Archive for June, 2010

Info on Dep't. of Homeland Security's Office of General Counsel 2011 Honors Program and Summer Intern Program

Interested in a federal government career?  The Office of the General Counsel at DHS has asked us to circulate information about their:

  1. 2011 Honors Program for immediate/recent law grads: Summary and Info Sheet
  2. 2011 Summer Law Intern Program (SLIP) for next summer’s rising 2 and 3Ls: Summary and Info Sheet

For a wealth of resources on federal careers, remember to visit PSLawNet’s Federal Government Resources Page.

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Resources for Postgraduate, Public-interest Fellowship Applications

This is about the time of year that rising 3Ls start thinking seriously about crafting proposals for postgraduate, public-interest fellowships.  Project-based fellowships, like the ones offered by Equal Justice Works and the Skadden Fellowship Foundation, involve a law student submitting a proposal to the funding agency at the beginning of the Fall, 3L semester.  In the case of Equal Justice Works, year 2011 fellowship proposal applications will be available on July 5 and are due in on September 15, 2010.  As for Skadden, the applications are now available here and are due in on October 4, 2010.

Project-based fellowships are coveted, and competition for them is fierce.  Hundreds of public-interest minded law students vie for relatively few positions.  For instance, at Equal Justice Works, 43 Class-of-2010 graduates were awarded fellowshipsSkadden awarded 27 fellowships to Class-of-2010 grads, down from 36 in 2008.

This is all the more reason to craft the strongest proposal possible.  Take advantage of PSLawNet’s tip-sheet, Project-based Fellowship Applications: Take Cues from Those Who Know.  Among other advice offered in this handout:

  • Create Your Own Fellowship Team: identify people who can help you with the application process, including career services/public interest advisors and faculty or alumni who received fellowships and/or served on fellowship selection committees.
  • Build a Relationship with Your Would-be Host Organization: A relationship with your would-be host is a vital part of the successful fellowship application (and the successful fellowship). It’s best to apply with an organization that you have previously worked for. But if that is not possible, it is wise to still propose a project that relates to work you have done, so that you can demonstrate that you have the knowledge, skills, and passion to do the job.
  • Focus on the Clients: It’s about the clients, not about you and your career goals. Make sure to emphasize how your project makes an impact and who the beneficiaries of your project are. Can you get client input for the proposal?
  • Do Not Take Yourself out of the Proposal Driver’s Seat: A senior program manager at a funding organization notes, “Sometimes when I read an application…it reads like the host organization supervisor thought up a project and then found a fellow to fit the bill rather than a personal passion coming through in the project description.” Funders wish to support a specific project driven by a fellow, not a new staff attorney position for the host organization.
  • Do Not Be Vague or Unrealistic: Avoid making the project proposal excessively grand, including too many ideas (i.e. the kitchen sink). While the goal is typically for the project to sustain itself after the fellowship term ends, the fellow should still specifically map out realistic objectives to be achieved during their term. (Note: The opposite can happen too when the application is too narrow and not capable of sustaining itself so that the reader cannot see it lasting two years and beyond.)

For additional tips and more general information, see PSLawNet’s Postgraduate Fellowships Information & Resources Page.

Please remember, too, that project-based fellowships are not the only game in town.  Organization-based fellowships, which don’t involve a third-party funder in the application process, are much more plentiful and can provide equal opportunities in terms of gaining experience and developing professionally. Again, use PSLawNet’s Postgraduate Fellowships Information & Resources Page and search the hundreds of fellowship (project- and organization-based) listings in PSLawNet’s opportunities database.  We are doing our annual update of fellowships listings now, so if you see one that’s out of date, just check back in a few weeks or get in touch with the employer/host organization directly.

Good luck!

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Can $345 Pay for Justice?

The Los Angeles Times has an excellent story today on the juvenile public defender system in Los Angeles County. LA County is one of very few jurisdictions that pays private attorneys who agree to take public defense cases (many go to salaried public defenders, but the remainder are taken by these “panel” attorneys) a flat fee for all juvenile justice cases. In this case, $345. The story tells of the impact the flat fee can have on cases, limiting attorneys’ time with clients and leading many lawyers to take on as many cases as possible in order to make enough money. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) has a great discussion of and response to the article where it explains the dangers of this system and some of the nuances the article can’t get in to.

