PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 22, 2015

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday!  I hope you all enjoy a restful Memorial Day weekend!  And take a moment to remember those we lost in service to our country.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • More funding for legal aid tops docket of justice issues for incoming Alberta government;
  • Kiosks could help Floridians get access to the legal system;
  • El Paso County (Texas) chief public defender seeks grant to increase staff;
  • This is the moment for clinics;
  • University of Akron School of Law SEED clinic receives Small Business Administration award;
  • Law firm donation supports Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance with $250,000 donation;
  • Nearly one quarter of 2015 Presidential Management Fellowship Finalists are veterans;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 14, 2015 - “More funding for the province’s legal aid program tops the docket of justice issues facing the incoming NDP government.  Funding for Legal Aid Alberta, the non-profit agency that provides subsidized lawyers for low-income clients, has been a long-standing source of friction between the outgoing Progressive Conservative government and groups representing the legal profession. Officials at Legal Aid Alberta, which operates at an arm’s length from the government, have predicted the organization could face a $15 million deficit in the coming years without stable long-term funding.” (Calgary Herald)

May 15, 2015 - “People needing help with divorces, foreclosures or child support could use public computers at libraries, shopping malls or courthouses as a type of legal ‘triage’ under a proposal approved Friday by the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice. Also, non-lawyers could provide courtroom assistance to poor and middle-income people under another idea considered by the panel, the brainchild of Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga.”  ”‘The statewide portal will be a software-based access point that would be in libraries, courthouses, shopping malls that would be the point at which a person with a legal problem could go find someone to solve their problem, or even get forms or education to find out how to do it themselves,’ said commission member William Van Nortwick, a Jacksonville lawyer and former appellate judge. Individuals could access the portal through kiosks, public libraries or public computers in courthouses by the end of the year in certain areas, Van Nortwick said.”  (CBS Miami)

May 18, 2015 - “The county’s chief public defender is seeking a $1.2 million grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission to hire additional lawyers who are needed to handle an increasing case load. On Monday the El Paso County Commissioners authorized the county’s chief public defender Jaime Gandara to submit an application for the grant. The state commission will make a decision on June 4.  ’I'm getting more cases and need more lawyers in order to do a good job in representing our clients,’ he said to the commissioners. The grant will help hire eight lawyers, four office staffers, one investigator and one social worker, Gandara said.”  (El Paso Times)

May 18, 2015 - The National Law Journal has a good piece on law school clinics and provides some great examples of innovative approaches.  ”Law school clinics are having a moment. They have become an increasingly important part of the law school curriculum during the past five years, as schools faced pressure to provide students with practical, hands-on experience. In this special report, we highlight six law school clinics taking new approaches to student learning, breaking into new areas of the law or that have impressive track records of success.”  (National Law Journal)

May 19, 2015 - “As many small businesses owners know, it only takes a small seed to grow into a successful enterprise. On May 7, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Cleveland District office presented its 2015 Legal Services Champion award to the Small Entrepreneurs and Economic Development (SEED) Legal Clinic at The University of Akron School of Law. The SEED Legal clinic provides low-cost legal assistance to emerging businesses in Northeastern Ohio. The clinic, in turn, provides law students the opportunity to gain hands-on legal experience. ‘This is the first time we are honoring a member of the legal profession during small business week,’ said Gil Goldberg, district director of the Cleveland district office of the U.S. Small Business Administration. The SBA recognizes small businesses and other organizations that create jobs, lift local economies, and give back charitably to the communities where they live and work.”  (Akron Legal News)

May 21, 2015 - “Gori Julian & Associates believes in supporting local organizations and making a difference in their community. Recently, the Edwardsville-based law firm donated $250,000 to the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation that provides free civil legal services to low-income persons and senior citizens in 65 counties in central and southern Illinois. The Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation handles civil cases and provides services ranging from telephone advice or brief service, to representation in court or at administrative hearings. The type of services provided depends on the legal issues, case merits and staff availability. Randy Gori, one of the founding attorneys at Gori Julian & Associates, said ‘Our commitment to those in need is one of the pillars of Gori Julian & Associates so we are happy to support an organization such as Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation because their work benefits so many lives.’”  (River Bender)

May 21, 2015 – “The latest crop of Presidential Management Fellow finalists includes 131 candidates who identified themselves as service veterans, slightly more than last year, according to statistics from the Office of Personnel Management. The 2015 class of PMF finalists totals 600, with 508 traditional finalists and 92 candidates focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. OPM announced the group on March 26, and the finalists have until March 26, 2016, to land a two-year appointment. As of May 21, twenty finalists already have received appointments.”  (Government Executive)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Charles W. Bone

Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, Tennessee’s largest non-profit law firm, has awarded the first ever Gallatin Community Award to Charles W. Bone, founder and chairman of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC. The award was announced Tuesday evening during a reception at the Gallatin Public Library. Members of Legal Aid Society’s Gallatin office – which serves Macon, Smith, Sumner, Trousdale and Wilson counties – selected Bone as Legal Aid Society’s first community award recipient because he has championed the non-profit law firm in the community and his firm has been a financial and pro bono supporter to Legal Aid Society’s Gallatin office and its Nashville office.  Thank you for your commitment to pro bono and support of legal aid.  Read more about Mr. Bone here.

Super Music Bonus!  https://youtu.be/d1VZNtlyEII

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 15, 2015

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • St. Louis law firm gives $250,000 to legal aid;
  • New York State Bar Association honors pro bono service;
  • San Francisco unveils $10 million funding for services to immigrants;
  • Lawyers with lower pay report more happiness;
  • New Mexico public defender shortfall results in cutting contract attorneys;
  • Colorado pro bono patent program expands;
  • UMass Law Justice Bridge Incubator expands;
  • Legal Aid Ontario signs funding agreement with Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC);
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

May 7, 2015 - “In keeping with the true spirit of #giveSTLday, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM) celebrated an individual who represents the best of St. Louis philanthropy, John Simon and the Simon Law Firm, P.C., who made an unrestricted gift of $250,000 gift to the organization earlier this year.”  ”Held on May 5, #giveSTLday is an online fundraising initiative from the Greater Saint Louis Community Foundation which encourages everyone in the community to come together for one special day to support St. Louis non-profits. LSEM was one of 790 non-profit organizations that participated in  #giveSTLday across 14 counties in the St. Louis region. More than $2 million was raised in just a 24-hour period. LSEM raised more than $5,000 through this effort and those funds will help the non-profit agency provide civil legal assistance to more than 16,000 low-income clients and their families this year.”  (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

