  Of course the recession has made funding scarce, and many organizations are struggling just to keep afloat now.  Nevertheless, some executive directors argue that they will only go so far in keeping staff salaries down and skimping on infrastructure expenses because they will not sacrifice quality of service.  It’s a very difficult balance to strike for nonprofits.  And this debate is always worth having because it brings out some terrific ideas and solutions from organizations with starkly different cultures.

On a lighter note, the annual “Mindset List” for this year’s incoming college class is out.  The list looks at how an 18 year-old would view the world in light of what has, and hasn’t, happened during her lifetime. The list, while a little weak this year compared to its predecessors, succeeds at making me feel old if nothing else.  Funny to think that an incoming college freshman might see Bill Clinton only as a grandfatherly, elder statesman as opposed to, well, any of the many the other things Bill Clinton’s been.  

Okay, the week’s access-to-justice and public interest news, in very brief:

  • Legal Services Corporation board chair on the community’s funding woes and the latest LSC newsletter;
  • law school clinic at Santa Clara U. is sued by law firm for, well, operating;
  • legal services providers in Nevada receive $1.2m from mortgage foreclosure class-action settlement funds;
  • when fiscal woes plague nonprofits in the justice system, local communities suffer;
  • prosecutors moonlight to 1) supplement income and 2) perpetuate Irish-American stereotypes;
  • maybe prosecution work is for the dogs;
  • North Dakota’s economic boom is straining the both the civil and criminal legal-aid camps;
  • Think Progress thinks about LSC cuts;
  • DOJ petitioned to think about how its crime-fighting spending affects all players in justice system;
  • would narrowing the definition of “pro bono” lead to lawyers handling more poverty law cases?
  • the rise of, and importance in, pro bono from Chicago-area in-house counsel;
  • more needed from pro bono lawyers and the justice system is strained by increased numbers of low-income litigants;
  • a Texas County signs on for multi-county capital defense cost-sharing program;
  • Michigan goes online to help pro se litigants;
  • 10 tips for getting hired into a public defender’s office;
  • a NY State county wants to go from paid staff defenders to an assigned-counsel system to save $;
  • Deferred Action participants should be wary of those offering legal services.
  • Music!

The summaries:

  • 8.23.12 – LSC board chair John Levi writes about the legal services funding shortages in Michigan and throughout the U.S.: In Michigan, LSC funds six programs with 29 offices across the state. These offices, both in Michigan and nationwide, are increasingly overwhelmed with requests for help. Nearly one in five Americans — 63 million people — now qualify for LSC-funded civil legal assistance because they live at or below 125% of the federal poverty guideline. That is an all-time high. As demand has been rising, the combined funding for LSC programs from federal, state, local and all other sources has dropped from $960 million in 2010 to $878 million in 2012.  As a result, legal service programs are turning away more and more people who seek help — 50% or more according to recent studies.  More than 21% of the state’s population now qualifies for LSC-funded civil legal assistance. Resources from LSC and other funders, however, have dropped dramatically. Projected overall funding for the six LSC grantees in Michigan for 2012 is $19.6 million — a decrease of nearly 24% from 2010 funding levels.”  (Op-ed in the Detroit Free Press.)
    • On a related note, LSC’s 8/21 edition of “LSC Upates” covers likely job cuts at grantee organizations, a recent board meeting, promoting access to justice through technology, LSC’s receipt of grant funding to improve data collection(!), and other odds/ends
  • 8.23.12 – “A Los Angeles law firm claims in court that Santa Clara University’s pro bono law center is practicing law for poor people illegally.  The Brachfeld Law Group sued Santa Clara University and Scott Maurer, supervising attorney for the university’s Katharine and George Alexander Community Law Center, in Superior Court.  Brachfeld claims that the Community Law Center improperly uses Maurer’s law license to collect attorneys’ fees, which Maurer shares with the university.  (Story from the Courthouse News Service.)
  • 8.23.12 – some of Nevada’s share of national mortgage foreclosure class-action settlement funds will go to legal services.  Legislators approved a one-year, $11 million plan.  (There is more for appropriation in future budget cycles.) Of this $11 million, “…nearly $1.2 million will go to Nevada Legal Services and the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada to provide assistance to homeowners.” (Article from the Nevada News Bureau.)
  • 8.22.12 – when fiscal woes plague nonprofits like Jacksonville Area Legal Aid and the Jacksonville Justice Coalition, which offers support services to crime victims, the entire Jacksonville community suffers.  (Story from the Florida Times Union.)  
  • 8.21.12 – having grown up in northeast Philadelphia, I can say with certainty that there’s nothing unusual about a guy named Colin working behind a local bar. What is unusual is when he’s an assistant district attorney.  The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at the ends local prosecutors go to when they struggle financially on civil-servant salaries.
    • It’s noteworthy that their public defender counterparts have it worse.  From an Inquirer story in June: “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.”


  • 8.21.12 – I’m a sucker for a story about a pooch in a law office.  “A new four legged volunteer is working at the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office. It’s part of an innovative pilot program, to provide emotional support to crime victims and witnesses.
    Malvern is a two-year-old, highly trained service dog.  District Attorney, Joyce Dudley, has been working to get a dog…into her office as…to provide a calming presence and create a more compassionate environment for victims and witnesses of crimes within Santa Barbara.  Over the next few months he will work in the D.A.’s office.”   (Story from KEYT.)
  • 8.21.12 – unforeseen consequences. North Dakota’s economic boom is straining both the civil and criminal legal aid camps. On the civil side, stakeholders are dealing with “an increase in demand for Legal Services lawyers— …requests for help have shot up at least 50 percent in the last year—that coincides with a series of budget cuts. Federal funding, which accounts for about 60 percent of the organization’s annual spending plan, shrank by 5 percent in 2011 and 14 percent in 2012, leaving the agency with a budget of about $1.6 million this year.”  On the criminal side, a state bar task force’s “final report, which the bar association’s board of governors adopted on August 16, draws the bleak conclusion that the widening gap between the indigent defense commission’s resources and the demand for its services has put the agency on the verge of a ‘constitutional crisis’.”   (Story from the American Lawyer.  Ho-hum; the PSJD Blog noted this back in July.)  
  • 8.20.12 – Two national defense attorney groups are asking the Department of Justice to better analyze how proposed criminal laws and crime-fighting strategies might add additional costs to the rest of the justice system [including indigent defense].  The Nat’l. Assoc. of Criminal Defense Lawyers joined the…National Legal Aid and Defender Association in passing a resolution this month that calls for the DOJ to conduct “justice system impact statements” statements on future policy changes. The resolution suggests the DOJ could fund the studies through its criminal justice grant programs.  The American Bar Association adopted a similar resolution more than 20 years ago, but the NACDL and NLADA resolution also asks DOJ for impact statements for the grants it distributes to local police and prosecutors.”  (Story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 8.20.12 – would narrowing the definition of “pro bono” lead to more volunteer lawyers handling poverty law cases and providing direct representation to low-income clients?  The Pro Bono Institute’s Esther Lardent doesn’t think so: “The reality is that choosing pro bono work is often a matter of blending personal interest with client need. Restricting personal choices will not increase poverty law pro bono. It is, rather, far more likely to reduce the total amount of pro bono and the percentage of lawyers who undertake it.  Our goal should be to educate lawyers about the unparalleled need for legal services to the poor. We should put, as our Pro Bono Challenge and American Bar Association Model Rule 6.1 do, a special emphasis on poverty law pro bono (which led to 58 percent of total Challenge law firm hours devoted to pro bono focused on poverty), and review and revamp the processes for referring, accepting and handling pro bono matters for the poor to make them more appealing and more efficiently undertaken.”  (Full piece in the National Law Journal.)
  • 8.20.12 – the rise in, and importance of, in-house pro bono in Chicago: “As more people have turned to them for help, Cabrini Green, like an increasing number of Chicago nonprofits offering legal services to low-income people, has sought help from new allies. Though legal nonprofits traditionally have recruited volunteers from the hallways of Chicago’s big law firms, they have begun courting lawyers who work in the legal departments of the region’s corporate giants, including McDonald’s Corp., Exelon Corp., Abbott Laboratories, Caterpillar Inc. and Allstate Corp.”  (Full story from Crain’s Chicago Business.)  
  • 8.19.12 – with the number and needs of pro se litigants rising, and with the civil legal services community weathering a severe funding storm, much is needed of pro bono advocates throughout the U.S.  (Full story from Associated Press.)
  • 8.19.12 – in Texas, Angelina County is set to participate in the Regional Capital Defender Program.  Participation in the “shared-cost, multi-county” program is expected to save money on providing indigent defense services to those facing capital chartges.  (Story from the Lufkin Daily News.)
  • 8.17.12 – Warren County is seeking to request permission from the New York State Mandate Relief Council to contract with lawyers to perform legal services for the indigent rather than having the work handled by its own county office in which the attorneys are county employees. The county estimates this change, if authorized, will save $200,000 annually.  (Story from the Post Star.)
  • 8.16.12 – After implementation of the Obama Administration’s “Deferred Action” program for unauthorized immigrants who arrived in this country as youth, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., is renewing warnings to those immigrants to guard themselves against scam artists posing as immigration attorneys. He suggests asking questions about the attorney’s background and qualifications and calling the New York State Unified Court System’s Attorney Registration Unit to see if the individual is accredited before hiring them to ensure that they are in fact qualified to perform that kind of work. Many scam artists will take thousands of dollars from immigrants while offering little if anything in return.  (Here’s Mr. Vance’s press release.)