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Civil Legal Services Executive Director Identifies Flaws in Legal Education's Preoccupation with BigLaw Careers

Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, put up an interesting post on his organization’s Making Justice Real blog last week. In it, he argues that the law school community is too focused on producing BigLaw lawyers, and should rethink the model so that more students are encouraged to – and educated in such a way to – serve clients of lesser financial means, i.e. lower- and middle-income individuals and families rather than the business interests that so many lawyers serve.

There are more than 37 million people in the United States living below the federal poverty line and scores of millions others who while not technically “poor” have inadequate incomes.   There are very limited legal services for those at the very bottom of the income scale and for those who have too much income to qualify for a free lawyer, but too little to pay a lawyer, there is nothing.  Around ½ of one percent of the legal industry is dedicated to serving people with low-incomes.  The overwhelming majority of money and lawyer time is dedicated to business interests and the concerns of the wealthy.

While law schools are not solely responsible for this disparity in access, they play a role.  The singularly important US News and World report rankings weigh heavily the rate of law placement in high paying corporate jobs, and as the deans each admitted this morning, these rankings are everything.  As a consequence, legal education has been designed to make students attractive for firm jobs, the cost of education has risen to match law firm salaries and the shrinking law firm job pipeline has law schools in a panic.

We think it’s an important point, and one that should be considered in the larger discussion of how the legal education model should be reshaped.  Weigh in and tell us what you think in the comments section.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – June 11, 2010

  • 6.10.10 – New York Law Journal – “Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman has named 28 people to a task force charged with spearheading a court-led effort to secure adequate state funding for the representation of low-income New Yorkers in civil cases.”  The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York is being led by Helaine Barnett, who recently stepped down as the Legal Services Corporation’s president.  The task force’s responsibilities will be to analyze information gathered at a series of hearings on the topic of access to justice that will be presided over by Judge Lippman and others.  “The aim of the hearings will be to determine the extent and nature of unmet legal needs throughout the state. Based on those findings and information gathered by the task force, Judge Lippman will make recommendations for increased state funding.”   Link to article.  [Ed note: for other, recent coverage about Judge Lippman’s focus on AtJ issues, see a 5/26/10 New York Law Journal piece on his creation of an attorney emeritus program for retired NY attorneys to provide pro bono service, and a 5.3.10 New York Times article covering Lippman’s call for a civil right to counsel.]
  • 6.9.10 – Porterville Recorder (California) – budget cuts are forcing staff layoffs in the Tulare County public defender’s and district attorney’s offices.  The public defender will have to lay off three investigators and leave two other open positions unfilled.  In the prosecutor’s office, there is no funding to continue supporting an analyst position to maintain a database about agricultural crime.  Link to article.
  • 6.9.10 – ABA Journal – the New York City Law Department, which is now hosting 13 deferred law firm associates, has 25 more deferred or furloughed associates taking placements this fall, and could take on more.  “The law department, which reached out to laid-off associates last April with offers of a haven to sharpen their skills while job-hunting, is now the go-to host for associates faced with 2011 start-dates, according to Stuart Smith, the law department’s director of legal recruitment.”
  • 6.8.10 – Houston Chronicle [Op-ed] – a current Texas state judge and former federal judge write that a proposal to create a public defender’s office in Harris County (Houston) could be a step in the right direction, but that the public defender’s office contemplated in the current proposal would lack “1) independence from the judiciary; 2) workload standards; and 3) uniform use of the public defender office by all judges…. Harris County should undertake the establishment of this office, but only if it gets it right. The proposal should be amended to ensure that the public defender office is effective and meets national standards. Specifically, the county proposal should: 1) provide for an independent board of directors with the power to insulate the office and the public defender from partisan politics and judicial interference; 2) limit caseloads so that attorneys may zealously defend their clients; and 3) preclude judges from opting out of the new reforms.”  Link to op-ed.
  • 6.8.10 – Dallas Morning News – “Legal aid lawyers today accused Texas of still running an illegally understaffed, inconvenient and confusing eligibility system for food stamps despite having worked off a backlog of pleas for help.”  Texas RioGrande Legal Aid has just made an additional court filing on behalf of food stamp applicants, following up on an initial lawsuit last December.  The Texas Health and Human Services Commission’s food stamp offices have been laboring for some time in the wake of a failed privatization attempt and swelling numbers of food stamp applicants.  “Last October, the state was tardy in deciding the cases for some 42,000 households that sought aid.”  Link to article. [Ed. Note: additional, past coverage of the lawsuit can be found in this 12.23.09 Houston Chronicle piece, this  1.26.10 KGNS TV Station website piece, and this 2.1.10 Dallas Morning News blog post. ]
  • 6.7.10 – PR Newswire [Press Release] – staff attorneys of the Legal Aid and Defender Association in Detroit who are unionized with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) will demonstrate outside of the Association’s office because they have no employment contract.  Link to press release.
  • 6.6.10 – The Star-Ledger (New Jersey) – two Seton Hall Law School graduates, both of whom work as local prosecutors in New Jersey, are leading a grassroots campaign to have their alma mater expand its Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to cover prosecutors.  They have launched a website and a Facebook page, and have secured the support of the New Jersey State Bar Association.  Seton Hall Law School’s LRAP program was begun in 2002 for graduates in public service careers.  A school official noted that there was never an intention on the school’s side to exclude any lawyers in public service careers, but rather that they did not see career paths of prosecutors as including some of the same financial hurdles as other public service career paths.  Link to article.
  • 6.6.10 – Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) – on June 1st, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio wrote to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, urging him to reconsider restrictions on the use of federal funds made available to Ohioans through a mortgage foreclosure relief program.  Brown is concerned that the money can not be used to fund the provision of free legal services to low-income Ohioans in trouble.  “Brown said in a letter to Geithner last week: ‘Legal-aid services are immensely useful to homeowners who fall behind on their mortgage payments, sometimes because they are unable to access benefits like unemployment insurance. Foreclosure counseling is a similarly vital service’.”  Link to short article and to press release from Sen. Brown.
  • 6.5.10 – Fresno Bee –  “Central California Legal Services has threatened to sue the City of Merced if it moves forward with its plan to enforce a no-camping ordinance and remove the residents of a large homeless camp on the edge of the city…”  CCLS contends that the city’s plan is “short-sighted, [and] unsupported by any evidence that suitable and affordable housing is available to accommodate the housing needs of the homeless persons threatened with displacement…”  Link to short article.