May 7, 2015 – “President Glenn Lau-Kee (Kee & Lau-Kee) and President-elect David P. Miranda (Heslin Rothenberg Farley & Mesiti), co-chair of the President’s Committee on Access to Justice, recognized twenty honorees during a luncheon at the State Bar Center. ‘Attorneys in New York have a long and distinguished tradition of helping the disadvantaged,’ said Lau-Kee. ‘Their selfless commitment to increasing access to justice for New Yorkers provides us with inspiring examples of what is possible and helps raise public awareness about the importance of access to justice for all — not just for those who can afford it.’ In addition to honoring attorneys representing 12 of New York’s 13 judicial districts, the awards were given to a lawyer under age 36 or practicing less than 10 years, a senior lawyer, law school group, law student, in-house counsel, small firm, mid-size firm and large firm.”  Read the full list here.  (Read Media)

May 7, 2015 – “San Francisco City Hall announced the allocation of $10 million over two years for assistance to the city’s immigrant community, including additional legal services, financial education, a new labor center for immigrants and other support services. The funding is aimed at strengthening citywide efforts including San Francisco Pathways to Citizenship Initiative, the DreamSF Initiative and the implementation of President Barack Obama’s Administrative Relief to help undocumented immigrants come out of the shadows.”  (Inquirer.net)

May 12, 2015 - Let me say that again.  Lawyers with the lowest pay report more happiness.  This New York Times article discusses something we already know – when you like what you do, you’re happier.  And public interest lawyers tend to love what they do.  ”Researchers who surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being. However, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy. Lawyers in public-service jobs also drank less alcohol than their higher-income peers. And, despite the large gap in affluence, the two groups reported about equal overall satisfaction with their lives.”  Read the full story for more analysis and ways to help students find what they love.  (The New York Times)

May 12, 2015 - “Chief Public Defender Jorge Alvarado sent a letter to chief judges statewide saying the predicted budget crisis had materialized for his office, resulting in a decision to stop providing contract defenders for indigent defendants who aren’t jailed because there’s no money to pay them. Contract defenders typically are hired when there is more than one defendant in a case, or in rural areas such as Lincoln or Cibola counties, where the Law Office of the Public Defender doesn’t have staff. The move could lead to a lawsuit – something that could be decided as soon as Wednesday, when the New Mexico Public Defender Commission has a special meeting in Albuquerque at the University of New Mexico School of Law. ‘The commission is considering all options, including litigation, but no decisions have been made about how to proceed,’ said commission Chairman Michael Stout. ‘We do know we have inadequate funding, and we have to address it in some forum or another.’”  (Albuquerque Journal)

May 12, 2015 - “The Pro Bono Patent Program is an initiative led by Mi Casa Resource Center and the Colorado Bar Association Intellectual Property Section.  It pairs low-income inventors with patent professionals. Since its launch, 67 inventors have begun the application process and two were able to get their ideas patented. On Tuesday, the reach of the program grew. Mi Casa, the Colorado Bar Association and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced the extension of the program — or ProBoPat — to the states of New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. ‘By providing the opportunity for under-resourced inventors to obtain patent counsel to assist in the filing and prosecution of their patent application, that is a way to promote both fairness for all and solid economic growth right here in the local community,’ said Robin Evans, interim director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office Denver Satellite Office, which opened in June. With the regional expansion announced Tuesday, the ProBoPat program now is in 49 states, Evans said.”  (The Denver Post)

May 13, 2014 – “An innovative program at UMass Law is expanding thanks to a three-year $225,000 grant from Bristol County Savings Bank, according to a UMass Dartmouth news release. The Justice Bridge law practice incubator started in Boston nine months ago is going to be expanded to Taunton and New Bedford.”  The Boston office of Justice Bridge, that opened last August hired nine lawyers, mostly graduates of UMass Law, and processed more than 500 client matters. The New Bedford office has hired eight attorneys, mostly UMass Law graduates, and will host an open house later this spring. Some of those attorneys will spend eight hours a week at a Taunton office as well, according to the release.  (South Coast Today)

May 14, 2015 - “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) will provide the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC) with $100,000 over two years to provide post-conviction legal services and education. Over the years, LAO has both directly and indirectly supported the goals and aims of AIDWYC and the legal needs of its clients.  This pilot project will continue LAO’s relationship with AIDWYC by funding some of AIDWYC’s expenses related to reviewing claims of innocence, such as forensic expert opinions and private investigations. AIDWYC will continue to conduct case reviews on a pro bono basis, with the help of volunteer lawyers. Seventy per cent of the LAO funds will go towards the case review process and 30 per cent towards legal education about wrongful conviction. This agreement aims to recognize and correct wrongful convictions, by providing greater access to legal services after conviction.” (CNW)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Benjamin Evans, Fall River supervising attorney for the Committee for Public Counsel Services. The Massachusetts Bar Association honored Benjamin Evans, a Fall River public defender, with its Access to Justice Defender Award.  In a press release, the Massachusetts Bar Association said Evans’ priority, when assigned to represent an indigent defendant, is to let the client know that someone is in their corner. For some defendants whom Evans represents, that is a first for them, the MBA said.  Read more about Mr. Evans’ great work for his clients here.

Super Music Bonus!   https://youtu.be/hLQl3WQQoQ0

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Consider attending the Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum

Calling all summer interns.  If you will be here in DC for the summer, the Washington Council of Lawyers Summer Pro Bono & Public Interest Forum may be an event you want to add to your calendar.

When:  Thursday, June 11, from noon – 2:30 pm

Where: Arnold & Porter (555 12th Street NW).

The keynote speaker, Stephen Bright, is President and Senior Counsel at the Southern Center for Human Rights.  He is a dynamic speaker and certainly someone you’ll want to hear speak.  But that’s not all.  The Summer Forum includes lunch, the keynote address, and the opportunity to learn more about pro bono opportunities and public interest practices in DC by attending a panel highlighting opportunities in these substantive practice areas:

Death Penalty & Criminal Law

Civil Rights & Civil Liberties

Human Rights & Immigration

Non-litigation Practice

Representation of Families and Children

Environmental Law

The Summer Forum is inspirational, informative, and memorable. It also is a great way to demonstrate your support for pro bono work and DC’s public
interest community.

The event routinely sells out, and early bird pricing ends on June 1 – so be
sure to get your tickets soon.  Many employers sponsor their summer interns for this event, so if you’re interested, check with your organization or firm first.

Click here to register!

