Archive for August, 2010

To Change the Legal Education Model…Change the Faculty? (Updated)

The National Law Journal is covering a little bit of ruckus in the legal academy, raised by a forthcoming law review article entitled “”Preaching What They Don’t Practice: Why Law Faculties’ Preoccupation with Impractical Scholarship and Devaluation of Practical Competencies Obstruct Reform in the Legal Academy.” Georgetown Law adjunct professor Brent Evan Newton, the article’s author, argues that, “The academy — both in terms of its preparation of law students to enter the profession and the type of scholarship being produced by the professoriate — has lost its practical moorings.”  (The article will run in the South Carolina Law Review.)

The NLJ piece goes on to summarize Newton’s criticisms and calls for change:

The value that law schools place on publication of law review articles means that faculty members often focus more on scholarship than teaching, Newton wrote. Most law review articles are grounded in legal theory as opposed to practical legal issues….Many law schools have attempted to make their curricula more relevant by adding adjunct professors and clinical faculty, but Newton concluded that those efforts are not nearly enough.

[Newton] suggested that law faculties be divided into two tracks — research professors and teaching professors, both of whom would be tenure-track. Research professors would account for one-third of a faculty and would concentrate on “theoretical, interdisciplinary research and scholarship” and teach fewer classes. The remaining two-thirds would teach doctrinal, clinical and legal reading and writing courses. Teaching professors would have extensive practice experience and would be expected to publish articles less frequently than research professors.

Newton’s piece apparently refers to conclusions in the much-discussed Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching’s 2007 report on the pros and cons of the current legal education model.  That report, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, in essence says that law schools do really well at teaching critical thinking skills, but don’t teach practical applications (i.e. legal practice skills) particularly well.  To boot, the larger moral implications of lawyers’ actions are sometimes downplayed in favor of students being taught to think dispassionately.  The report doesn’t read easily like a Harry Potter…er….Twilight…well, the PSLawNet blog has no idea which of these serials is popular nowadays, but it’s worthy reading for those who wish to plug into the increasingly robust conversation about how we should teach law students to be lawyers.

For what it’s worth, the PSLawNet Blog believes strongly in some reformation of legal education that would incorporate more experiential learning components.  Public interest experiential programs – clinicals, externships, pro bono programs and the like – could point the academy in the right direction.  It’s not often that public interest advocates on law school campuses get to say they’re ahead of the curve, but in this case we think it’s true.   Going to court and doing real work on behalf of real clients is what public interest students have always been doing to make themselves more marketable immediately after graduation.

Speaking of robust conversations, the super-exciting legal blogosphere is abuzz:

Are Law School Faculties Part of the Problem with Legal Education? (WSJ Law Blog)

A Skunk In The Ivory Tower (Simple Justice)

Law School and Lawyering: A Post by Kristen Holmquist (PrawfsBlawg)

Two-Track Legal Education Coming to a Law School Near You? (Legal Blog Watch)

We are curious about your thoughts . . .  Please share in our comments section.

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Across the Pond: Litigation Commences Over Legal Aid Cuts

We have been following the recent controversy in the UK over potential cuts to the legal aid budget.  On Friday, August 27, The Law Society formally launched judicial proceedings against the Legal Services Commission (LSC).

The Law Society is

“seeking a declaration that the LSC acted unlawfully in relation to the [cuts] and, before considering other relief, [intends] to invite the court to adjourn for a short period in order that the LSC and the Society may work together to find a satisfactory solution.”  Read the full press release.

Want more context?  Check out our earlier posts:   Legal Aid Cuts Stir Controversy Across the Pond and Potential Litigation Over Legal Aid Cuts in the UK.

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Deadline Extension: Dep't of Homeland Security's Office of General Counsel 2011 Honors Program and Summer Intern Program

Do you have interest in pursuing a career in the federal government?  The Office of General Counsel at DHS has extended the deadline to apply for their 2011 Summer Intern Program and Honors Program to October 15.

To learn more about both programs check out our earlier post on these opportunities at DHS.

Also of interest, Craig Raynsford, who serves in the Office of the General Counsel at DHS, spoke to us earlier this year about the advantages of a career in federal government and the application process.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – August 27, 2010

This week:  Pro bono, Mick Dundee-style; exploring solutions to expand legal services in Mississippi; comparing public defenders and private defense counsel; Comcast shows a little  love ($$$) to a medical-legal partnership; a legal services hotline for California seniors loses funding; more on Missouri’s ailing public defense system; the wheels of justice turning in New Mexico; terrific legal work on behalf of veterans in Michigan; and two former Minnesota legal services lawyers form a for-profit firm, but work primarily with low-income clients. 