Music!  That Beloit Mindset List has me thinking about the college years.  So let’s travel to the 1990s for Boulder, CO’s own Big Head Todd and the Monsters.  (The man does in fact have a physically big head.  Not sure about his ego.)  “In the Morning” is one of my favorite songs -and it’s a pretty love song, tempo notwithstanding – from the under-appreciated album Stratagem.

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Managing Student Loan Debt: Getting Started

By: Ashley Matthews

Congratulations, law school grads – you did it! After 3 years of casebooks, study groups, outlines, and hornbooks, it’s finally over.

But now, it’s the moment we’ve all been dreading/ignoring: student loan repayment. As the end of the grace period creeps onto our calendars, now is the best time to prepare. It’s no secret that student loan debt can hurt your economic status in a major way. And on a public interest salary, repaying student loans can be downright crippling. (Just ask a few of the lawyers recently profiled by the Philadelphia Inquirer – one of whom was forced by debt to move back home with parents at the tender age of 49.)

The good news is that you are not alone. Student loan expert Heather Jarvis, a former public interest attorney, is committed to reducing the financial barriers to practicing our favorite kind of law here at PSLawNet.  So before you have a severe panic attack at the thought of being shackled to your loans forever, take a look at these pointers from a recent blog post Jarvis wrote about taking the first baby steps to deal with our giant loans:

1. “Figure out which loans you have.” Sounds simple, right? Maybe for some, but many law students have multiple loans from different lenders. Some loans may even come from private lenders.

2. “Decide which consolidation works for you.” Loan consolidation is key to Public Interest Loan Forgiveness. If you have a FFEL loan, things may get a bit tricky.

3. “Choose a repayment plan.” This sounds simple too, right? Once again, it may be for some people – but for others, crafting the right plan involves weighing multiple options.

For more important information and links, check out the full blog post at Jarvis’ website, This site is a wealth of information about student loans, so it would be smart to educate yourself well before you walk across the stage at law school graduation. The better prepared we are to handle student loan debt, the more we are able to commit ourselves to what matters most: using our law degree to help others in need.

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Should We Narrow the Definition of Lawyer Pro Bono? Will That Lead to More Poor People Being Served?

By: Steve Grumm

Environmental stewardship is important.  It’s also great to provide legal work that supports the arts.  Who doesn’t want to support the arts?  But by including such activities in how we – the legal community – define pro bono, are we lessening the odds that pro bono lawyers will take on poverty law cases and provide direct legal assistance to poor people?  A recent Pro Bono Institute report shows that law-firm pro bono on poverty-law matters is down. 

The Institute’s Esther Lardent weighs in on the question, and decides that narrowing “pro bono’s” definition will not lead to more/better work on behalf of low-income clients.  Writing in the National Law Journal, Lardent argues:

Whatever the reason for the downturn, would a definition of pro bono limited to legal services for the poor solve the problem and result in more low-income clients served? I believe it would not. Lawyers make a pro bono commitment for many reasons, but one major impetus for many is a personal commitment to a particular legal problem or client demographic. Lawyers who are passionate about international human rights and the rule of law, protecting civil liberties or ensuring a sustainable environment for future generations understandably want to use their skills to pursue their passion. Business lawyers who are averse to litigation are unlikely to take on adversarial matters on a pro bono basis when they would not do so for paying clients. The reality is that choosing pro bono work is often a matter of blending personal interest with client need. Restricting personal choices will not increase poverty law pro bono. It is, rather, far more likely to reduce the total amount of pro bono and the percentage of lawyers who undertake it.

Our goal should be to educate lawyers about the unparalleled need for legal services to the poor. We should put, as our Pro Bono Challenge and American Bar Association Model Rule 6.1 do, a special emphasis on poverty law pro bono (which led to 58 percent of total Challenge law firm hours devoted to pro bono focused on poverty), and review and revamp the processes for referring, accepting and handling pro bono matters for the poor to make them more appealing and more efficiently undertaken.

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Bad News on Jobs with Civil Legal Aid Organizations

By: Steve Grumm

From a Legal Services Corporation release:

Washington DC – According to a recent survey conducted by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), local legal aid programs expect to reduce staffing by nearly 750 employees in 2012, including 350 attorneys, because of funding cuts. This represents a reduction of eight percent of full-time-equivalent (FTE) positions from the end of 2011.

Nationwide, programs receiving grants from LSC reported significant reductions in funding, staffing, and operations.  Eighty-seven percent of the respondents report that their total (LSC and non-LSC) funding in 2012 will decrease significantly from 2011.  Eighty-two percent of the programs with reserves expect to use those funds in 2012 to continue operations.  One hundred thirty-three of the 134 LSC grantees responded to the survey.

As of December 2011, LSC-funded programs employed 9,185 FTE staff—including 4,360 attorneys—a reduction of 6.7 percent (661 positions) since December 2010.  Over the two-year period from 2010 to 2012, LSC-funded programs expect to lose 14 percent of their staff, including 591 attorneys (nearly 13 percent) and 320 paralegals (18 percent).   Sixteen percent of respondents expect to close offices in 2012.

Of the programs reporting decreases in their total funding from 2011 to 2012, 91 percent (87 programs) expect to serve fewer clients and accept fewer cases, and 73 percent (70 programs) will restrict the types of cases accepted.  Twenty-nine percent of programs expect to cut back services on foreclosure-related issues and services to victims of domestic violence.