You can learn more about the Washington Council of Lawyers and all of their upcoming events at www.wclawyers.org.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 8, 2015

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday and hello from sunny Austin, TX!  Here at the ABA/NLADA 2015 Equal Justice Conference, we’ve come together to discuss issues such as delivery of legal services to the poor and low income individuals in need of legal assistance.  How can you help?  Check out the pro bono opportunities in your area!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Stetson law students honored for pro bono service;
  • 2015 Gary Bellow Public Service Award recipients honored;
  • Denver law firm donates to both Colorado law schools to create more experiential learning opportunities;
  • New York Office of Court Administration adopts changes to pro bono reporting;
  • Louisiana State Bar honors law student for pro bono service;
  • Wisconsin panel approves hiring 35 more public defenders;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 29, 2015 - “Stetson University College of Law student Rebecca Watts won the Law Student Pro Bono Award and students Tamara Major and Kelly Green received honorable mention from Florida’s Sixth Judicial Circuit for their commitment to creating pro bono service opportunities for students at Stetson.  Watts was nominated by the Community Law Program for her extraordinary pro bono service.” (PR Web)

April 30, 2015 - “On April 20, Harvard Law School honored two members of its community—Donna Harati ’15 and Laura Maslow-Armand ’92—with the Gary Bellow Public Service Award, established in 2001 to recognize commitment to public interest work.  The annual award, which is entirely student-run, honors one student and one graduate whose commitment to social justice ‘makes us proud to be members of the law school community,’ said Colin Ross ’16, one of the students announcing the winners at the event. The award was established in memory of the late Gary Bellow ’60, a pioneering attorney specializing in public interest and poverty law, who founded and directed the HLS Clinical Programs.” (Harvard Law Today)

May 1, 2015 - “Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP, a Denver law firm with offices in 13 states, donated $500,000 to be split between the University of Colorado Law School and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, officials announced Friday. The $250,000 gifts — the largest gift to CU from a law firm — will be used to create endowed fellowship programs. The experiential learning programs will be designed to provide students with hands-on experiences, officials said. The Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck Fellowship private-sector-focused law program at DU is expected to start as early as this fall. CU’s program, which will focus on government, is scheduled to start this summer. ‘We are just delighted that the firm is ‘paying it forward’ in this very impactful fashion, supporting our students gaining valuable experience over the summer and serving the public,’ Phil Weiser, dean of the CU Law School, said in a statement.”  (The Denver Post)

May 4, 2015 - “The Unified Court System has revised its requirements that lawyers report the amounts of time and money they donate to pro bono causes, rules that prompted an at-times bitter fight between Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and the New York State Bar Association.  The revisions to the Rules of the Chief Administrator, 22 NYCRR Part 118, mandate that lawyers submit an anonymous statement, made separately from the registration forms filed every two years, in which they report their voluntary pro bono services and contributions. Mandatory reports will concern pro bono as described in Rule 6.1 of the attorney Rules of Professional Conduct.”  Lawyers also may report services and contributions not covered in Rule 6.1, including “unpaid public, community or charitable services such as not-for-profit boards, bar associations or soup kitchens, religious organizations or arts groups, as well as financial contributions to any charitable cause or enterprise.”  (New York Law Journal)

May 4, 2015 - “Loyola University New Orleans College of Law student Sophia Mire has been chosen to receive the 2015 Louisiana State Bar Association’s Law Student Pro Bono Award. The award is given annually in Louisiana to a student from an American Bar Association-accredited law school who has demonstrated dedication to providing legal services to the poor. Mire was nominated by Davida Finger, associate clinical professor in the Stuart H. Smith Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice.” (University Newsroom)

May 5, 2015 - “The Wisconsin Legislature’s budget-writing committee has voted to pay for hiring 35 additional assistant public defenders.  The Joint Finance Committee voted Tuesday to go along with Gov. Scott Walker’s recommendation to pay for the additional attorneys.  The move would actually save the state about $41,000 over two years because fewer private attorneys would have to be hired to represent defendants.”  (NBC 15)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Marian Wright Edelman, President and Founder of the Children’s Defense Fund.  She was recently honored by the Education Law Center in New Jersey for her tireless work on behalf of  children. A graduate of Spelman College and Yale Law School, Ms. Edelman began her career as an advocate for the disenfranchised in the 1960s. As the first African-American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, she directed the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund office in Jackson. In 1968, she moved toWashington, D.C., to work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as counsel to the Poor People’s Campaign. She later founded the Washington Research Project, a public interest law firm, and served as the Director of the Center for Law and Education at Harvard University. In 1973, she founded the Children’s Defense Fund. As president of the CDF, Marian Wright Edelman has proved to be one of the most effective advocates for disadvantaged children and families not only of our time, but in American history. The CDF’s “Leave No Child Behind” mission is to ensure that every child gets a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life, and a successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.  Read more about her amazing work here.

Super Music Bonus!   https://youtu.be/nELvER8QzaI?list=PLXs_3rGeYdIlgb9F7aq63P_XK3PLRvAD5

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Thank you to Lam Ho of CALA in Chicago for an inspiring Public Interest Luncheon!

We were pleased to host Lam Ho, Executive Director of the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA), as our keynote speaker for the annual Public Interest Luncheon during the NALP Annual Education Conference.  Lam began his career as a Skadden Fellow with the Chicago Legal Assistance Foundation. Prior to founding CALA, he was a staff attorney at Equip for Equality, where he defended the civil rights of people with disabilities.  He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, where he was honored with many awards for his public service and dedication to his community.  In less than 10 years, Lam has made his dream of an organization that serves the marginalized where they live – in their communities – a reality.  If you want to know what community lawyering looks like CALA is a great example.  We were so inspired by the work he’s doing and the individuals he’s able to help. He’s truly uniting lawyers and community activists to bring free legal services back to  underserved populations in Chicago.  Learn more about CALA and Lam here.

We at NALP were privileged to make a modest donation in recognition of Lam’s contribution to our conference and support of CALA’s work.  If you’d like to do the same, below is the contact information, or you can visit the CALA website.

