Archive for October, 2010

Law Students Going Mobile to Do Pro Bono

The Justice Bus rides this weekend!  According to Woodland California’s Daily Democrat, the Justice Bus, a mobile legal clinic sponsored by the University of San Francisco School of Law (whose students staff the clinic), the Public Interest Clearinghouse, and Legal Services of Northern California, is stopping in Woodland on 10/9 to hold a free employment law clinic.  “This clinic will offer free legal advice and referrals for all aspects of employment law from wrongful termination and wage and hour claims to workers compensation and benefits questions. Anyone with employment related questions is able to attend this free legal clinic.”

It’s great to see this project allowing students to engage with clients in under-served areas who need help.  This really is an ideal (and probably fun) way for city-dwelling students to cultivate their legal skills while reaching those who don’t benefit from having direct access to lawyers – let alone money to afford them.  And it’s not the only example of such an undertaking.  Indeed, it’s not even the only Justice Bus.  In March, the PSLawNet Blog profiled a different Justice Bus run by Arizona State law students.  And in August we covered the work of University of Detroit Mercy law students who run Project Salute, which aids low-income veterans and rolls in a “custom designed 31-foot Mobile Law Office, built and donated by General Motors.”  Our only major malpractice concern in all of this is a student driving the bus.

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Rutgers-Camden Law School's New Pro Bono Prisoner Re-entry Project

From the National Law Journal

Students at Rutgers School of Law-Camden are helping federal inmates transition into post-prison life as part of a new pro bono effort.

The Federal Prisoner Re-entry Project at Rutgers-Camden pairs law student volunteers with recently released prisoners. Under the supervision of a managing attorney, the students work with their clients’ federal probation officers to handle issues such as obtaining drug and alcoholic treatment or securing housing.

“We get everything from difficulties with obtaining identification to problems stemming from people who never registered for the Selective Service,” said Todd Berger, managing partner of the project.

Other law schools offer students the chance to assist prisoners in re-entry through clinics, but Rutgers’ program is unique in that it relies on student volunteers who don’t receive academic credit for the work, Berger said. He initially envisioned that students would spend an hour or two each week on their cases, but the 24 volunteers have been spending more time on client matters as they develop relationship [sic] with their clients.

The PSLawNet Blog is thrilled by this development for two reasons.  First, re-entry services are desperately needed and not historically well-funded.  One of the most effective ways to prevent recidivism is to make sure a released prisoner doesn’t have the deck stacked against him/her from the start. 

Second, one half of the PSLawNet Blog went to law school with Todd Berger.  Todd did public defense work in Philly for years and is a good lawyer and good guy.  We’re happy – but not surprised – to see him leading this initiative.

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Congrats 2010 PSLawNet Pro Bono Publico Award Honorees

Congrats to Vanessa Coe (Nova Southeastern University Law Center, Class of 2011) for winning the 16th Annual PSLawNet Pro Bono Publico Award!

Vanessa’s pathbreaking work, at Florida Legal Services, on behalf of Filipino H2-B workers will lead to hundreds of guest workers receiving millions of dollars in back wages.  She established deep and sustained relationships with an entire community which had no previous contact with the legal services delivery system.  The factual evidence Vanessa collected persuaded several luxury hotels to not only pay guest workers their back wages, but also a 50% penalty for the delays in issuance of the paychecks.  This fall, Dan Rather Reports will air a program profiling the abuses of guest workers, which will feature cases Vanessa’s work uncovered this past summer.  In the words of Managing Attorney Gregory Schell,

her efforts were truly extraordinary; in my 31 years as a legal services practitioner . . . she stands out as the best – by far – law student with whom I have ever had the opportunity to work.

In addition, during her two year tenure as the President of the Public Interest Law Society, at Nova Southeastern, the organization has raised tens of thousands of dollars to support the public interest work of her fellow students.

We would also like to applaud the great work of this year’s runner-up, Sufyan Sohel (DePaul University College of Law, Class of 2011).  Sufyan exudes a passion and dedication to social justice, especially towards civil rights and immigration issues.  He has devoted more than 268 hours of pro bono himself and, through his leadership with the Pro Bono & Community Service Initiative, motivated his fellow law students to engage in pro bono as well.  His tireless work was instrumental in a recent class action lawsuit filed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Chicago on behalf of 200 illegally terminated Somali workers.  Sufyan also dedicates his time to assist the efforts of the Indo-American Legal Clinic to address the legal needs of Chicago’s South Asian community.

Lastly, Meghan Baker (University of Houston Law Center , Class of 2011), Kathryn D’Adamo (University of Maryland School of Law, Class of 2011), and Sarah Sherman Stokes (Boston College Law School, Class of 2011) earned honorable mentions.

Read more about Meghan, Kathryn, and Sarah’s pro bono efforts.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – October 1, 2010

This week: lots of coverage about hearings on legal services funding in New York; a “Civil Gideon” proposal in Wisconsin; $3.62 million in cy pres funding will benefit legal services providers, mostly in Illinois; changing the beleaguered Michigan public defense infrastructure?; turning a federal internship into a federal job; Attorney General Holder tells the Senate to hurry up on judicial confirmations; a deferred associate looks back on his one-year public service placement; humanizing a defendant in a capital trial is no easy feat; a call for a legal services funding boost in Texas; making the wheels of justice turn more smoothly in Philly courts (and by the way, go Phils!); the Washington Post editorial board laments the state of indigent defense funding; a sobering, and hopefully effective, fundraising effort in Texas to curtail domestic violence; a new volunteer initiative driven by a Florida lawyer; and an Indiana prosecutor stands up for his office’s LRAP program.   