  • 8.27.10 – Fallen behind on the pro bono scene Down Under?  Well, The Australian has a piece about new data from the country’s National Pro Bono Resource Centre. The data show that, just as in the U.S., large firms are making large pro bono contributions: “24 firms with more than 50 lawyers did 322,343 hours of pro bono work last financial year.  The resource centre did not provide costings, but a conservative hourly rate of $250 shows the firms gave away legal work worth at least $80m.”  Read the Australian’s article on the National Pro Bono Resource Centre’s new data.  The two reports which present the data are presently available on the Resource Centre’s homepage.  As an aside, the PSLawNet Blog met the Centre’s director, John Corker, a couple of years ago at a public interest conference in Minneapolis.  We sat next to him as he took in his first baseball game.  The PSLawNet blog explained the basics, and apologized for both the Metrodome and for the diabolical Red Sox Nation, which had overrun the place to see the visiting Sox.
  • 8.23.10 0 – the Lincoln County Journal reports on Missouri’s indigent defense caseload crisis.  “Public defender offices statewide are seeing increasingly heavy case loads putting attorneys well over their monthly limits.”  District Defender Thomas Gabel, who oversees programs in Lincoln and Pike Counties, observed that “Missouri is ranked 49th out of 50 states for public defense funding and in the past decade the state has taken in 12 thousand additional cases a year with no additional funds.”  Also, on 8.21.10, KSPR in Springfield reported that “Missouri Auditor Susan Montee plans to review the state Public Defender Commission.”  The PSLawNet Blog has been covering this series of events; to track back to past coverage, begin with our 8/20/10 Public Interest News Bulletin.
  • 8.21.10 – the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico reports that, in spite of budgetary pressures on the prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices, and in spite of the public’s misperception – driven by television crime dramas – about how fast the wheels of justice should turn, the Do-a Ana County courthouse is moving with all deliberate speed in handling criminal matters.
  • 8.21.10 – according to the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, two former legal aid lawyers formed their own law firm, specializing in “destitute and low-income clients.”  While some clients can afford to pay a little bit of money, the firm will also rely on a Minnesota program that “pays advocates to help low-income adults with the complicated paperwork to go through the [federal Supplemental Security Income application] process.”  It can be a win-win-win when a client is approved to receive SSI benefits: the client has increased income, the attorneys are compensated by the state, and the state will actually save money because the client’s move to a federally-funded support program will often take them off of the rolls of state programs. 

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Mobile Law Office Brings Pro Bono Assistance to Veterans

The University of Detroit Mercy School of Law is addressing the growing legal needs of low-income veterans with two programs – Project Salute and its Veteran’s Law Clinic.  These programs both focus on assisting veterans access federal disability and pension benefits through education, law student representation, and pro bono attorney referral.

The mission of Project SALUTE is to “hit the highways to provide priceless legal advice to low income veterans for free and teach students the invaluable lesson of using the law to serve.”  The work of the students, faculty, and staff of Project SALUTE is supported by a custom designed 31-foot Mobile Law Office, built and donated by General Motors.

Since 2008, the program has provided pro bono assistance to more than 800 veterans and trained more than 300 lawyers to serve as pro bono veteran advocates in Michigan.  In addition to serving Michigan veterans,  Project SALUTE has reached veterans in more than 13 states and 22 cities across the country.   This year more than 65 clinics for veterans have been held across Michigan, with 35 additional clinics scheduled to take place this fall.

The Executive Director of Project SALUTE, Tammy Kudialis, highlighted the changing face of the veteran community and the growing need for assistance.

“You may think of the Veterans’ Administration helping older veterans who served in Vietnam, Korea and even World War II, but Afghanistan is the longest running war in U.S. history.  More than 36,000 troops have been wounded in action (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and all those veterans need our help.”  Read more.

Read more about issues facing the veteran community.

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Potential Litigation Over Legal Aid Cuts in the UK

Last week we wrote about the United Kingdom’s Legal Services Commission’s (LSC) plans to implement significant cuts to its current budget for legal aid.  The budget cuts are expected to cause the number of family law firms offering legal aid to fall from 2,400 to 1,300.

In response, The Law Society sent a pre-action protocol letter to the LSC, challenging the lawfulness of the LSC’s decision to proceed with the reduction in legal aid contracts.  The Law Society’s president, Linda Lee, expressed that despite the “difficulty taking action may cause” for firms that were successful in obtaining legal aid contracts who may have been “planning to expand their businesses either by volume, new work type, or a new geographic location” the decision to challenge the cuts was necessary and rooted in the profession’s duty to public interest.

“As a profession we accept and are proud of an ethical code that is higher than pure commercial considerations. We have a duty to protect the public interest. A reduction in access to justice cannot be in the public interest particularly when it affects the most vulnerable people in society, those who are seeking to establish their basic rights.”

The LSC expressed its disappointment regarding The Law Society’s actions.  The Commission believes that “further uncertainty will have a far greater destabilising effect on the availability of family legal aid than allowing the tender to take its course. ”

President Lee emphasized that,

“The Law Society remains ready and willing to talk with the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice to avoid litigation and urgently resolve these issues,” but “if an agreement cannot be reached, then [The Law Society] will bring the proceedings before the High Court.”

To read more on The Law Society’s position.