Community Activism Law Alliance

“Lawyering Beyond Boundaries…”

332 S. Michigan Ave.

Suite 1032-C297

Chicago, IL 60604-4434

Phone: (312) 999-0056

Fax: (312) 999-0076

cala@calachicago.org

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – May 1, 2015

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday!  We’re back from a great week of learning and connecting in Chicago.  I hope everyone enjoyed their time at the Annual Education Conference – we certainly did!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Settlement reached in Georgia indigent defense system case;
  • Albany Law School opens immigration clinic;
  • Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center receives grant to expand immigration clinic;
  • University of Chicago Law School receives gift for environmental clinic;
  • New York AG partnering with law schools to help technology start-ups;
  • Legal Aid Ontario tightens rules for refugee cases;
  • Wisconsin State Bar supports CLE credit for pro bono work;
  • New student legal aid clinic opening in Thunder Bay;
  • Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County adopts new online arbitration system;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 21, 2015 - “A settlement reached this week will improve legal representation for poor children and adults in a south Georgia judicial circuit, lawyers who filed a lawsuit on their behalf said. Lawyers with the Southern Center for Human Rights filed a lawsuit in January 2014 against the four-county Cordele Judicial Circuit and other defendants. Among the problems they cited were juvenile defendants often appearing without a lawyer or represented by lawyers who met with them only briefly, public defenders unable to spend more than a few minutes per adult case, and chronic underfunding and understaffing. The Southern Center says the agreement with the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, its director, the Cordele Circuit public defender and the circuit’s four county governments was filed Monday. If it is approved by a Fulton County Superior Court judge, it will go into effect July 1 and will run for three years.” (Thomasville Times Enterprise)

April 22, 2015 - “Albany Law School has announced that it will launch a new immigration law clinic to provide free legal help for immigrants in cases of domestic violence, protection of minors, deportation, detention and U-Visa applications. ‘Although we are a nation of immigrants, today’s immigration system is in an unprecedented state of disarray,’ Sarah Rogerson, an Albany law professor who will direct the clinic, said in a news release. ‘This new clinic will give our students the opportunity to provide compassionate legal service to people who really need it.’ The clinic will begin taking cases in the fall.” (New York Law Journal)

April 22, 2015 - “Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center announced that its immigration law clinic has received a grant to take on additional cases involving unaccompanied minors. Touro, which has operated its immigration law clinic since last fall, announced on April 1 that it received $100,000 from the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, a church congregation that provides funding to outside agencies that address the ‘root of social problems.’ William Brooks, a Touro law professor who directs the school’s program, said the grant would allow the clinic to hire a staff attorney to assist with its growing caseload.”(New York Law Journal)

April 23, 2015 – “A gift made by Jonathan Mills, ’77, as trustee of a charitable trust, will benefit the University of Chicago Law School’s Abrams Environmental Law Clinic. To be expended at the discretion of the clinic’s director, the gift provides funds for activities that support the clinic’s mission, which might include obtaining expert consultation, underwriting student travel for site visits and client interactions, and covering other litigation costs.” (University of Chicago Law School News)

April 24, 2015 - “Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the formation of  a partnership with local law schools to help start-ups navigate state laws and regulations. By partnering with Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic (BLIP), the Fordham University School of Law’s Center on Law and Information Policy and the Tech Startup Clinic (CLIP), operated out of Yeshiva University’s Cardozo School of Law, Schneiderman hopes to promote regular interaction between government and technology start-ups.” (Capitol Playbook)(ABC News)

April 24, 2015 - “Legal Aid Ontario is tightening its rules for lawyers who take on refugee cases following a scathing report that showed thousands of Hungarian Roma were left high and dry by lawyers who made hundreds of thousands of dollars from them. Andrew Brouwer, senior legal counsel with Immigration and Refugee Law at Legal Aid Ontario, said starting this summer, lawyers who want to handle legal aid refugee cases will have to apply to be authorized to handle those kinds of cases, pass a competency test and meet certain standards and best practices.”  (CBC News)

April 24, 2015 - “The State Bar of Wisconsin’s Board of Governors supports a petition that would allow Wisconsin attorneys to obtain continuing legal education (CLE) credit for doing pro bono work to foster practical learning and increase pro bono service. The 52-member board unanimously approved a petition developed by the State Bar’s Legal Assistance Committee – in consultation with the CLE Committee – allowing attorneys to claim one CLE credit for every five hours of qualifying pro bono service, up to a maximum of six credits per reporting period.” (State Bar of Wisconsin)

April 27, 2015 – “Lakehead Legal Services is the first legal aid clinic to open its doors at the law school in Thunder Bay, Ont.  Lakehead University’s Bora Laskin Faculty of Law is just two years old and adding a clinic seems like a natural progression, says Kimberley Gagan, the director of Lakehead Legal Services. This small law school only has 58 students in the 2L stream who have been waiting for the clinic to open since day one. ‘They are very excited and enthusiastic and they are looking forward, I think to the opportunity, for the chance to get their hands on real life files and come to court and represent real people,’ says Gagan.”  (Canadian Lawyer Magazine)

April 28, 2015 – “The Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Inc. announces that innovative online arbitration service will soon be made available to its clients. ‘Online arbitration will allow us to streamline our process while at the same time offering a much more cost-effective way to resolve legal issues for the disadvantaged citizens of Palm Beach County,’ said Bob Bertisch, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Florida.”  (PR Web)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Lam Nguyen Ho, founder and Executive Director of the Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) in Chicago.  We were pleased to host Lam as the keynote speaker for the NALP Conference Public Interest Luncheon.  He shared his experiences and unique way of lawyering within the community, leaving us uplifted and inspired. As he described to us, he has experienced firsthand the challenges of community lawyering and civil legal services, and was inspired to innovatively confront these challenges through the creation of CALA.

We at NALP were privileged to make a modest donation in recognition of Lam’s contribution to our conference and in support of CALA’s work.  If you’d like to do the same, visit CALA’s website.

Super Music Bonus!   https://youtu.be/CS9OO0S5w2k

 

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NALP Conference Sneak Peek: The Low Down on Low Bono

PSJD has pulled up stakes this week and decamped to NALP’s Annual Education Conference. At the moment, we’re preparing for the arrival of our conference participants on Wednesday. (We hope to see you there!) In particular, I’m excited for the large number of public-interest-oriented meetings taking place over the course of the conference. To kick your week off, here’s a piece from Niloufar Khonsari, the founder of Pangea Legal Services and a presenter at the conference. Enjoy, and remember–if you’re attending the conference you can follow-up about affordable fee work with her in person on Friday!
–Sam


The Low Down on Low Bono:
Identifying a Need and Starting up a Nonprofit Organization

While the government funds many important pro bono programs in the United States, low-income communities are still underserved in many legal service areas: housing, family, criminal justice, public benefits, immigration and more.  This article focuses on the gap in immigration and removal defense services in Northern California and how nonprofit organizations can sustain themselves while filling some of that gap.

More than 29,000 immigrants currently find themselves in court proceedings at the San Francisco Immigration Court.[1]  Nationally, there are over 431,000 immigrants in court proceedings. With increased deportations nationwide, there is a clear need for court and immigration defense services. Immigrants in removal proceedings need a lawyer because of the complexity of immigration law and the negative consequences of deportation. Also, many immigrants in the court process are eligible for relief or protection under existing laws, and they may have a pathway to citizenship.

