Archive for May, 2010

Public Interest News Bulletin – May 21, 2010


  • 5.20.10 – NJ Today Website (New Jersey) – Legal Services of New Jersey (LSNJ) has released An Open Report to New Jersey Concerning Funding for Civil Legal Services and Its Human Consequences.  LSNJ’s president noted that IOLTA funding in New Jersey is down by 80%, the state may cut its funding of legal services by 33%, and that significant staff layoffs will continue to be necessary unless funding stabilizes.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: The report highlights the severe funding cuts that are plaguing legal services programs throughout the Garden State, and makes the case for the importance of adequately funded programs for the state’s residents and government.  Link to report.]
  • 5.19.10 – The Tennessean – the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, along with the Tennessee Bar Association and the Tennessee Attorney General’s office, are offering an array of resources to victims of recent, disastrous flooding in the Volunteer State.  Link to brief article.
  • 5.19.10 – New Orleans Times-Picayune – the Louisiana Senate’s Commerce Committee rejected a proposed bill that would have “effectively shut down the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.”  The bill was intended to stop law school clinic programs from suing business interests in the state, and its main proponent, Sen. Robert Adley, enjoyed the support of the Louisiana Chemical Association.  Ultimately, though, the bill received no other support from Commerce Committee members.  Link to article.  And see additional AP coverage from the Bloomberg Business Week website.   [Ed. Note: prior coverage of this controversy is found in Items 1 and 4 of the May 14 PSLawNet Public Interest News Bulletin.]
  • 5.17.10 – National Law Journal – this week “the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Eighth Amendment does not allow sentences of life in prison without parole for juveniles who committed nonhomicide crimes.”  In the Graham v. Florida opinion, “Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the 6-3 majority, applied the logic of the categorical exceptions to the death penalty for juveniles and the mentally retarded, already created by the Court, to juveniles who commit lesser crimes than homicide. Their age and level of mental development make them less culpable…”  Link to article.  And see additional coverage from the Miami Herald.
  • 5.14.10 – The Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY) [Editorial] – state aid is a critical source of funding for civil legal services programs that serve Central and Northern New Yorkers, but a state budget proposal from the executive branch may do away with funding altogether.  A potential bit of good news for legal services may come if a $15 million appropriation for legal services comes through the state judiciary’s budget request.  Still in the longer term, New York must find a way to avoid “boom and bust” legal services budget fluctuations and to “find a better way to keep its promise to help the needy navigate the legal labyrinth.”  Link to piece.
  • 5.13.10 – KBIA Radio Station Website (Columbia, Missouri) – officials from the Boone County public defender’s office, prosecutor’s office, and the local bar met to develop a solution to the problem of overwhelming caseloads confronting public defenders.  Link to brief article.  [Ed. Note: for earlier coverage of the indigent defense crisis in Missouri, a problem which wound its way to the state’s high court, listen to this December 2009 NPR story.]
  • 5.13.10 – Harvard Law School Website – “Harvard Law School has selected 25 students and one recent graduate to receive fellowships enabling them to pursue public service work….Ten of the students will be awarded the newly established Redstone Fellowships; one student will be the Maria, Gabriella & Robert A. Skirnick Public Interest Fellow; another nine will receive the Holmes Public Service Fellowships established by Dean Minow in 2009; and six will receive the Irving R. Kaufman Fellowship.  The one-year fellowships offer Harvard Law School students and recent graduates financial support so that they can work for non-profit organizations or for the government following graduation.”  Link to announcement.
  • ABA Division of Legal Services’ Dialogue Magazine, Spring 2010 Edition – in a phenomenon driven by the economic recession, law firm associates whose 2009 start dates were deferred have taken temporary public-service placements in nonprofit and government law offices across the country. Reports of the associates’ integration into the public interest community have been positive. And the associates have seized chances to develop skills and gain perspective on the public service arena.  Some public interest leaders, law firm pro bono managers, and other stakeholders are evaluating the phenomenon’s overall impact.  Further, some are considering whether a longer-term pro bono model could emerge from what was initially seen as a short-term occurrence born of unique circumstances.  Link to article.
  • April 2010 – [Ed. Note: the Legal Aid Association of California has released Shaping the Future of Justice: Effective Recruitment and Retention of Civil Legal Aid Attorneys in California, a comprehensive report highlighting severe obstacles in legal aid programs’ efforts to recruit and retain junior staff attorneys.  The main factors cited as obstacles on the legal aid career path are financial pressures, including low salaries and high educational debt loads.   Link to report.]