There’s no making lemonade out of this.  It’s terrible news for legal services lawyers and (more signifcantly) for clients.  Nonetheless, we know that law students come to the PSLawNet Blog for info on career options.   We are still posting legal aid job listings from throughout the country everyday on PSLawNet.  So  the upshot is that you have to be the best job candidates you can possibly be in this tight job market.  Use our Job Search Fundamentals tools to work up great cover letters and resumes, and to learn how to ace interviews.

On a related note, we encourage law students to volunteer with civil legal aid providers this year.  Resources within these organizations are depleting but client demand from poor people and families continues to rise.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – August 10, 2012

courtesy of

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers, from Washington, DC, where the sun is emerging after several hours of drenching summer rain.  Did you know that this day in history is a hugely significant one for the museum-goers among us?  On August 10, 1793, the Louvre opened its doors with its twofold mission of celebrating beautiful art and making non-French people feel uncultured.   But here in the US of A, on August 10, 1846 Congress chartered the Smithsonian Institution, which has since connected millions upon millions of people with art, science, and history.  

Speaking of history, unfortunately some of the history being written today concerns persistent economic hardships confronting families throughout the U.S.  Here’s an NPR story on the growth of poverty in the U.S. “According to a recent survey by The Associated Press, the number of Americans living at or below the poverty line will reach its highest point since…1964. Close to 16 percent of Americans now live at or below the poverty line. For a family of four, that’s $23,000 a year. On top of that, 100 million of us — 1 out of 3 Americans — manage to survive on a household income barely twice that amount. How is this poverty crisis happening?…”  (Full story.)

  • On a related note here is a slideshow – The Faces of Food Stamps – that looks at the stories of several food stamp recipients, including the economic circumstances that forced them to seek help for themselves and their families.  Just for some broad-brush context: over one in seven Americans benefits from food stamps (a/k/a the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) these days.

The week in access-to-justice news, in short:

  • report both criticizes and praises NOLA’s public defender in relation to a funding crisis the office is working through;
  • stricter standards for determining eligibility for indigent defense in the Bay State?;
  • a new initiative to make technology work for Washington State civil legal aid programs and clients;
  • a pro bono attorney is appealing sanctions in hopes of getting an en banc hearing from the 9th Circuit;
  • will the ABA roll out a legal job corps?;
  • legal aid funding woes in the Sunflower State;
  • ditto in Old Dominion;
  • staff reductions coming at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid;
  • on a brighter note, the Florida Bar Foundation is expecting a windfall;
  • public defenders must defend themselves from professional indignities;
  • Ohio legal aid providers face harsh fiscal realities;
  • same thing for a Northern California provider;
  • the St. Louis Post Dispatch calls for $ for the state’s indigent defense system;
  • Memphis gets help from the Public Defender Corps program;
  • DC law-firm associates raise almost a million bucks for the Legal Aid Society;
  • the vital role of pro bono lawyers in helping Chicagoans who face foreclosure;
  • Music!

The summaries:

  • 8.9.12 – “A new report on the Orleans Parish public defender’s office places most of the blame on the office’s leadership for a major budget crisis earlier this year that forced heavy bloodletting. But the review also praised Derwyn Bunton, the chief public defender, for helping to build a professional office from what was a bare bones operation comprised of part-time lawyers before Hurricane Katrina.  The 66-page report, commissioned by the Louisiana Public Defender Board, comes six months after a major fiscal crisis for an office that represents more than 80 percent of criminal defendants in Orleans Parish and handled 30,000 cases in 2011.”  (Full story from the Times-Picayune.)
  • 8.9.12 – a Boston Globe editorial argues for stricter standards in determining whether a criminal defendant should be financially eligible for a public defender’s services. The piece highlights the fact that the state’s high court has recently taken notice of what it sees as overly lax standards for assessing indigence.
  • 8.7.12 – some folks with the Northwest Justice Project (which is where I fell in love with the idea of being a public interest lawyer) talk about their work “creating a series of instructive videos for through the federal Communities Connect Network Project (part of the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program) which aims to increase access to technology and improve legal literacy for unrepresented Washingtonians.”  The interview was conducted by the good people at
  • 8.7.12 – “A coalition of public interest groups and two law professors are supporting a call for en banc review of sanctions imposed on an Arizona pro bono attorney in a blistering opinion by a federal appeals court panel.  In a June 21 opinion (PDF), the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals made a personal award of costs against attorney Howard M. Shanker, finding that he ‘grossly abused the judicial process’ by pursuing a harassing, duplicative lawsuit on behalf of his clients.”  I don’t know anything about the merits of the case.  I include this in the Bulletin b/c some parties supporting the en banc review are worried about a chilling effect with respect to the willingness of pro bono counsel to bring cases if they fear the possibility of sanctions.  Granted, this is affirmative litigation, which is not the normal posture for a lot of pro bono cases.  Nevertheless the ABA Journal article is worth a read.   
  • 8.7.12 – speaking of the ABA, they may really get into the postgraduate employment business, and this could impact the public interest community: “ABA President-elect James R. Silkenat told of a plan to create a legal job corps to match unemployed lawyers with underserved communities during a speech to the ABA House of Delegates….  Silkenat, who becomes ABA president in 2013, said there is a need to find meaningful jobs for lawyers and to make sure all parts of society have access to legal assistance. ‘Access to justice is more than just a catchphrase,’ he said.  Silkenat told the ABA Journal that the job corps would operate in both cities and rural areas. A few law schools have tried to implement the idea, he said, but ‘the ABA is the only party that can put it together nationally’.”  Hmmm.  (Full article in the ABA Journal.)
  • 8.7.12 – this article is ostensibly about $4000 of county funding for Kansas Legal Services, but goes on to highlight how KLS’s funding has been hit in the recession’s wake and the challenges it faces at present.  (Story in the Hillsboro Free Press.)
  • 8.6.12 – Jacksonville Area Legal Aid is looking at a sizeable staff cut: “Funding declines for [JALA] will cause the organization to lay off about 20 percent of its staff in the coming weeks.  Including satellite offices, JALA employs about 85 people. A 20 percent cut would indicate a loss of 17 positions.”  IOLTA funding falloffs are the main culprit: “JALA received $1.2 million in 2011, and is projected to receive $550,000 in 2013 and $350,000 in 2014.”  (Story from the Jacksonville Daily Record.)
  • 8.6.12 – on a brighter note, almost half a million dollars is flowing to the Florida Bar Foundation: “Attorney General Pam Bondi today announced that ProVest, LLC, one of Florida’s largest service processing firms, has agreed to pay $462,500 to the Florida Bar Foundation to continue the legal aid program that assists low-income individuals facing foreclosure. The settlement with ProVest resolves allegations regarding improper service of process in foreclosure cases filed in courts throughout Florida.”  Here’s the press release.
  • 8.6.12 – former public defender and current law professor Jay Silver recounts the professional indignities suffered by those who choose careers in public defense.  Criticism can come from all quarters – family members, clients, etc. – so a thick skin and strong sense of commitment are necessary for defenders to succeed.  (Full story from the National Law Journal.)   
  • 8.5.12 – a look at the harsh funding climate in which Ohio’s legal services providers are operating.  Frightening quote: “The Legal Aid Society of Columbus employed 74 people in 2008. Now, it employs 42.”  (Full story from the Columbus Dispatch.)
  • 8.5.12 – from Northern California: “A local nonprofit that has helped represent nearly 10,000 clients in legal matters in Placer and surrounding counties over the past four years alone has lost $165,847 in grant funding over the past two years, along with vital state and federal funding.  In the wake of massive federal and state funding cuts, Northern California Legal Services Motherlode Region, based in Downtown Auburn, and its other offices throughout Northern California, have had to start turning away many low-income residents desperate for legal help. Now, the legal nonprofit can only help people covered under very specific grants.  As of July 26, there was no new intake of clients except for seniors over 60 and those with health-related legal matters. As of Aug. 6, intake for some emergency cases will continue through September and will be reevaluated after that. The free legal clinics offered by the organization will also continue, but the staff and attorneys have been cut nearly in half over the past few years.”  (Full story from Auburn Journal.)
  • 8.5.12 – following a state supreme court ruling about public-defender caseloads, a St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial laments the under-funding of the state’s indigent defense system and argues that funding the system adequately now will save the state money in the long term: “Judges, prosecutors and public defenders have met privately time and time again without results. Prosecutors have scoffed, saying they’re as overworked as the public defenders — although, of course, they choose which cases to prosecute. Judges say they’re caught in the middle.  The Legislature and governor deal with this problem the way they deal with so many others: They punt.  Not every problem can be fixed with more funding. This one can. Do the math.”  (Here’s the full editorial.)
  • 8.5.12 – Public Defender Corps attorneys are starting work in The River City.  “Memphis is joining a movement to reform how indigent defendants are treated — in and out of the courthouse.  The idea is that public defenders may be able to help curb recidivism by helping their clients address many underlying problems, such as mental illness, unemployment and drug or alcohol addictions. Memphis’ forward-thinking helped the city earn a part in the lauded national Public Defenders Corp. program, said Jonathan Rapping, founder and president of Atlanta-based Southern Public Defender Training Center. The center and the D.C.-based Equal Justice Works lead the program, which also receives funding from the U.S. Department of Justice.”  (Full story in the Memphis Commercial Appeal.)  Unfortunately DOJ is no longer going to fund the Public Defender Corps program.  My understanding is that Southern Public Defender Training Center and Equal Justice Works are hunting for other funding options now.
  • 8.3.12 – finally, some good funding news: “In a year fraught with financial uncertainty, the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia recently got some good news: the civil legal services group’s annual Generous Associates Campaign blew past its goal and previous fundraising highs, taking in a record $901,000…. Money earned from the campaign, which is run by associates at law firms across the city, makes up between 20 to 25 percent of the organization’s operating budget….” (Full story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 8.1.12 – the Chicago Lawyer reports on the vital role of pro bono attorneys in running a courthouse based foreclosure prevention program administered by Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.