Unfortunately, only a small percentage of immigrants have immediate access to legal counsel.  Private immigration attorneys can be prohibitively expensive. And most nonprofits, even in San Francisco, do not represent clients in complex removal proceedings. The key to this gap is providing access to counsel.

Pangea Legal Services (Pangea) is one example of an organization that was created to help bridge the access gap. While it hasn’t come without its challenges, Pangea created a low-fee, sliding-scale model that grew to five full-time employees between January 2013 and December 2014.  Low bono, or affordable fee models similar to Pangea are growing around the country in various areas of law, creating a financially viable avenue to fill the justice gap.[2]

Be Entrepreneurial and Find the Gaps.  You don’t need decades of experience to start an organization. As Steve Jobs said, “Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact, and that is – everything around you that you call life, was made up by people that were no smarter than you.  And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.”  The entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley tend to have three things in common: 1) identifying a solution to a problem, 2) pursuing that solution proactively, and 3) committing to creating social value.  Pangea was able to identify that within the area of immigration, deportation defense was significantly underserviced by the nonprofit community. This discovery was made by volunteering in the immigration nonprofit community, participating in policy advocacy work around immigration issues, and surveying senior advocates in the field about the needs within immigration legal services.  Identifying this gap and focusing on creating a solution for it was central to Pangea’s startup.

Get a Mentor, Ask for Advice.  Founder of ZenPayroll, Joshua Reeves, said that not having industry experience can be a real asset, as long as you recognize what you don’t know.[3]  Identifying what you don’t know then can be addressed by seeking guidance and mentorship in that field. The legal field is vast and complex and so is the world of human resources, employment law, finance, and nonprofit governance. There are many online resources and listservs, but personal relationships with experts in the field are the most helpful.  Many practitioners and experts are open to meeting with and advising nonprofits; connecting can be as easy as making a phone call or sending an email.  For its governance structure and compliance efforts, Pangea is currently in the process of building a team of advisors with expertise in areas such as finance and employment law.  For its legal services, Pangea has a network of at least a dozen senior attorneys from whom attorneys seek mentorship regularly. The organization has a weekly one-hour mentorship session with rotating senior immigration attorneys to consult on legal strategy, procedural questions, and complicated immigration cases.  The key to successful mentorship and seeking advisors is identifying your needs and organizational gaps.

Create Partnerships, Learn from Other Nonprofits.  Nonprofit organizations often collaborate with other nonprofit organizations on advocacy efforts, direct actions, clinics, and other projects.  Join their circles and learn from them!  This can be viewed as an extension of your organizational efforts to seek mentorship and formal advisors. Networks and partnerships with other organizations are essential to strong advocacy and quality legal representation, as they offer many tools, lessons, and resources for your organization.  Your local chapter of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) could be a great starting point.  Pangea staff began participating in advocacy coalitions and learning from other nonprofits through the local NLG-Bay Area immigration committee and the San Francisco Immigrant Rights Defense Committee (SFIRDC).  Many of Pangea’s cases would not be successful, but for the strong partnerships, friendships, guidance and support from partner groups.

Obtaining 501(c)(3) status is not hard.  Registering a 501(c)(3) is logistically easier than you think.  You will need a Board of Directors, Articles of Incorporation, and Bylaws.  The instructions laid out in Form 1023 specify that you should set aside approximately ten hours to prepare and assemble your IRS filing.  While you can do it yourself, there are many pro bono attorneys at law firms, nonprofit organizations such as The Foundation Center, or low fee attorneys that can help you prepare your 1023.  Pangea received guidance from individuals who previously registered organizations, and we prepared our own forms without formal legal assistance.  This IRS process is more straightforward than one might believe; the key is to just do it.

Go Low Bono.  Low bono is an alternative to the corporate method of hourly billing at market rates.  Low bono could mean offering your legal services at below-market rates and allowing clients to pay through a low fee payment plan. The IRS has no cap on fees for services or products for nonprofit organizations, so the only restriction is the ability to pay of the community you seek to serve. There are very indigent clients who cannot pay any fee and require pro bono services.  However, there are also many hard-working low-income and moderate-income individuals who are more than willing to pay relatively small fees in increments (a few hundred dollars a month).  Many clients actually prefer to pay a small fee and invest into their case.  Pangea’s current low bono model is one that has a set fee for service, with a sliding scale monthly installment plan. Organizationally, finding the right balance between being sustainable and accessible can be challenging, and it is a continual trial and error process. While there are ongoing fee adjustments and necessary revenue diversification efforts in place at Pangea, the sliding scale low bono structure has created a starting point to create greater access to counsel for low-income immigrants.

Financial Assistance for Student Debt.  If you are going to hire lawyers straight out of law school and retain them, or, if you are in debt yourself, going low bono in a private practice will likely not pay your student loans. Fortunately, federal loan payment and forgiveness programs exist, and many law schools provide loan repayment assistance to attorneys working in nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Thus, incorporating as a nonprofit organization can provide critical financial assistance to your likely indebted staff.[4]

Scale-up with foundation support and grants.  Foundation and other grant funding is important to help you build capacity, scale up efforts, diversify the revenue pool, and increase pro bono services.  It can also support your engagement in non-revenue producing work such as legal empowerment, education efforts, and policy advocacy work. Starting with a sliding-scale fee structure can make your organization sustainable while leveraging foundation support for expansion efforts. There is a worry that this may reduce the funding pool for already existing free legal service providers; however it is possible that low bono structures will attract a new set of funders that previously did not exist, thus increasing the funding pool for all.  Funders prefer organizations that have diverse sources of revenue and are not solely reliant on one funding stream.  A low bono model allows you to create a consistent revenue stream of funds enabling you to do your work as you build on your organizational mission and vision; it creates a viable platform for funders to see your potential as a partner. For Pangea, the revenue brought in through low fees has leveraged additional resources (from the San Francisco and Silicon Valley Community Foundations) to go further than a new organization could if it were seeking funding from point zero.

Be Excellent.  This means working hard, focusing on thoroughness, addressing all issues and questions head-on, not leaving any pages unturned, and submitting timely products. It also means reacting to developments quickly, going the extra mile, and delivering for the community. Recognition of quality work happens quickly in the nonprofit community and building credibility is vital to a strong foundation. In the long term, the combination of dedication to excellent services and accessibility through low fees is a guaranteed recipe for success.

The nonprofit low bono model is an important capacity builder in developing access to legal services.  It is efficient, sustainable, and scalable. By creating organizations based on the low bono model, the legal needs of our low- and moderate-income communities can be increasingly met to create greater pathways to relief and safety.