Fascinating New Report on Recruiting and Retaining Civil Legal Aid Attorneys in California

The Legal Aid Association of California has released a report, Shaping the Future of Justice: Effective Recruitment and Retention of Civil Legal Aid Attorneys, which looks at the challenges that legal services programs have confronted (even pre-recession) in trying to hire and keep junior lawyers.  The main hurdles, no surprise, are low salaries and high educational debt loads maintained by recent law grads.  In preparing the report, Kelly Carmody – a friend of the PSLawNet Blog – and her colleagues did some impressive research via surveys, individual interviews, and focus groups.  Here’s some of the information offered in the report’s Executive Summary:

  • “The median entry level salary [for civil legal aid attorneys in California] is $46,000, and more than half of the attorneys have salaries of less than $50,000 after more than three years in legal aid.”
  • “One half of the legal aid attorneys think they will leave their current employment in the next three years.”  [The top reason cited by attorneys surveyed on why they may leave is “financial pressure due to low salary.”

And here are a couple of telling quotes from civil legal aid attorneys:

If I was not married, I would have to live with my parents.

I have been an attorney for almost 10 years.  I was offered a position at the public defender’s office which would have paid me three times what I make now.

There’s a lot of disturbing news in the report.  And it’s important to remember that the initiative to produce this report was begun pre-recession, at a time when IOLTA law changes in California left the legal aid community anticipating that their funding would actually be boosted.  That, as it turns out, was not to be, as the recession has presented severe fiscal challenges for most legal aid organizations.  They may not be in a position now to take institutional steps toward raising salaries and developing retention programs, but we applaud the California legal aid community for keeping its eye on this very severe problem.  Hemorrhaging junior attorneys who can’t afford to remain on legal aid career paths is a potentially terrible problem for the legal aid community.  Attrition leads to immediate financial inefficiencies when organizations lose attorneys they’ve invested time and money in training.  And in the longer run, there will be no next generation of experienced leaders to assume management responsibilities if they are hopping off the ladder while still on the lower rungs.

Recession or no recession, the report should be a wake-up call for those who have a stake in cultivating the next generation of legal aid leaders.


IMPACT Career Fair – August 13, 2010, Just Outside Washington, DC

The 6th annual IMPACT Career Fair for law students and attorneys with disabilities is taking place at the Sheraton Crystal City, in Arlington, VA, on Friday, August 13th.  Learn more about the career fair and link to registration info here.


Louisiana Law Clinics Live to Sue Another Day

We’ve been following legislative efforts in Louisiana, Maryland, and elsewhere to limit the activities of law school clinical programs which sometimes draw the ire of pro-business lawmakers who see environmental lawsuits and the like as creating an inhospitable climate for commerce and jobs.

The most recent controversy had bubbled up in Lousiana, as a state senator pushed a bill that…

…would have blocked university law clinics at any school that receives state money from suing a government agency or representing a client who is suing a private defendant for monetary damages.

The Louisiana Senate’s Commerce Committee debated the bill – which was actually watered down by its sponsor, Sen. Robert Adley, such that it would only have applied to environmental clinics – and did away with it, “completing a rare defeat for the chemical, oil, and gas industries” which supported the bill.  Read New Orleans Times-Picayune coverage here.

We try not to editorialize much here at the PSLawNet Blog, but given what lies to Louisiana’s south right now, it does seem like a strange time to be hamstringing environmental lawyers.


Catching Up On the "Deferred Associates in Public Service Placements" Phenomenon

I recently contributed an article on Class-of-2009 deferred law firm associates to the ABA Division for Legal Services’ Dialogue magazine.

Starting last fall, deferred associates began public service placements with host organizations throughout the country.  The placements have ranged in duration from three to four months to over a year. Inferences drawn from NALP research suggest that the number of associates in  public service placements could be as high as 900 individuals out of the approximately 3,200 associates who were deferred nationwide.

Major legal markets are hosting the largest numbers of deferred associates.  The National Law Journal reported last November that there were upwards of 140 deferred associates taking placements in New York City nonprofit and government offices.  In the civil legal services community, the NYC Bar Association and the City Bar Justice Center launched the “Deferred Associate Law Extern Support Project” to train and monitor the progress of deferred associates.  Chicago’s legal services community welcomed 54 deferred associates from the Class of 2009.  In California, the Public Interest Clearinghouse has counted at least 55 associates working with nonprofits throughout the state.  Associates are also contributing in Philadelphia, Cleveland, and in other smaller markets.