Music!  Reading news stories from Memphis and St. Louis has got me thinking about the Mississippi.  So here’s some riverboat gambling music from Wilco, which, before becoming an art-rock darling, was a scrappy Illinois  rock band.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – August 3, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  All other news this week was eclipsed by the Glorious Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Franchise’s personnel decisions.  In the midst of a woeful season, the Phils traded away center fielder Shane Victorino, a fan favorite because of the grit, grace, and enthusiasm with which he plays the game.  I commemorate Victorino’s (a/k/a “The Flyin’ Hawaiian”) splendid Philadelphia years in haiku:

Flyin’ Hawaiian

Embodied Philly baseball

He’s gone; I’m dyin’

I don’t often post my original poetry here.  YOU’RE WELCOME.  Heh.  Before turning to this week’s access-to-justice news, here is a pair of other, more serious items that have caught my attention:

  • Much ink has been spilled over the questions of whether and how the widening income gap between the U.S.’s wealthiest and poorest is impacting American culture.  Much of the spilled ink takes form as speculation; relatively little hard data is available to help us explore the question.  But some interesting Pew research shows that we are increasingly segregated by income with respect to the neighborhoods/housing-clusters we live in.  There are fewer mixed-income and middle-class neighborhoods.  Here’s a Washington Post article and here’s a link to the Pew research overview.
  • The Chronicle of Philanthropy put out research on a salary gender gap among junior-level nonprofit employees: “Even early in their careers, women are likely to make less than their male counterparts, according to a Chronicle survey of entry-level nonprofit workers. The study of more than 900 people who have been in the nonprofit workforce less than five years also found that women have lower salary expectations than men do.”  Read more here and play around with charts that sort the data by education level, including one sorting for “Law degree, medical degree, or PhD.”

Okay, access-to-justice and public interest news (which happens to be heavy on indigent defense this week):

  • the Nat’l. Center for Access to Justice has launched a survey on law student pro bono;
  • The Montana Legal Services Association benefits from national mortgage foreclosure class-action settlement funds;
  • The Virginia Legal Aid Society shutters an office;
  • Some public defenders in the Peace Garden State (great nickname!) face swollen caseloads;
  • Four NorCal immigration legal services providers splitting $650K in foundation funding;
  • Short-staffed Philly public defender’s office pulls out of 3 busy courtrooms;
  • A community-based diversionary court program is lowering recidivism in D.C.;
  • NOLA defender sues traffic court, says “Show me the money!”;
  • the Show Me State’s high court issues a (limited) decision on public defender caseload limits;
  • the Legal Services Corporation releases its 2011 annual report;
  • the Wisconsin ATJ Commission begins a series of public hearings;
  • a possible prosecutors’ strike in Contra Costa County, CA(?);
  • a county near Pittsburgh, PA may go to more staff defenders, fewer appointed counsel;
  • Garden State pro bono numbers;
  • grant funding available for state ATJ commissions;
  • a look at caseload pressures on Bluegrass State public defenders;
  • Why can’t we end poverty in the U.S.?;
  • a look at the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society;
  • Calcasieu defender’s office in Louisiana forced to cut back on conflict counsel;
  • Music!  And Space!

The summaries: 