——

Niloufar Khonsari is an immigration attorney and the founder of nonprofit organization, Pangea Legal Services, available at nilou [at] pangealegal.org


[2] See, e.g. Open Legal Services, http://openlegalservices.org

[3] Joshua Reeves, “A Marathon, Not a Sprint,” Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Podcast, Feb. 25, 2015.

[4] It should be noted that many low bono private practice attorneys can use “Pay as you Earn” to pay back their student loans, which caps their payments based on their income and provides loan forgiveness after 20 years.

 

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 17, 2015

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday!  Next week we will be in sunny (I hope) Chicago for the 2015 NALP Annual Education Conference.  We’re looking forward to seeing you all there, and sharing information in person.  Accordingly, the Digest will take the week off, and will return on May 1st.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Illinois Governor cuts funds to immigrant services;
  • New nonprofit law center in Rhode Island to help low income residents;
  • New pilot program in British Columbia to help quickly resolve criminal cases;
  • Georgetown University Law Center partners with two DC firms to open modest means law firm;
  • ABA awards head of Maine legal aid group for innovative self-help website for veterans;
  • Atlanta Legal Aid moves to new building;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 9, 2015 - Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner froze $26 million in social service and health grants as part of his plan to plug a $1.6 billion hole in the budget.  Immigrant advocates, who stand to lose more than $3 million in aid, worry this will hurt their efforts to provide legal assistance and language training across the state. These immigrant services grants, originally budgeted at $6.7 million, fund initiatives such as language training and legal services, as well as assistance in applying for citizenship. The Coalition explains the money is from the Immigrant Services Line Item (ISLI), a recurring part of the state budget since 1997. Rauner’s proposed 2016 budget seeks to eliminate ISLI entirely. (Newsweek)

April 9, 2015 - “The Rhode Island Center for Justice and Roger Williams University Law gathered on Thursday, April 9 to launch the Center for Justice at the Roger Williams campus in Providence. The Center for Justice is a new nonprofit public interest law center that will address the growing volume of unmet legal needs among vulnerable individuals, families and communities in Rhode Island.”  ”The Rhode Island Center for Justice represents a desperately needed source of legal assistance for low-income Rhode Islanders,” said Melissa Husband, executive director of the Community Action Partnership of Providence. (Go Local Prov)

April 10, 2015 - “A pilot project announced Friday is expanding legal aid services to help resolve criminal cases more quickly. Attorney General and Minister of Justice Suzanne Anton made the announcement Friday for the Expanded Criminal Duty Counsel (ECDC) program. Provided by the Legal Services Society (LSS), this program will serve legal aid clients who are dealing with a criminal case at Port Coquitlam’s courthouse. Before this pilot project, legal aid clients got legal advice from a different lawyer every time they went to court. This new project, however, will focus on continuing with the same lawyer throughout to help achieve early resolution of cases wherever possible.” “The Ministry of Justice is funding the ECDC as the last of five legal aid justice transformation pilot projects to help improve access and outcomes in the criminal and family justice system.”  (Kelowna Now)

April 12, 2015 - “Georgetown University Law Center is working with DLA Piper and Arent Fox to create a small nonprofit law firm in Washington, D.C. The unprecedented collaboration, announced Monday, is aimed at providing legal services at affordable rates to people with modest incomes who don’t qualify for free legal aid because they’re not poor enough. The DC Affordable Law Firm is slated to start taking clients in the fall, and will be staffed by six salaried lawyers from this year’s graduating class of Georgetown students. The law firms will provide a range of services and support.” (The American Lawyer)(free registration required)

April 14, 2015 - “The American Bar Association will present its Grassroots Advocacy Award on Wednesday in Washington, D.C., to Nan Heald, executive director of Pine Tree Legal Assistance for her leadership and initiatives addressing the unmet legal needs of active duty military members, veterans, their families, and caregivers. Heald has been an innovator in making legal services more accessible to underserved rural and native communities in her state, according to a press release issued Tuesday by the ABA. One example is the Pine Tree website, PTLA.org, which was the first legal aid website in the country to offer self-help resources.”  (Bangor Daily News)

April 15, 2015 - “The renovations are complete for Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s new headquarters at 54 Ellis St. N.E., and the downtown branch’s lawyers and staff have just moved in. The historic building, constructed in 1910 as an Elks lodge, almost doubles the group’s space to 35,600 square feet on five floors. There is also a parking lot, so clients and volunteers venturing downtown will no longer have to pay for parking in lots several blocks away.”  ”The new building’s layout incorporates features that have become the norm in contemporary law firm design—except on a much lower budget. There is a large event space on the top floor, along with a library and a terrace.” (Daily Report)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  After 20 years as executive director of Community Legal Services (CLS) and 11 years before that as a staff attorney, Catherine Carr will be leaving the legal aid nonprofit on July 1. In a letter to the community, Carr said it was time for her to move on from what is the biggest regional legal services agency in the state, which provides free legal services in civil cases to low-income families in Philadelphia. “My plan is to create the next stage in my professional career, where I can continue to work on access to justice for all, and social and legal change to address poverty,” Carr said. “I am not yet sure exactly what that will look like, but I am excited about figuring it out. I have learned and grown so much at CLS over the last three decades; I look forward to the next stage of learning and growth in a new role.”  Read more about her great work here.

Super Music Bonus!   In honor of the Annual Conference location – Chicago, we bring you music from or about that great city all month.

 

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 10, 2015

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday!  This week we celebrated the Pro Bono Publico Award winner Alex Dutton from Temple University Beasley School of Law.  What a good time and what a deserving individual.  Thank you to the staff at Temple Law, especially Lisa Hurlbutt, Director of Public Interest Programs, for hosting us.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Ontario expands family law services in Scarborough;
  • Harvard startup helps users find lawyers/compare fees;
  • California nonprofit expands immigration legal services
  • Georgia Public Defender Standards Council gets new leader;
  • Tennessee Supreme Court adds way for lawyers to donate to access to justice;
  • William & Mary veterans legal clinic gets $245,000 grant;
  • Medical-Legal Partnership clinic announced at Penn State Dickinson Law;
  • Delaware bill would revamp public defender office;
  • University of Nebraska School of Law breaks ground on expanded clinic space;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 3, 2015 - “Scarborough residents now have more access to free family law services as part of a new initiative by Legal Aid Ontario. The new service is provided by family lawyer Ana Rico at three Scarborough locations: West Scarborough Community Legal Services on Mondays, East Scarborough Storefront on Tuesdays and Scarborough Community Legal Services on Wednesdays. ‘We provide legal advice about a variety of family law topics so that would be separation, divorce, custody, access, child support and spousal support,’ Rico said.” (Inside Toronto)