In terms of associates’ substantive contributions to their host organizations, reviews from all parties involved – the hosts, the law firms, and the associates themselves – are generally quite positive…

Regardless of the peculiarity of its origins, and whatever its ultimate impact on the employment and pro bono landscapes may be, the short-term result of [the deferred-associates-in-public-service- placements] phenomenon has been that deferred law firm associates have gained first-hand perspective on the importance of public service work that is likely to endure after they return to their law firms.  For example, it is possible that deferred associates working in public interest organizations today will be tomorrow’s public interest fundraisers and pro bono advocates. Most importantly,  deferred associates increase the pool of lawyers supporting the work of government and fighting for access to justice for clients on society’s margins.  That is the brightest of silver linings.

At a time of extraordinary need in the public interest community, it has been heartening to see that deferred associates have been able to help bolster the delivery of services to low-income clients.  And in the longer term, such successes with deferral placements may lead to more robust collaborations between law firm pro bono attorneys and public interest ogranizations.

In the shorter term, the only potential negative that has troubled me has been the prospect that law students and grads on public interest career paths could be displaced because deferred associates may literally be taking up the desk space where those students want to work as interns and later as attorneys.  I went to law school knowing that I wanted to go into civil legal servcies, so I would understand how current students who wish to do something similar might be disconcerted about being squeezed out by a deferred associate.  There is no getting around the fact that it’s a hard time right now for law students/grads looking for nonprofit jobs, and for nonprofit law offices (and more importantly, their clients).  I hope that those students and grads can take some comfort in a sentiment that Jennifer Thomas, the Director of Legal Recruiting at the DC Public Defender Service, offered when I was writing about deferrals late last year.  Noting the importance of a commitment – as demonstrated through work experience – to a public interest career when evaluating job candidates, Jennifer said, “A passionate commitment to public service is a chief criterion in our hiring process…and that will remain long after the recession has gone.”

Steve Grumm


No Life Sentences for Non-Homicide Juvenile Convictions

The Supreme Court announced a 5-4 decision today stating that juvenile defendants who have not been convicted of murder cannot be sentenced to life with no chance of parole. We’ve blogged previously on juvenile law issues, such as the success of Philadelphia’s Juvenile Law Center, trying youth as adults, and a case in New York over juvenile detention conditions.

This case will not lead to the immediate release of any prisoners, but may at least lead to parole hearings for some who previously did not have that option. About 100 are serving life sentences with no parole for non-murder crimes, in only 8 states.