  • 8.1.12 – “The National Center for Access to Justice is preparing a Guide to Strengthening Law Student Pro Bono to Increase Access to Justice and is seeking your help.  If you work in a court, legal services program, law school, law firm, Access to Justice Commission, bar association, or other justice system setting, we hope you will respond to this call. The Guide is focusing on ‘volunteering,’ as distinct from clinics, externships, fellowships, and other activities which law students pursue for credit or pay.  The Center is gathering examples of best practices in which law students, as volunteers, are making a difference….  The Center seeks your input via a survey monkey instrument or via email, Please also feel free to email the Center’s Executive Director with any questions, David Udell,”  
  • 8.1.12 – Montana’s attorney general announced how the state’s share of settlement funds from a class-action over shady lending and foreclosure practices are being divvied.  The Montana Legal Services Association will receive $863,000 to serve low-income homeowners facing foreclosure-related problems.  (Here’s the AG’s announcement.)  
  • 8.1.12 – public defenders in North Dakota are facing swollen caseloads and are short on attorneys to handle them.  The state’s indigent defense program director cites a “crushing” caseload in one rural office on the state’s western edge.  (Full story from the Williston Herald.) Unsolicited speculation by your author: North Dakota has enjoyed a natural-resource-driven economic boom of late, and droves of people have found employment there.  I suspect that with all of this inflow and churn, the state government – including its indigent defense program – is feeling some strain to keep up with the need for services.  Also, speaking of western North Dakota, if you’ve never been to Theodore Roosevelt National Park you’re missing out.
  • 8.1.12 –  The Silicon Valley Community Foundation “announced Tuesday, July 31, that it is donating $654,090 in grants to organizations providing immigration [legal] services for low and moderate-income residents of Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. This is the foundation’s third year of donating to legal services for immigrants in the area. The money will be divided between four organizations: Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, the Mission Asset Fund, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center and the International Institute of the Bay Area.  The organizations receiving the grant money all offer various immigrant services, including visas, naturalization, asylum and assistance to survivors of violence.”  (Full story from the Mountain View Voice.)
  • 8.1.12 – the Philly public defender’s office has pulled out of three courtrooms on account of longstanding attorney shortages: “Staffing has been eliminated for now at three of the busiest Common Pleas courtrooms in Philadelphia.  The action is not being taken by city officials.  Rather it’s a form of protest by the defender’s association. (Here’s a WHYY interview with Philadelphia Public Defender Ellen Greenlee.)
  • 8.1.12 – a report from the D.C. Superior Court (our trial-level court) highlights the success of a neighborhood court diversionary program, most of the participants of which are minor drug offenders.  The main takeaway is that the recidivism rate among East of the River Community Court (ERCC) participants was markedly lower compared to defendants in the regular court system. Here’s a link to the report, courtesy of the Legal Times.
  • 7.31.12 – “The chief public defender in Orleans Parish and the state board that oversees indigent defense in Louisiana filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the four New Orleans Traffic Court judges, seeking millions of dollars they claim the court has illegally withheld in fees slated for poor defendants. The lawsuit, filed in East Baton Rouge Parish, claims the judges have failed to follow state law in collecting and turning over an indigent defense fee that rose from $35 to $45 per conviction this year. The lawsuit follows a standstill between the state Public Defender Board and the judges over the court’s responsibility to make up for past failures and pay what it owes.”  (Full story from the Times-Picayune.)
  • 7.31.12 – “A divided Missouri Supreme Court concluded Tuesday that a judge exceeded his authority when appointing a public defender despite a rule that restricts new clients to control caseloads…. The state public defender system has set maximum caseload standards for its offices. When limits are exceeded for three consecutive months, the public defender director can certify that the local office has limited availability for cases. Officials then are supposed to work with prosecutors and judges to reduce demand for public defenders and can refuse new cases if an agreement is not reached…. The Supreme Court ruled, in a 4-3 decision, that the caseload rule should have been applied because nothing was shown to suggest that the protocol was invalid or inapplicable.”  (Here’s the full AP story.)  More coverage:
    • “With Tuesday’s decision, the Supreme Court affirmed that Missouri State Public Defenders Commission has the authority to set rules governing procedures for the district offices.  But the twist: The court did not decide whether this specific rule, which allows a district office to close when caseloads reach a maximum level set by the commission, was proper.”  (Full article from the Springfield News-Leader.)
  • 7.31.12 – the Legal Services Corporation has released its 2011 annual report.  Here are some key data points from the report’s “By the Numbers” section:
    • The number of Americans eligible for LSC-funded legal assistance reached an all-time high: 64.6 million.
    • LSC’s 135 grantees employed 8,363 full-time staff at 915 offices throughout the United States and its territories.  4,097 were attorneys, 1,447 were paralegals.  [Ed. note: according to prior year’s (2010) report, there were 9059 full-time staff working with LSC grantee programs.]
    • 32,101 private attorneys accepted pro bono cases through LSC-funded programs.
    • Cases closed: 899,817, including 79,578 with the involvement of pro bono attorneys.
    • 117,595 clients were at least 60 years old.
    • 637,426 were women.
    • 105,090 of the cases involved domestic violence.
    • Total number of people in all households served: 2,284,162.
  • 7.31.12 – “On Tuesday [7/31/12], the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission hosted a public hearing to learn more about that challenge.” The committee is hosting a total of six hearings throughout the Badger State, and intends to produce a report based on the data and stories it gathers.  (Full story from WQOW.)
  • 7.30.12 – From Contra Costa County in N. California: “Contra Costa supervisors voted Tuesday to impose a labor contract on [unionized] county prosecutors that includes deep pay cuts, despite District Attorney Mark Peterson’s assertion that he can find savings the county needs elsewhere in his budget…. The District Attorney’s Office is the most understaffed, overworked prosecutorial unit in the Bay Area, and cutting compensation further will hurt morale and likely lead to more attorneys leaving, Peterson said…. The supervisors said they were only able to pass a balanced budget this year because the county’s employee unions have made sacrifices, and that deputy district attorneys need to do the same…. The prosecutors say they have been discussing striking, and could challenge the contract in labor court.”  (Full story from the Silicon Valley Mercury News.)
  • 7.30.12 – Westmoreland County (PA) officials are mulling a plan to cut the number of private lawyers appointed to represent criminal defendants. Court administrators estimate that about $150,000 a year can be saved by retaining a staff of five attorneys earning an annual salary rather than the current system in which dozens of lawyers are appointed and paid on an hourly basis. ‘Other than personnel, this is the courts’ largest line item,’ said court administrator Paul Kuntz.  Last year, judges appointed more than 50 private lawyers who represented about 330 defendants. The county paid $368,000 for those lawyers.  Attorneys are appointed by the courts to represent criminal defendants when there is a conflict of interest with the public defender’s office. For the last several months, court officials have explored methods to reduce these costs.  Kuntz surveyed 33 counties throughout Pennsylvania and found that most — 25 — used independent staff to deal with these cases.  (Full story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.)
  • 7.30.12 – Garden State pro bono numbers.  “New Jersey’s top 20 firms racked up 100,746 pro bono hours in 2011, breaking 100,000 for the second time but leaving intact last year’s record of nearly 104,000 hours.  Still, the 2011 figure represents an impressive average of more than 33 hours for each of the 3,027 attorneys at the top 20 firms.  And the proportion of those who did 20 hours or more of pro bono went up in 2011, from 25.7 percent to 28 percent.  Leading the pack once again were the same firms that have held the top four spots since 2008: Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland, Gibbons and McCarter & English, both in Newark, and Porzio Bromberg & Newman in Morristown.”  (Full story from the New Jersey Law Journal.)
  • 7.30.12 – funding available for state access-to-justice commissions: “With funding from the Public Welfare Foundation, the ABA Access to Justice Commission Expansion Project is making grants to strengthen the Access to Justice commission movement nationally by facilitating development of new Access to Justice commissions and expanding agendas and promoting innovative initiatives in existing commissions.”  (Here are grant application process/timeline details from the ABA.)  Tip of cap to Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice blog.
  • 7.29.12 – here’s an article looking at the pressures weighing upon Kentucky’s indigent defense network (the Department of Public Advocacy), with particular focus on the very busy Bowling Green office.  (DPA just released its 2011 annual report.)  From the article: “The picture of the overworked public defender buried in casework is rooted in fact, particularly in the Bowling Green office….  The Bowling Green office handled 5,437 new cases, the fifth-highest total among the 30 trial offices. The average caseload of 515.1 new cases per attorney in the local office is the third-highest average in the state, and when ongoing criminal cases are factored into a public defender’s caseload, the Bowling Green office had the highest average attorney caseload, with each attorney responsible for 799.8 cases….  Overall, Kentucky’s public defender caseload, which includes the Trial and Post-Trial divisions, has increased by about 43.5 percent from 2002 – when 108,078 new cases were assigned to the DPA – to last year, according to the DPA’s annual report.”  (Full article from the Bowling Green Daily News.)
  •  7.28.12 – Prof. Peter Edelman, chair of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission and longtime supporter of civil legal aid, asks why we cannot end poverty in the U.S.  Edelman IDs federal programs that have helped the poor – Social Security, food stamps, and the Earned Income Tax Credit, and then asks: “With all of that, why have we not achieved more? Four reasons: An astonishing number of people work at low-wage jobs. Plus, many more households are headed now by a single parent, making it difficult for them to earn a living income from the jobs that are typically available. The near disappearance of cash assistance for low-income mothers and children — i.e., welfare — in much of the country plays a contributing role, too. And persistent issues of race and gender mean higher poverty among minorities and families headed by single mothers.” (Read the full New York Times op-ed.)
  • In Louisiana, “Calcasieu Public Defenders Office announced it must cut back services due to budget shortfalls and that the office will withdraw as counsel for about 400 felony cases it’s now appointed to handle.  A spokesman says they will work with the judges to assign new attorneys from the private bar.”  The positions being cut are four of the office’s six conflict attorney slots.  (Full story from KPLC.)  