April 3, 2015 - Harvard student Michael Gants developed JustiServ, with the intention of allowing anyone—anywhere—to find legal aid in just a few clicks. By entering the legal problem, the user can peruse the lawyers that fit that realm while also comparing their professional backgrounds and price estimates. Clients can even pay for the legal services they find on JustiServ via Paypal.  ”‘The price estimates are what really makes JustiServ revolutionary,’ Gants said.” (BostInno)

April 3, 2015 – “The Catholic Charities of the East Bay, which has offices in Oakland, Richmond and Concord, has expanded its legal immigration services in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in response to an increase in demand for services since President Obama’s executive action on immigration in November. The social services organization has hired an immigration attorney and legal assistant, is looking to fill more positions and has expanded service offerings in order to help meet the demand of about 65,000 East Bay immigrants who are affected by the President’s executive order.”  (Richmond Standard)

April 4, 2015 - “Georgia’s governor has appointed a new leader for the board that oversees the state’s public defender system. Gov. Nathan Deal on Friday named attorney Bryan Tyson executive director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. Tyson is the 2014-2015 section chair of the appellate practice section of the State Bar of Georgia and represented the state as a special assistant attorney general in the 2011 redistricting process. He previously worked as an attorney with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP.” (Online Athens)

April 6, 2015 - “The Tennessee Supreme Court said that it is adding a way that lawyers can voluntarily donate to access to justice programs to help people who don’t have enough money for an attorney. The state’s highest court also adopted changes this week that would not require lawyers to report all of their pro bono hours.” “The court had considered a change that would require all lawyers to report their pro bono work and be sanctioned if they didn’t, but it declined to mandate the reporting. Nevertheless, the court said it continues to encourage lawyers to report their charity legal work because it raises public awareness of how some Tennessee lawyers are helping those in need.” (WATE)

April 6, 2015 - “A legal clinic at the William & Mary Law School is expanding its efforts with the help of a state grant. The Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefit Clinic is slated to receive $245,000 from the commonwealth of Virginia to increase its services to veterans. The grant will fund the addition of a full-time attorney, a full-time legal administrator and a part-time psychologist to the clinic’s staff.”  (Williamsburg Yorktown Daily)

April 7, 2015 - “Penn State’s Dickinson Law today announced the Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic, a collaboration between the Law School and Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. This is the first partnership of its kind to be offered in the Harrisburg-Carlisle region. The clinic will provide low-income patients and patient-families with critical legal assistance under the supervision of Medha D. Makhlouf, the founding director and clinical professor of law. Students participating in the clinic will have the opportunity to work collaboratively with the faculty and staff of both Dickinson Law and Penn State Hershey, as well as participate in joint class sessions with students of medicine and other health-related disciplines.” (Penn State News)

April 7, 2015 – “Senate lawmakers have passed legislation that would rename and restructure the Delaware Public Defender’s Office to be more inclusive of private attorneys who are called on to represent defendants when the office has a conflict of interest. The legislation also would change the term length for the governor-appointed public defender from six years to eight years. The bill passed the Senate with 20 ‘yes’ votes and 1 ‘no’ vote last week. It is now headed to the House.”  (Delaware Online)

April 10, 2015 – “The University of Nebraska College of Law will break ground this week on a 14,000-square-foot addition to house its legal clinics and potential expansions. The $4.5 million, privately funded addition is scheduled to open in fall 2016. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. April 10. More than 30 third-year law students work in the civil, criminal, immigration and entrepreneurship clinics. The offices, now front and center in the law college, will be more accessible for clients who need legal assistance, and room will be available for the programs to expand their footprints, Susan Poser, dean of the college of law, said in a press release. The clinics ‘teach students how valuable and gratifying it is to provide critical legal assistance to underserved clients,’ Poser said.” (Omaha.com)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  The legal system is feeling a void after the death of Jim Fitzsimmons, 62, executive director Legal Services of North Dakota, according to those who worked with him.  ”It’s hard to put in words what we lost,” said Richard LeMay, the program’s interim executive director. ”It will take a while to figure out where we go from here …. He has left us too soon.” A 38-year advocate of civil cases for the elderly, tribal residents and those with disabilities and low incomes, he will be remembered as the voice for the underdog, according to LeMay. Read more about his legacy here.  Mr. Fitzsimmons, thank you for your service and your unending devotion to your community.

Super Music Bonus!   In honor of the Annual Conference location – Chicago, we bring you music from or about that great city all month.

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Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: Restorative Justice at Strawberry Mansion High

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

Today, Christina is in Philadelphia presenting the Pro Bono Publico award to our 2014-15 recipient, Alex Dutton.  Alex, a student at Temple University Beasley School of Law, receives this year’s award for his work supporting Youth Court programs throughout the city of Philadelphia, beginning with his involvement at Strawberry Mansion High School. 


Restorative Justice at Strawberry Mansion High
Alex Dutton, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Recipient, 2014-2015
(Temple University Beasley School of Law)–

Strawberry Mansion High School, “Mansion” as it’s known in the community, is a behemoth of a building that consumes several city blocks at the corner of 31st Street and Ridge Avenue in North Philadelphia.  Across the street are abandoned rowhomes, collapsing in upon themselves.  Students, dressed in collared shirts and khakis, scurry over jagged sidewalks under the shadows of the school’s immense façade.  Walking past the police car eternally parked on Ridge Avenue in front of the school, they file in through the front doors.  They wait to be screened by the metal detector.  Some of the students make it to the courtroom on the third floor on time, others straggle in late.  Always, the law students and attorneys are there, waiting, in this gem of a room (fitted with a jury box, witness stand, and bench) in the corner of a forgotten school in a forgotten neighborhood.  From the jury box, one can just barely make out the top of the William Penn statute that stands atop Philadelphia’s City Hall.  Eventually, a diminutive young lady, cloaked in a long black robe, adjourns the court.

No Right to Be Heard: Suspension Law and Due Process

Pennsylvania law provides effectively zero process for students suspended for three days or less.  In contrast, state law, pursuant to the Federal Constitution, requires school districts to provide formal process to students at risk of expulsion. 22 Pa. Code § 12.8(b).  In Philadelphia, a consent decree compels the School District of Philadelphia (“the District”) to provide similar procedural rights to students at risk of transfer to a disciplinary school. Dunmore v. School Dist. of Philadelphia, No. 72-43 (E.D. Pa, Feb. 14, 1973).  That same consent decree requires the District to hold a conference with students suspended on a short-term basis.  This conference is meant to provide staff, by speaking with the student, an opportunity to identify the student’s problematic behaviors and implement corrective techniques.  (Recall: this is still more than most students get in Pennsylvania, because of Dunmore.)