Public Interest News Bulletin – May 14, 2010

  • 5.12.10 – National Law Journal – as the Louisiana legislature prepares to debate a bill that would vastly limit the types of legal advocacy performed by legal clinics at law schools in the state, the Louisiana Chemical Association is playing “hardball” in opposing the activities of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.  The association is advocating “that [its 61 corporate members] stop making donations to the university, stop matching employee donations to the school and curtail recruiting there.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: additional coverage of the legislative proposal is offered in the 5.10.10 New Orleans Times-Picayune article below.]
  • 5.11.10 – Florida Times Union – Michael Figgins, executive director of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid for 15 years, has quietly but dramatically expanded the organization, a process that included a decision to stop receiving Legal Services Corporation funds.  Link to article.
  • 5.11.10 – Huffington Post Website (Opinion/Analysis Piece) – Maria Foscarinis, founder and executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, weighs in on how a controversial, recently-passed Arizona immigration law may affect the increasing numbers of homeless and others in poverty who will not be able to readily produce personal identification documents if called upon to do so.  Foscarinis suggests that the law “risks further criminalizing poverty, and in particular, the extreme form of poverty that is homelessness.”  Link to piece.
  • 5.10.10 – New Orleans Times-Picayune (running an AP article) – a Louisiana state senate bill could “hobble” law clinics at law schools located in the state.  “As it now stands, the bill — scheduled for a Wednesday hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee — would prevent all university law clinics from challenging government agencies in court, suing individuals for damages or making constitutional claims. That would limit access to justice for thousands of low-income Louisianans and prevent law schools from providing students with a complete legal education, legal experts argue.”  The bill has been proposed by a Senator who is concerned that some clinical programs – the Tulane University Environmental Law Clinic has been a point of focus – sue companies that are integral parts of the state’s economic infrastructure, which could ultimately lead to negative economic consequences for the state’s residents.  Link to article.  See also 5.4.10 coverage from the Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog.
  • 5.7.10 – The Record (New Jersey) – for the fourth year, “[b]attered women who have lost custody of children to spouses pleaded for legal help at a demonstration Friday in front of the Passaic County Courthouse.  But their pleas come at a time when Northeast New Jersey Legal Services — in most instances the only provider of legal services for low-income people — has suffered a 20 percent loss of staff to attrition and layoffs in just the past year. And it still faces major budget cuts and staff reductions….[A]dministrators of social and legal agencies confirm it’s almost impossible for a woman without resources to get publicly provided legal representation in a custody case. And now, with major budget cuts to state-funded Legal Services, the chance is even more remote.”  [Ed. Note: the article states that NNJLS’s staff has shrunk from 110 to 82 as a result of attrition and layoffs.]  Link to article.
  • 5.6.10 – New York Times – “New York’s highest court ruled Thursday that a broad class-action suit challenging the state’s system of providing public defenders can move forward because there are enough signs that the system is failing poor people.  The 4-to-3 ruling by the State Court of Appeals came in a closely watched suit that civil liberties lawyers said could be a model for similar challenges across the country.”  Link to article. 
  • 5.6.10 – Washington Post – a $2.4 million cy pres award stemming from a lawsuit involving cell phone fees is being used to bolster the financially strapped legal services community in Maryland.  That award, characterized as “Miracle Money” by one bar foundation official, will allow programs that have been battered by the recession to avoid office closures and service cuts.  Link to article.
  • 5.6.10 – Monroe Evening News (Michigan) – Monroe County Senior Legal Services, which provides legal services to seniors using a sliding fee scale based on clients’ ability to pay, is holding fundraisers in order to finance the costs of serving a large portion of its clients who are living in poverty and unable to pay any fees.  “For the first time in its 32-year history, the nonprofit agency finds itself faced with rising caseloads and too few dollars to help those 60 and older who need legal aid.”  Link to article.
  • 5.6.10 – Earth Times Website (Press Release) – “Low-income individuals in need of legal assistance [in Northern Virginia] with housing, consumer law and employment matters have an additional resource…as a result of the Legal Aid Justice Center’s recent expansion. Under an agreement with the Legal Services of Northern Virginia, the Legal Aid Justice Center now provides low-income immigrants in the metropolitan-DC area of Northern Virginia with a wider variety of legal issues than before.”  Link to press release.
  • 5.4.10 – San Francisco Chronicle – “More than 80 San Francisco police officers have criminal histories or misconduct records that the Police Department withheld and prosecutors did not disclose to defense attorneys in cases in which officers testified, a failure that could put hundreds of felony convictions in jeopardy.  Link to article.
  • 5.3.10 – New York Times – New York State’s top jurist called for a “Civil Gideon” – a right to counsel  for the poor in some civil matters, “like suits over eviction and other disputes where basic needs are at stake.”  Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman said, “I am not talking about a single initiative, pilot project or temporary program, but what I believe must be a comprehensive, multifaceted, systemic approach to providing counsel to the indigent in civil cases.”  Link to article.
  • 5.3.10 – Jacksonville Daily Record (Florida) – [Ed Note: a Q&A piece provides details about the Northeast Florida Medical Legal Partnership.]  Link to article.


Do you Know an Amazing Public Interest Attorney?

Stanford Law School’s Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law is currently inviting nominations for the Stanford Law School National Public Service Award! This is a perfect opportunity to honor that special public interest lawyer in your life – someone who has inspired you and others with their work. This isn’t just for attorneys with a lifetime of achievement either! They are explicitly welcoming nominations of “younger attorneys who have significantly advanced social justice in the past year.” So nominate away!


More States Creating Veterans Courts

We blogged earlier about states creating unique courts to deal with veterans in the criminal justice system. As part of a larger series on the challenges military veterans face upon returning from duty, NPR has a great story on a new court program being developed in Minnesota. It’s an interesting area of development in the judicial system, and seems to be showing some promise around the country. We’ll keep you updated as more stories arise.


Federal Applications are Confusing, Really!

If you’ve tried applying for some federal jobs and found the process bewildering, you’re not alone. Government Executive had a story yesterday discussing the difference between private and government application processes as being a major barrier to potential applicants coming from the private sector. This means the announcements of major reform in the federal hiring process (which we blogged about yesterday) may help open up federal employment to a new portion of the population.

Also something to keep an eye on – the Office of Personnel Management is moving forward with a pilot program called “Results Only Work Environment” which allows supervisors to focus more on results and less on mere office presence. This effectively means that workers can make their own schedule, as long as the work gets done. Federal News Radio has an article up about the program and initial results being reported up on Capitol Hill.