  • 9.30.10 – a handful of news outlets from throughout the Empire State are reporting on a statewide series of hearings about access-to-justice issues.  The hearings are the result of efforts by New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman to raise awareness about under-funding of civil legal services and to find solutions.  The New York Times and the New York Law Journal report on the first of the four hearings, which took place in Manhattan.  From the Times, we see half of the dilemma facing legal services providers: “Since 2008, there has been a 40 percent increase at the Legal Aid Society in requests for help on health care issues and an 800 percent increase in requests for help with foreclosures…”  From the Law Journal, we see the other half: “Current funding is provided through what Judge Lippman called a ‘hodgepodge’ of mechanisms…  Due to plunging interest rates because of the poor economy, IOLA revenues have dropped to $7 million this year from $32 million in 2008, and the other sources of aid have not made up the difference.”  After the Manhattan hearing, a second one took place across the state in Rochester.  Here’s coverage from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  Chief Judge Lippman’s end goal is to craft a formal report to use in urging the legislative and executive branches for increased financial support of civil legal services.  The hearings are just the latest step in his campaign.  Earlier this year Lippman created a high-level task force to explore how to expand civil legal services for low-income New Yorkers.  He also created an “Attorney Emeritus” program through which retired lawyers can volunteer their time on pro bono matters.  Indeed, Lippman has gone so far as to call for a civil right to counsel in some matters.  Read more about his efforts in Item One of PSLawNet’s 6.11.10 Public Interest News Bulletin.
  • 9.29.10 – the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (subscription required – boo!) reports on a cy pres award that will benefit Illinois legal services providers as well as other providers throughout the country: “Organizations that help provide legal services to the poor in Illinois and legal aid groups around the country will receive $3.62 million in unclaimed funds from a nationwide class-action settlement involving a rate increase on life insurance policies. This week, five legal aid organizations and foundations serving Illinois are expected to receive a total of more than $1.8 million of the unclaimed funds from the $93 million settlement. Another $1.8 million is to be disbursed to 111 legal aid organizations serving other states throughout the country.”  One of the Chicago-based beneficiaries is the Chicago Bar Foundation, and this makes the PSLawNet Blog happy because we’ve worked with CBF before and have great admiration for them.  UPDATE: here’s freely accessible National Law Journal coverage.
  • 9.29.10 – and in our third story in a row from the northern Midwest, the Michigan Campaign for Justice is advocating that the state “create a statewide public defense system” to replace the patchwork, county-by-county systems that exist now and which have been the subject of intense scrutiny.  “A study commissioned by the state legislature on the public defense system gave Michigan failing grades in 2008 for the way defense attorneys provide counsel to indigent defendants…”, according to the Kalamazoo Gazette.
  • 9.28.10 – speaking of the Post, in an op-ed  Attorney General Eric Holder urges the Senate to move with more dispatch on federal judicial nominees.  He recounts a few specific cases of relatively uncontroversial nominees waiting for months for confirmation hearings, and further notes that “[l]ast year, 259,000 civil cases and 75,000 criminal cases were filed in the federal courts, enough to tax the abilities of the judiciary even when it is fully staffed. But today there are 103 judicial vacancies — nearly one in eight seats on the bench. Men and women who need their day in court must stand in longer and longer lines.  The problem is about to get worse. Because of projected retirements and other demographic changes, the number of annual new vacancies in the next decade will be 33 percent greater than in the past three decades. If the historic pace of Senate confirmations continues, one third of the federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020. If we stay on the pace that the Senate has set in the past two years — the slowest pace of confirmations in history — fully half the federal judiciary will be vacant by 2020.”
  • 9.28.10 – Andrew Ardinger, a deferred law firm associate from the Class of 2009, has spent the past year in a public service placement with the Oakland-based Public Interest Law Project.  He’s been submitting articles periodically about his experience to the American LawyerHere’s his final AmLaw piece before returning the law firm world.  Ardinger reviews his experience with PILP, which seems to have been overwhelmingly positive: “On a professional development level, too, this experience has been outstanding. As I have noted before, there are only six attorneys in the office, and one legal assistant. It was a very warm, genial work environment, and the two attorneys with whom I worked most closely were, from the first day, obviously committed to mentoring me and helping me develop as an attorney.”  Ardinger’s experience was pretty hands-on; he drafted motions/pleadings, made some court appearances, and forged relationships with clients.  The PSLawNet Blog has been following the deferred-associates-in-public-service-placements phenomenon closely.   See our recent post on the issue, which tracks back to some of our past coverage.
  • 9.27.10 – courtesy of Connecticut’s Middletown Press, here’s a pretty interesting story about capital-case trial strategy.  While the case is still in the trial phase now, prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty in the event of a guilty verdict.  The story emphasizes the public defender’s apparent goal of highlighting mitigating factors and humanizing a man who’s accused of doing some terrible things during a home invasion.  Seems like an uphill battle given the facts.
  • 9.25.10 – the Houston Chronicle is late to the party, picking up an op-ed from Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht that originally ran in the Cherokeean Herald, which not only got the drop on the Chron but has a much cooler name.  In the piece, which we included in last week’s News Bulletin, Hecht laments the decline in legal services funding and, while acknowledging budgetary constraints, argues that the state legislature should appropriate funds to support the legal services community.

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