There are nearly 200,000 students in Philadelphia.  Cuts at the state level critically reduced funding for educational support staff, including guidance counselors and conflict resolution specialists.  As a result, these student conferences are perfunctory, if they are happening at all.  (I’m careful not to place blame with the District here; the District has done—and continues to do—a tremendous job reforming the process it provides students who are at risk of disciplinary transfer.)  Most students are just sent home with suspension paperwork and told to come back in a day or two.  In addition, many students are constantly funneled through in-school suspension—as damaging as a traditional exclusion—without any meaningful process or opportunity to be heard.

While this gap in due process may seem insignificant, it means schools suspend significantly more students than they might if each case were more carefully considered.  Research has long demonstrated that students who are suspended fare much worse than their peers.  Short-term suspensions are the entry point to the school-to-prison pipeline.  Suspensions lead to more suspensions, which precipitate expulsions and dropout, eventually pushing students into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.  What’s more, recent research posits that students who remain in the classroom when their peers are suspended are worse off, too.[1]  Youth courts purport to fill this gap in due process, staffed with the greatest resource in the District: students.

Youth Courts and Restorative Justice

There are various models for youth courts.  Some use a traditional adversarial approach, assigning students to the roles of prosecutor and defense counsel.  Others use restorative justice techniques.  Restorative justice de-emphasizes school exclusion and challenges students to think constructively about conflict resolution.  At Strawberry Mansion, we used a restorative model.

When we first introduced restorative justice principles, our students were lost.  During a “mock” hearing, the jury wanted to force their peer “respondent” to clean the bathroom with a toothbrush for talking back to a teacher.  This, coming from students whose families had been ripped apart by the criminal and family justice systems?  (Just weeks earlier a student told a federal prosecutor that “all prosecutors and judges should burn in hell!”)  I couldn’t believe it.  I took a step back and thought to myself: Alex, you’re so naïve.  How could you ever expect anyone to respond in any other way other than what they’ve been taught, what they’ve learned through experience?  Our students were raised on punitive discipline.  In school, they were suspended and expelled.  On the streets, they were arrested and sent away.  So when we elevated our students to figures of authority, they reflected these punitive inclinations.

It was up to us to help our students question their assumptions about justice and conflict resolution.  We pressed our students to think about the impact of rules and the policies behind them.  Specifically, we encouraged them to consider the purposes of punishment, with a sharp focus on rehabilitation and restoration.  Why is making a student clean the bathroom an appropriate punishment for acting out in class?  How does the punishment relate to the harm the student caused to his classmates?  They applied these concepts in the hearings.

Our far-reaching goal is that students will apply these principles to their daily lives, in school and in their communities.  In the meantime, the youth court provided an opportunity for student-respondents, previously silenced under more primitive discipline regimes, to be heard.  In addition to providing process, the youth court destabilized the school-to-prison pipeline at Mansion: if the respondent completed his restorative assignment, the offense would be wiped from his record.  More importantly, he stayed in school.  Rather than being alienated from his peers, he engaged with them.

A Day in the Life of the Strawberry Mansion Youth Court: Lawyering Skills Alive in the Classroom

Student-respondents who appear before their peers must admit responsibility for violating the school code.  (And, really, these are minor infractions: cell phone use, uniform violations, talking in class, walking the halls, refusing to do school work, arguing with another student, arriving late to class.)  Effectively, the youth court process is a dispositional hearing; peer questioning exposes facts relevant to determining an appropriate punishment—the restorative assignment.

Prior to the hearing, the respondent meets with his “youth advocate,” a high school student trained to defend him.  With the assistance of a law student, the youth advocate interviews her peer-client.  She listens to him.  She inquires as to his motivations and what he thinks the appropriate punishment should be.  She levels with him when he is unreasonable.  Then, she presents this information to the jury: an opening statement.  Through this process, students learn crucial listening skills and gain exposure to public speaking.

Next, the judge opens the floor for questions from the jury.  To facilitate greater class participation, the jurors ask their peer-respondent questions.  The jurors proceed, guided by the Mansion Court’s mantra: FACTS.  HARM.  FIX IT.  Through questioning, the jurors attempt to uncover the facts of the case, the harm caused to the community by their peer’s conduct, and possible constructive solutions.  By uncovering the facts of what happened, the students assessed his culpability.  By inquiring into harm, the jurors determined the segments of the community that were affected and ripe for restoration.  As they go, the students fill out charts labeled: FACTS.  HARM.  FIX IT.  Their questions forced their peer to critically examine the consequences of his actions and included the him in the restorative process: “now that you have identified the harm caused, if any, what can you do to repair that harm, to restore our school community?”

We provided the high school students with the skills they needed to conduct this process.  We trained them in questioning techniques: open-ended and closed-ended questions, funneling, etc.  We exposed them to principles of restorative justice.  And we trained them to be good listeners.  (These are all skills that are often overlooked in law school.)

Youth Court at Strawberry Mansion HighTogether, the students guide their peers through the restorative process, making objections and requesting sidebars–concepts the Youth Court program staff never taught.
(Photo courtesy of Alex Dutton)

Together, the students guide their peers through the restorative process.  Every now and then, the youth advocate stands up: “Your Honor, they keep asking my client the same questions; make them move on to a solution.”  An objection!  The foreman disagrees: “we are trying to get to the bottom of what happened.”  The judge is concerned: “can you two come over here to talk with me.”  A sidebar!  We never taught these concepts.  The students, empowered with the skills to resolve disputes, improvised.  Advocates called out unfairness; jurors objected because they were untangling important and difficult aspects of the case; judges adjusted to ensure civility and efficiency.  All of this to ensure that their peer received his day in their courtroom.

Eventually, the jury returns a verdict: a parent conference so that the school knows the student’s father plans to call the school in the morning to make sure his daughter arrived safely.  Why?  She had been stepping out of the classroom each morning to pick up her father’s call.

Final Remarks

Of course, youth courts are far from the only solution to the school pushout problem.  In my view, school districts should adopt a variety of interventions—some restorative, some not—that would collectively transform schools from punitive institutions to compassionate, empowering communities.  Our schools expend so much energy excluding students from school, just to kick the can down the road—to another school, or worse, to our public dependency systems, including prison.  Why not spend this energy empowering our students?

My charge to future law students and lawyers is this: be creative, be bold!  Youth courts provide a platform for young people to reform their schools; a legal education is your platform to improve your community.


[1] Brea L Perry & Edward W. Morris, Suspending Progress: Collateral Consequences of Exclusionary Punishment in Public Schools, 79 No. 7 American Sociological Review 1067 (December 2014).

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