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Westlaw & Lexis Searching Tips

Last week the good folks at the Law Librarian Blog posted about the availability of a free resource offering search tips for WestlawNext and Lexis users.  Here’s a link to Guides for WestlawNext and Lexis-Nexis Online Research, which is produced by the Law Librarian and the Director of the Legal Writing Program at the University of Akron School of Law.  It looks pretty good to us.  Detailed but well organized, and plenty of helpful screenshots…

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Public Interest News Bulletin: 8.20.10

 This Week: deferred law firm associates bitten by the public interest bug, indigent defense resource shortages in Missouri and Minnesota, congressional support for doctors and lawyers working together, $$$ in judicial elections, New Jersey libraries are prepping to help pro se litigants because legal services funding cuts are looming, Connecticut brings pro se resources to the Interwebs, and big cuts in Washington State’s welfare program.

  • 8.19.10 – St. Louis Post-Dispatch – the Missouri State Public Defender program is fighting back against accusations by some prosecutors that the defenders are exaggerating a resource shortage.  An MSPD spokesperson notes that although some prosecutors are complaining that the defenders’ caseloads are not actually that high, it’s an apples-and-organges comparison because the public defenders count cases differently.  [Ed. note: this article is one of the few written about this unfolding story that goes past the verbal battles and offers an update about how the criminal justice system has been affected by some public defenders’ refusals to take new cases: “The impact on defendants has been minimal so far, with only the three circuits affected and their deferred July cases accepted with the arrival of August. But some of the system’s doors are expected to close again each month, possibly a little earlier each time.  While the effect is not very noticeable now, waits for help could increase in the longer term, and judges could face pressure to appoint private counsel to fill the gaps.”  It also provides hard data about the MSPD’s funding.  For more coverage of the back-and-forth between prosecutors and defenders, see item 7 below (Springfield News-Leader coverage).]
  • 8.16.10 – Brennan Center for Justice – Report – a new report from the Brennan Center, the Justice at Stake Campaign, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics looks at the remarkable increase in the amount of campaign funding in state judicial elections.  The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009: Decade of Change finds that campaign spending has more than doubled in the past decade compared to the decade prior.  Learn more from our recent blog post on the report’s release.  Also, the Philadelphia Inquirer picked up on the report because, lamentably, the Keystone State (home to the 2008 World Champion Philadelphia Phillies) “consistently rank[s] at or near the top for special-interest spending [in state supreme court election campaigns].” 
  • 8.14.10 – Connecticut Post – legal services advocates in Connecticut have launched a new website to provide resources for pro se litigants.  “Trying to represent oneself in court is a daunting task, and the number of people doing so in civil lawsuits has steadily risen in the past five years, according to state Judicial Branch data.  Thankfully for pro se parties across the state, a new website created by legal aid advocates is billing itself as a valuable resource for low-income people involved in civil actions.  The Connecticut Network for Legal Aid site — www.ctnla.org — is the result of a statewide initiative to provide online guidance and information to low-income residents. The site features self-help guides to immigration and family law, links to a legalese dictionary, and a directory of phone numbers for various nonprofits and social services.”  [Ed. note, for additional coverage see Item 4 in our 8/6/10 Public Interest News Bulletin.
  • 8.13.10 – Bloomberg Businessweek (running an AP story) – “[a]t least $51 million is being cut from WorkFirst, [Washington State’s] welfare-to-work program, because while enrollment continues to rise, matching funds from the federal government have remained flat since the 1990s….  Advocacy groups decried the cuts, and said that removing poor families from the program will cause them to seek out social services through different state programs.  ‘This seems like a really tough time to put families on the street,’ said Robin Zukoski, a staff attorney for Columbia Legal Services, which provide civil legal aid to low-income people. ‘These families are not going to just disappear. They’re going to go into the homeless shelters’.”

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2010-2011 Federal Legal Employment Guide Available Now

Legal careers in the federal government are growing in popularity.  The 2010-2011 Federal Legal Employment Guide is now available and can be downloaded for free.  The Guide is an excellent tool to help you learn about legal careers in the federal government and conduct a successful job search.

Download the Guide and access organized, easy-to-read information concerning:

  • the benefits of a federal legal career;
  • how to find legal positions in the federal government;
  • strategies for conducting your job search to find the ideal positions; and
  • how to design successful application materials.

Want to learn even more about federal legal careers?  Visit PSLawNet’s Federal Government Resources page.

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Is 'justice for sale'?

The first comprehensive analysis of state  judicial elections during the past decade,  “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2000-2009:  Decade of Change,” was released this week by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the Justice at Stake Campaign, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Across the country spending on judicial elections more than doubled during the past decade, increasing from $83.3 million in 1990-1999 to $206.9 million in 2000-2009.   Campaign fundraising exceeded $45 million in three of the last five Supreme elections cycles and the last decade witnessed the highest ever spent on individual contests in 20 of the 22 states with competitive judicial elections.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a strong advocate for judicial reform since her retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court, cautioned in the report’s forward that the

“crisis of confidence in the judiciary is real and growing.  Left unaddressed, the perception that justice is for sale will undermine the rule of law that the courts are supposed to uphold.”

According to the report, concern over the significant growth in judicial campaign spending is bipartisan and widespread.  Three out of four Americans believe that campaign spending influences courtroom decisions  and forty-six percent of state judges agree that election spending is impacting courtroom results.

What is responsible for the dramatic change in judicial spending?

Read more about the report’s key findings.

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