Music!  Hard to withstand The Temptations if you want to smile on a Friday morning. (Edit: link fixed.)

Space!  Check out this extraordinary time-lapse footage of Earth as seen from the International Space Station.  As trite as this notion may seem, perspective is everything, and viewing Earth from above is somehow humbling, frightening, and tremendously satisfying at once.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – July 27, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers, from a sweltering, sun-drenched Washington, DC.  There is much public interest news to cover this week.  Before that, two other items of interest:

  • Is the U.S. experiencing the highest poverty levels in the last half-century? With new poverty data set for release in several weeks, experts expect that the poverty rate will hit its highest mark since the mid-1960s.  “Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.”  (Story from Washington Post.)
    • Another trend that augurs poorly for the poor is the potential for a continued rise in food prices as a result of drought conditions throughout most of the U.S. (Again, the Washington Post.)
  • From the law-firm world…the National Law Journal has published “The Equity Gap: a Special Report on Women in the Partnership.” The intro: “Virtually every firm claims to be committed to helping women succeed, and they all seem to offer an array of women’s programs — affinity groups, business-development training and work/life balance initiatives. But are large firms committed to promoting women into the equity partnership? Our study of the largest firms in the United States by headcount shows that women represent just 15 percent of equity partners. At just five firms surveyed, women make up more than 25 percent of equity partners.”  (Here’s the multi-part report.)

On to the public interest news.  This week in very short:

  • Access to justice a la Canadien;
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado raises $1.4m;
  • Cal. Western Law’s bridge-to-practice incubator program includes a public service component; 
  • This weekend: the Public Defender Advocacy Hiring and Training Conference for law students;
  • “So how do we define pro bono, and does clinical work count?,” asks a law professor;
  • civil legal services providers across the country benefitting from national mortgage foreclosure settlement funds;
  • the funding woes confronting Peach State legal services providers;
  • DC’s local court expands limited-scope representation to allow pro bono counsel to serve low-income litigants who would otherwise go pro se;
  • The Legal Services Corporation’s board is meeting in Michigan;
  • Birmingham, AL is moving from an appointed counsel system to a staffed public defense program;
  • Everything’s bigger in Texas, including pro bono;
  • A concise overview of successful pro bono models;
  • Recent innovations in legal education highlight a move toward experience-based learning.
  • Mick Jagger is 69 years old and I don’t know what to make of that.  Happy weekend.

The summaries:

  • 7.27.12 – ATJ news from our northern neighbors: “The Canadian Bar Association will take on pro bono family law and poverty law test cases as part of a major push in the coming year to improve the public’s access to justice, says its incoming president.  Robert Brun told The Lawyers Weekly that the CBA will provide representation to litigants pro bono in select cases that could set important precedents on the right to legally aided counsel in areas including prison law, mental health law and refugee law….  The CBA is also announcing a ‘major access to justice initiative’ at its Vancouver annual meeting next month, Brun said. The two-year project will include representations to governments.”  (Story from The Lawyers Weekly.)
  • 7.24.12 – “The Legal Aid Foundation [of Colorado] raised nearly $1.4 million in its 2011-12 Campaign for Justice, providing a welcome funding boost to a system strapped for cash.  Donations from law firms accounted for about 68 percent of the total, with many donor firms giving at the foundation’s suggested leadership level of $350 per associate…. The foundation is the fundraising arm of Colorado Legal Services, which has seen its budgets slashed in recent years.”  (Full story from Law Week Colorado.)
  • 7.24.12 – “California Western School of Law started the Access to Law Initiative last month. It places eight attorneys who each operate their own practices in an office in downtown San Diego’s Symphony Towers. In exchange, the attorneys pledge to provide at least 100 hours per year of pro bono, public service and ‘sliding scale fee’ legal service.  The new lawyers are mentored by professors and practicing attorneys.  Attorney Eric LaGuardia, a consumer rights lawyer who said he ‘represents the little guy,’ told KPBS the program acts as an incubator for recent law school graduates.  The program was started by California Western professor Robert Seibel and modeled on an initiative at City University of New York. San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law is currently establishing a similar project….” (Full story from KPBS.)
  • 7.24.12 – “Hoping to attract law students and young lawyers facing an increasingly dismal job market, representatives from public defender offices across the country are converging in Washington this weekend to make their pitch.  Since 2008, the D.C. Public Defender Service has organized a biennial conference dedicated to raising the profile of indigent criminal defense work. Public defender offices are often represented at general public interest job fairs, but PDS director of legal recruiting and conference organizer Jennifer Thomas said they saw a need for an event focusing on topics unique to public defender recruitment and jobs.  ‘In the civil legal services…everybody assumes you’re on the side of the angels. In criminal defense, the public perception is very different,’ she said.”  (Full story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 7.23.12 – in a blog post, Prof. Stephen Ellmann of New York Law School ruminates on the definitional ambiguity of “pro bono” and argues that clinical work performed by law students, even though credit-bearing, should count as pro bono for purposes of NY State’s to-be-imposed 50-hour pro bono requirement for admission to the bar.  (Here’s the full blog post.)
  • 7.23.12 – a look at how the civil legal services community is using funds from the national mortgage foreclosure class action settlement.  Attorneys general across the country are granting some of the settlement funds to legal services providers to bolster housing advocacy for those facing foreclosure and related legal problems.  (Here’s the information from a DOJ Access to Justice Initiative press release.)  
  • 7.23.12 – the funding woes of Georgia’s legal services providers: “Funding for the Georgia Legal Services Program, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation has dropped 13.5 percent since 2008, when their combined total budget was $24.2 million. To weather the losses, they’ve reduced staff, cut programs and dipped into reserve funds, even as the population they serve — people with civil legal problems who can’t afford a lawyer — has increased….  Atlanta Legal Aid, for example, has suspended its retirement plan for employees and for the past three years has dipped into its endowment to avoid layoffs, said its executive director, Steven Gottlieb.  But this year, Gottlieb finally had to lay people off. He said attrition and layoffs have shrunk Atlanta Legal Aid’s staff from 133 employees to 115 since the recession began. Another five to 10 people are also working fewer hours.”  And as is the case in many other jurisdictions, IOLTA revenues have fallen through the floor.  (Full story from the Daily Report.)
  • 7.23.12 – “In two high-volume branches of the District of Columbia Superior Court, civil legal services groups hope to prove that when it comes to pro bono representation, a little is a lot better than none. A policy recently adopted by the court gives the green light for pro bono lawyers to enter temporary appearances for low-income litigants in small claims and debt collections cases. Legal services lawyers say the change means they can provide much needed representation using minimal resources…. Under the new policy…lawyers can file a notice with the court that they’ll be representing a client for a single day of proceedings. Once proceedings are over for the day, the attorney-client relationship ends. There is precedent at the court for limited-scope representation. Beginning in 2007, the court began allowing temporary pro bono representation in the landlord and tenant branch. Last June, a similar policy was put in place for the paternity and child support branch.” (Full, but password-protected, story in the National Law Journal.) 
  • 7.23.12 – from a press release, details about the Legal Services Corporation board meeting which is taking place in Michigan on the 27th.
  • 7.23.12 – “Jefferson County [Birmingham and vicinity] courts will switch to a public defender system as part of a statewide effort to control the spiraling cost of providing lawyers for criminal defendants unable to afford counsel, officials said. The new public defender’s office will replace the current system of judges appointing lawyers for indigent defendants.  It’s hoped that a new defender will be in place this fall, and s/he will hire staff.  “Officials estimated the Birmingham division public defender’s office will have 40 lawyers and support staff.”  (Here’s the full story from the Birmingham News and here’s more coverage from the Montgomery Advertiser.)
  • 7.23.12 – “Despite having fewer average full-time equivalent lawyers in 2011 compared to 2010, the 18 firms sharing pro bono information for their Texas lawyers donated more hours than the previous year.” (It’s password protected, so that’s all I’ve got from this Texas Lawyer article.)
  • 7.17.12 – the National Jurist looks at innovations in legal education: “Law schools are pushing the boundaries of the traditional law school model and experimenting at a level that legal education has not seen for several years, a new story reveals.  The National Jurist invited every law school in the U.S. to submit a nomination for how it is innovating its curriculum. More than 40 schools responded, showing that schools are experimenting with boot camps, mentoring programs, technology and programs that mirror the medical school model.”  The magazine’s next issue, due out in late August, will highlight some schools’ novel approaches to training tomorrow’s lawyers.