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Equal Justice Works Career Fair – Employer Registration Open

The Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair will take place in the Washington, DC area on October 22 and 23.  Registration is now open for employers.  From their website:

The Equal Justice Works Career Fair is the only event where you will find more than 1,000 students from 200 national law schools in one room. Our career fair provides the opportunity to do onsite interviewing as well as informal “table talks” with the students.

We invite organizations and agencies that value public service to attend. Please join other government agencies, nonprofit organizations, legal services providers and law firms from across the country to fill your internship/externship and staffing needs.

 Go here for more details and for a link to the registration page.

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The Virtues of Law School Pro Bono

We’re a little behind.  The May, 2010 edition of the ABA Law Student Division’s Student Lawyer magazine just wound its way to our desk.  Here’s the magazine’s electronic home (some content is password protected, accessible to Law Student Division members and other subscribers).

The lead featured article is focused on law student pro bono.  “Don’t Wait to Work Pro Bono,” written by Prof. Mark E. Wojcik of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, explains how pro bono fits into the rubric of attorneys’ ethical obligations, reviews some of the motivations for doing pro bono (which run from the entirely altruistic to the altruistic-but-also-self-serving), and explores the benefits that pro bono service offers.  The piece also offers resources for law students who wish to engage in pro bono service while in school, and reviews how to avoid “unauthorized practice of law” problems in performing pro bono before becoming a licensed attorney.

Some noteworthy info about law school pro bono programs (from the article):

  • 36 ABA-accredited schools have pro bono or public service graduation requirements;
  • 111 ABA-accredited schools have an administratively supported pro bono program

On a related note, last week the PSLawNet Blog highlighted a highly successful pro bono collaboration between the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and Southern Arizona Legal Aid.