Music!  Yesterday marked the 69th birthday of Mick Jagger, a rock & roll legend who is nonetheless rightly criticized for wearing tights way past his time (if ever a time there is).  Here’s one of the Rolling Stones’ best.

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Tips from the Experts: Serving the Public Interest Throughout a Career

By: Maria Hibbard

I recently had the opportunity to attend The Washington Council of Lawyers’ Summer Pro Bono Forum, an annual event hosted by WCL to introduce law firm summer associates and public interest interns to public interest careers and pro bono opportunities. Some highlights of the event are definitely worth sharing:

  • Why support the public interest? Keynote speaker Judge Ricardo Urbina of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia addressed this question by laying out “the great equation:” time + effort = outcome. Ultimately, he said, this equation will have a direct impact on a career trajectory and individual success. Judge Urbina pointed out that there are so many other variables that impact this equation, however–socioeconomic status, access to quality education, race, gender–and law students and lawyers who support public service careers and pro bono activities can help others navigate variables of “the great equation.”
  • The importance of introducing yourself. All of the attorneys present at the event focused not necessarily on the importance of “networking,” but the need to just introduce oneself to a new person when in an unfamiliar situation. Once the initial introductions are over, the scary idea of “networking” may be easier.  Being proactive with introductions can also make the first hurdle of “making a good first impression” easier. In room full of unfamiliar people, anyone will appreciate the first one who steps up and says their name!
  • Fellowships and clerkships. In the panel that I attended, 4 out of the five attorneys speaking had completed a fellowship or clerkship immediately after law school–and all of them had only positive things to say about the experience.
  • Working for the “right side.” The attorneys in the panel addressed how at different points in their career they have had to work on projects or with organizations that conflicted with their views or “the public interest.” Because of the diverse backgrounds of the panelists, however, the point was clear that whether one can still be a “public interest attorney” at a law firm, at a nonprofit, or in a government agency.
  • Passion. The passionate way in which the attorneys on the panel spoke about their work was inspiring–and the attorneys encouraged the interns not to lose sight of that passion in law school. All of the attorneys clearly loved their work–it is never easy, many said, but they assured us that it is definitely worth it. Alejandro T. Reyes, Counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said “A big motivating part of being a public interest attorney is knowing exactly what and who you are fighting for, and while there are many challenges, you never have a hard time explaining what you do for living.”

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Public Interest News Bulletin – July 20, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  The presidential election season, quite like law school on-campus interview programs, no longer waits until late summer to shift into fifth gear.  Oh, what unmitigated joy.  I find it a challenge, amidst minute-by-minute coverage of campaign tiffs over tax returns, allegations of cronyism, and the like, to keep an eye on what the truly important news is.  Lately I’ve been focused on economic matters.  The global economy is humankind’s most complex creation.  And we live in a time of extraordinary economic uncertainty.  Two evolving news stories seem highly important to me.           

First, Congress and the Obama Administration face a serious decision on what to do about expiring tax cuts and the prospect of drastically reduced federal spending.  As is explained in this Washington Post piece, we are approaching the so-called “fiscal cliff”: “Economists say the automatic actions slated to take place at the end of the year — an increase in payroll taxes and in income tax rates, as well as large cuts in domestic and defense spending — would tip the country back into recession.  Congress could prevent that outcome, but lawmakers are pledging to do so only on their terms, creating fears of more partisan gridlock. Democrats insist that taxes rise for higher-income earners; Republicans want to include the affluent in any renewal of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts.  Meanwhile, the prospect of a government-induced recession is already taking a toll on the economy.”

Second, PBS’s Frontline series “Money, Power, & Wall Street”, which aired this spring, provides excellent insight into the evolution of American investment banking, its role in 2008 global financial crisis, and present state of the Wall Street investment sector.  As to the latter, the question of whether or not appropriate systemic checks are in place to avoid a future financial bubble-burst is an open one.  And of course opinions differ as to whether and how regulatory safeguards can keep up with rapid investment-market innovation.   Upshot: the Frontline reporting on these aspects of a very tumultuous past five years, which have left us looking into an uncertain future, is excellent.

On to public interest news.  This week in very short:

  • joint military/civilian pro bono initiatives to benefit servicemembers;
  • the public defender caseload limits in Washington State are a victory for the justice system;
  • in NY, nonprofits can now get their bail-posting on;
  • more attorney support for an understaffed PA defender’s office;
  • an NYC task force convened to look at the poor legal job market includes several public service lawyers;
  • eleemosynary sentiment benefits a Vermont Law legal clinic;
  • the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals says “no” to a cy pres proposal;
  • the Chicago Bar Association and Foundation say “congrats!” to pro bono award winners;
  • impact of legal services funding cuts in northeastern New Jersey;
  • a glass ceiling shatters in the Ocean State;
  • legal services funding news from Down Under;
  • a look at insufficient indigent defense funding in several states;
  • Washington State’s public defenders are uncertain about implementing the state’s new caseload limits;
  • more stringent standards to determine eligibility for a public defender in the Bay State;
  • the Pro Bono Institute’s report on Biglaw pro bono in 2011 is a mixed bag, with overall good news but some trouble spots;
  • cy pres funding allows two Peach State law schools to create new public interest scholarships.
  • Music!

The summaries:

  • 7.19.12 – the Navy JAG’s blog looks at the ABA Military Pro Bono Project: “The…Project, established in 2008, is an innovative collaboration between the military and civilian bars designed to expand legal support for active-duty enlisted service members nationwide.  The Project accepts case referrals from military legal assistance attorneys on behalf of junior-enlisted, active-duty military personnel and their families regarding civil legal problems; working to place those cases with qualified civilian attorneys ready to provide free (pro bono) assistance beyond what can ordinarily be provided by military counsel.   The Project is also the platform for Operation Stand-By, an ABA clearinghouse designed to link military attorneys with local civilian attorneys who may provide guidance and expertise in specific subject matters to best serve military clients.
  • 7.18.12 – an op-ed in the Seattle Times voices support for the newly imposed public defender caseload limits in Washington State.  The piece notes that King County’s (Seattle and vicinity) well-respected indigent defense system has operated with caseload limits for some time, and those limits have contributed to high-quality defense work.  
  • 7.18.12 – “Non-profit groups can post bail for poor defendants charged with minor crimes under new legislation signed Wednesday by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Supporters say the law creates more fairness in the bail system for indigent defendants facing low-level offenses. Some defendants frequently languish in jail, unable to afford even low bail amounts, according to public defenders.  The bill exempts “charitable bail” organizations from the licensing requirements imposed on for-profit bail-bond businesses, which typically charge interest or require collateral when hired to post bail for criminal defendants.” (Story from Thomson Reuters.)
  • 7.17.12 – some progress in resolving an understaffed-public-defense-office problem in PA – one that spawned an ACLU lawsuit.  “Indigent defendants who were denied representation by the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office earlier this year will be represented by a pool of 10 attorneys employed by the county to handle cases in which the office has a conflict.  Deputy Court Administrator Mike Shucosky said the attorneys, known as conflict counsel, agreed to take on the cases in order to assist the county in resolving its obligation to provide attorneys to criminal defendants who cannot afford a lawyer.  Hundreds of defendants were left without representation after Chief Public Defender Al Flora announced in December that his office, due to a lack of staffing, was limiting the types of cases it would accept to serious felonies, with certain exceptions.”  (Full story frm the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader.)
  • 7.17.12 – the NYC Bar has convened a task force to explore the anemic lawyer job market.  The task force includes several attorneys from the nonprofit and government arenas.  “The Manhattan and Brooklyn District Attorneys; New York City’s Corporation Counsel; Deans and leaders of Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown, CUNY and Cardozo Law Schools; law firm leaders from Paul Weiss, Simpson Thacher, Skadden Arps and Freshfields; the chief in-house counsel from BNY Mellon, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, Xerox and Con Ed; and the heads of The Legal Aid Society and Legal Services of New York are among those convening at the New York City Bar Association to address what City Bar President Carey Dunne has described as the ‘plight of young lawyers’…. The New York City Bar Association’s ‘Task Force on New Lawyers in a Changing Profession’ will be led by City Bar Vice President Mark Morril, who said, ‘The group we have assembled has the depth and breadth of experience necessary to assess the problem and the leadership position to be heard on significant recommendations for change if they are warranted’.” (Full story in the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.) 
  • 7.17.12 – a $100K gift will support a Vermont Law School clinical program.  “Alden Fiertz [widower of a former Vermont Legal Services attorney] has given $100,000 to strengthen the social justice partnership between Vermont Law School’s South Royalton Legal Clinic (SRLC) and the Upper Valley Haven, which provide a range of legal, housing, food and other services to needy families.  The two institutions have had an informal partnership for years, but the Fiertz family’s donation will allow the SRLC to expand its free legal services for people in poverty.”   (Full story from Vermont Business.)
  • 7.17.12 – (Full disclosure: I love Frosted Mini-Wheats.)  A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision has cy pres implications.  Essentially, the court rejected the idea that cy pres funds could go to charities that support feeding the poor in a case involving a false advertising claim against a cereal maker.  “The Ninth Circuit found that the cy pres provisions bore no resemblance to the claims in the case, which were about false advertising to consumers, not food for the indigent. The court cited its own precedents in Six Mexican Workers v. Arizona Citrus Growers, issued in 1990, and Nachshin v. AOL LLC, issued on Nov. 21. Both rulings struck down settlements because no nexus existed between the cy pres provisions and the class members.  ‘The gravamen of this lawsuit is that Kellogg advertised that its cereal did improve attentiveness,’ [Judge] Trott wrote. ‘Thus, appropriate cy pres recipients are not charities that feed the needy, but organizations dedicated to protecting consumers from, or redressing injuries caused by, false advertising’.”  (Full story from the National Law Journal.) 
  • 7.16.12 – a glass ceiling shattered in the Ocean State: For the first time in Rhode Island, a woman is leading the Office of the Public Defender.  Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Monday swore in Mary McElroy to head the office, which he says critical to the state.  (Full story from WPRI.)  
  • 7.16.12 – for those whose interests know no borders, here’s some legal services funding news from kangaroo country: “COMMUNITY lawyers are calling for a doubling of federal spending on legal assistance services to help the estimated half a million Australians who miss out on legal help each year.  Community Law Australia, a coalition of community legal centres from across the nation, says the federal government must inject an extra $330 million a year into the system to ensure all Australians can access a basic level of legal assistance.”  (Full story in the Sydney Morning Herald.)
  • 7.15.12 – this short piece notes that Washington State’s public defenders are still sorting through the impact that the state high court’s recently imposed caseload standards will have on their offices. (Full story in The Daily News.)  [Editor’s note: the article refers to the court’s “ruling” and “decision.”  Strictly speaking the new rule is an order of the high court.  The order did not stem from a case that the court heard, but rather from the court’s authority to govern law practice in the state.] 
  • 7.13.12 – more stringent standards to determine eligibility for indigent defense in Massachusetts: “Criminal defendants in Massachusetts must prove that they can’t afford their own attorney before a judge can appoint a lawyer to represent them at taxpayer expense, the state’s highest court ruled Friday.  In a series of rulings, the Supreme Judicial Court tightened rules governing when defendants can get court-appointed lawyers.  The SJC also found that retirement account funds can be considered when calculating whether a defendant is indigent.”  (Full story from the Associated Press.)
  • 7.12.12 – “The Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Project has released its report on the 2011 Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge® data. One hundred thirty-four participating firms reported in 2011, performing a total of 4,476,866 hours of pro bono work – a slight increase over 2010. This is the third highest year since the inception of the Challenge in 1995….   A particular point of concern is that service to persons of limited means or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters which are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means decreased by 9.7 percent from 2010. Challenge firms donated 2,578,958 hours to this group in 2011.  Charitable giving by firms, however, was strong.”
  • 7.12.12 – two Georgia law schools, the University of Georgia (Bulldogs!) and Mercer University (Bears!) are benefitting from hefty cy pres residual awards which will go to funding public interest scholarships.  (Full story in the National Law Journal.) 

Music!  How about Boise, Idaho’s finest, Built to Spill, with “Center of the Universe”?

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Did you miss The Pathways to Postgraduate Fellowships? Watch the highlights!

NALP was proud to co-host a panel last week at the Georgetown University Law Center with our friends at the Washington Council of Lawyers; if you missed the Pathways to Postgraduate Fellowships, you can now watch the edited highlights of the panel online! The panel included:

(our very own!) Steve Grumm (Moderator), Director of Public Service Initiatives, NALP

Chinh Le, Legal Director, The Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia

Nita Mazumder, Program Manager, Law School Relations, Equal Justice Works

Tim McManus,Vice President, Education and Outreach, Partnership for Public Service

Devi Rao, Skadden Fellow for Educational and Employment Opportunities at the National Women’s Law Center

You can also access the Postgraduate Fellowships Resource List compiled for the program and see WCL’s live Storify tweets from the event.

As always, remember to check out PSLawNet’s Postgraduate Fellowship Resources for guidance on searching out and applying for fellowships!

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