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New International Jobs Resource on the PSLawNet Site

Due to the overwhelming response to Sara Rakita’s excellent blog post on how to get a job with the United Nations and other IGOs, we asked her to turn it into a hard-copy document which we can permanently host on the PSLawNet site. You can access it on our International Resources page, along with several other great resources on finding international jobs and internships.

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Seton Hall Looks to Expand LRAP Program, Thanks to Alums

Seton Hall Law School is one of about 100 law schools which offers a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) for its graduates to support public interest and government work. It is  also one of several schools that currently does not include graduates working in prosecutor’s offices in their LRAP, but that may soon change thanks to the efforts of some Seton Hall alumni. The Star-Ledger has a story about two Seton Hall alumni working in the Essex County prosecutor’s office who have been actively lobbying their alma mater for changes to the LRAP program. They have created a website, a facebook page, and received support from the New Jersey State Bar Association.

The school is working actively to assess the issue and develop a response. Claudia St. Romain, an associate dean at Seton Hall, explains the purpose of the LRAP program:

“One of our goals was to remove some of the financial disincentives to our students who might have been not interested in going into some areas because of pay,” St. Romain said. “It was not our experience that the prosecutor’s office was one that students might have hesitated before entering.”

She assures the concerned alumni that the school is working on this, saying, “we hear our alums and we value them. We’re trying to figure out a resolution within the numbers and the dollars.”

This is an interesting issue for other schools with less-than-universal LRAPs to pay attention to, and we will provide updates here as they come.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – June 4, 2010

  • 6.1.10 – The Tennessean – Tennessee’s chief justice, Janice Holder, recently lamented the “crisis in the need for civil legal services” that has arisen as a result of the economic recession.  While roughly 1 million Tennesseans are financially eligible for free legal services, there are only “81 federally funded, full-time attorneys in Tennessee to help them.”  Too many low-income individuals and families are being forced to navigate the justice system without a lawyer.  In response, the Tennessee Supreme Court ordered the formation of an Access to Justice Initiative in 2008.  Under the AtJ Initiative’s auspices, several recommendations have been issued about ways to bolster the support structure for low-income and pro se litigants.  Link to article
  • 6.1.10 – National Law Journal – in Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Supreme Court held by a vote of 5-4 that, in order to invoke their right to remain silent, a criminal suspect must affirmatively do so, as opposed to simply remaining silent.  The court further held that “once a suspect has received and understood the Miranda warning about the right to remain silent, he or she automatically waives that right by answering a subsequent police question.”  In the majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that “there is good reason to require an accused who wants to invoke his or her right to remain silent to do so unambiguously.”  The lead dissent, authored by Justice Sotomayor, argued that the decision subverted Miranda: “Criminal suspects must now unambiguously invoke their right to remain silent – which, counterintuitively, requires them to speak.”  Link to article.
  • 5.31.10 – Lansing State Journal (based in Michigan, but running a piece about activity in Chicago) – about 60 Class-of-2009 law graduates whose start dates were deferred by big law firms have joined Chicago’s  legal services community during their deferral periods.  Despite some initial skepticism about how effective these temporary placements would be, they have worked out remarkably well so far, with the deferred associates getting valuable hands-on practice experience while helping organizations to maintain service capacity.  These developments have also “sparked discussions of whether a more permanent model of apprenticeships can be developed that would train law school graduates at a lower cost and benefit public interest legal organizations that are suffering from funding constraints while attending to a greater need because of the recession.  Link to article.  [Ed. Note: this article is a shortened version of a piece that originally ran in the Chicago Tribune on April 4.]
  • 5.29.10 – Houston Chronicle (Opinion Piece) – Texas State Senator Rodney Ellis notes that there has been significant improvement in the Lone Star State’s indigent defense system since 2001 passage of the Fair Defense Act, which, among other initiatives, provided state funding for indigent defense.  Nevertheless, the indigent defense infrastructure needs to be shored up.  State funding now is generated through court fees – not from tax receipts – and is inadequate.  It should be increased so that counties do not continue bearing so much of the remaining cost of funding indigent defense.  Well-funded indigent defense programs are ultimately cost-efficient and go a long way to ensuring that justice is served.  Link to piece.

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