Archive for December, 2010

Public Interest News Bulletin – December 31, 2010 – Holiday Cheer Edition

So long , 2010.  We close out the year with two week’s worth of public interest news.  We’re also happy that this week’s edition is packed with stories highlighting the extraordinary work of several extraordinary advocates.  Our Inner Scrooge’s heart is warmed.  Featured: a new place to look for new federal jobs; a law intended to help CA foreclosure victims hiccups; a report on whether the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau is actually helping clients who seek unemployment benefits; Cooley Law School establishes a new pro bono initiative with the private bar; a successful public interest employment “bridge” program at Florida Coastal Law; the tremendous public interest commitment of an award-winning UConn law student; adios, Federal Career Intern Program; a busy legal services development chief is profiled; $500K going to a clinic and public interest programs at Cardozo Law; the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland’s incoming president knows firsthand what it’s like to be a legal services client; the business case for supporting legal services in Eastern Missouri; a big federal-court win for a Yale Law School clinic; a Cleveland judge and two attorneys dig deep to help out a low-income defendant; here are some phrases to keep off of your resume; a five-part story on Missouri’s beleaguered public defense system; and the New York Times editorial board weighs in on the importance of supporting legal services.

  • 12.30.10 – how do you find federal jobs?  Pore through budget  proposals.  Not what you wanted to hear, we know.  But here’s a great bit of job-seeking wisdom, courtesy of the Washington Post: “In each budget justification submitted to Congress, you get to see what an agency says it needs, as well any additional hiring requests to carry out its work … For the Justice Department to strengthen national security and counter the threat of terrorism the 2011 budget requests $300.6 million. The request includes 440 additional positions, including 126 agents and 15 attorneys. To enforce immigration laws the department is requesting an $11 million program increase, including 125 positions – 31 of them attorneys.  You can read an agency’s budget proposal on its Web site.”
  • 12.28.10 – yet another example of a pro bono collaboration involving a law school and volunteer attorneys.  From the Examiner in Detroit we learn that the “Thomas M. Cooley Law School and the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (DMBA) have joined forces to create a new program to expand free legal services in Detroit and Wayne County. The Cooley Law School-DMBA Pro Bono Mentorship Program will allow students from Cooley’s Ann Arbor and Auburn Hills campuses to collaborate with a mentoring attorney in providing free legal services to clients.”  Cases will be referred to the new program from local public interest organizations.

Keep reading . . .

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Words to Avoid on Resumes(?)

A few days ago the ABA Journal picked up on some advice offered by a career-guru type from the LinkedIn website.  She listed 10 words/phrases that may appear empty and trite to an employer reviewing your resume.  Drumroll…

  1. Extensive experience
  2. Innovative
  3. Motivated
  4. Results-oriented
  5. Dynamic
  6. Proven track record
  7. Team player
  8. Fast-paced
  9. Problem solver
  10. Entrepreneurial

The PSLawNet Blog sees the wisdom in thinking twice before dropping a line about how you’re a “highly motivated problem solver with experience working in fast-paced environments.”  If you offer nothing to support that statement, it’s basically hogwash.  With that said, we’d offer a caveat: if a job description uses a certain word in characterizing what kind of professional skills an employer wishes to see in job applicants, then it should be fair game (at least in a cover letter if not a resume).  If an employer lists “sense of entrepreneurship” as a qualification sought, then you can use the word “entrepreneur” in your application materials.  But – and this is important – you should be able to support it.  So you don’t write “natural entrepreneur” and leave the phrase to hang there unsupported.  You write, “entrepreneurship as exemplified by X, Y, Z”  In any event, this is easier to do in the cover letter as opposed to the resume.  In the resume you want to be as specific about your skills as possible.  This, we think, is the moral of the story here: Don’t use the above words as meaningless space fillers on a resume.  Tell employers what you’ve actually done: wrote a brief; participated in a service project that helped X number of people in need, etc. 

Next month, The PSLawNet Blog will offer several posts with resume, cover letter, interviewing, and networking tips.  Stay tuned…

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Yale Law Clinic Efforts Result in Precedent-Setting Triumph for Immigrant Rights

For the past three years, Yale law students in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic have worked on behalf of 11 Hispanic immigrants arrested during a three-day raid by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in New Haven, Connecticut.

The 2007 raid took place in a predominately Hispanic section of New Haven and resulted in the arrests of 32 immigrants, the majority of whom were bystanders and not the inividuals with criminal backgrounds that were the actual target of the raid.

In their complaint, the plaintiff’s alleged

that ICE officers raided residents’ homes without warrants or consent, and interrogated, arrested, and detained them in violation of their Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The complaint alleges that officers did not have individualized reasonable suspicion that any plaintiff was in violation of immigration laws, and that the interrogations and arrests were on the basis of plaintiffs’ skin color and physical appearance. Plaintiffs further allege that ICE’s actions were part of a pattern or practice of violations and were planned in response to pro-immigrant policies recently enacted by New Haven political and community leaders, in violation of New Haven’s local sovereignty as protected by the Tenth Amendment. Plaintiffs are seeking declaratory relief and damages.  Read full complaint.

Precedent was set last week when Judge Stefan Underhill of the  U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut “ruled that officials with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement may be sued for civil rights violations” and that “the court has jurisdiction over this type of immigration case.”   From The National Law Journal’s coverage earlier this week:

“We believe this is the most sweeping decision by a district court on this issue,” said Muneer Ahmad, the director of the clinic. “It means that ICE, as a law enforcement agency, is subject to the same measures of constitutional accountability as other agencies.”

Although Underhill dismissed some minor claims, he found that the most important ones have enough merit to go forward, Ahmad said.

Congrats to the six Yale law students currently working on the case and the 25 other students that have been a part of the effort during the last three years on their victory!

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Public Servants: I Want You…to Be Political Whipping Boys

The Washington Post has run a good piece today highlighting the criticism that’s befallen federal, state, and local government workforces as politicians, seeking to close alarming budget gaps, accuse government employees of being overcompensated.  And the public seems to have embraced the perception of cushy government service gigs:

Three-quarters of those who were surveyed in an October Washington Post poll said they believe federal workers get better pay and benefits than people doing similar jobs outside the government, and 52 percent said government employees are overpaid.

The Post article reviews some of the available data getting at the question of whether government employees are in fact overcompensated…

Much repeated by Republicans is an August review of Bureau of Economic Analysis data by USA Today. It showed that the average salary and benefits of federal employees had grown faster than that of private employees for nine years running, to the point where federal compensation had reached $123,049 in 2009 – more than twice the level of the average private-sector worker.

Other research suggests that once you adjust the numbers for the fact that government workers tend to be older, more educated and more experienced, they show that public employees don’t do all that well in comparison.

Also complicating the equation is the fact that while government salaries are often lower than those in the private sector, benefits are often better.

The nonpartisan National Institute on Retirement Security found that, on average, total compensation is 6.8 percent less for state employees and 7.4 percent less for local employees than for comparable non-government workers.

Of course this article focuses on government workforces at large, not on attorneys.  And as noted in the above quote block, some research shows that when you control for education level, some highly educated professionals could do much better in the private sector than in the public sector.   So, are government attorneys enjoying bloated compensation relative to their private sector counterparts?  Well, on average: no.

  • As to local government attorneys, NALP’s 2010 Public Sector/Interest Attorney Salary Report offers a national median starting salary figure of $50,000 for prosecutors.  And after 8-10 years of work experience, those salaries increase to almost $76,000.    By comparison, NALP’s 2010 Associate Salary Survey reports that the national median starting salary for law-firm attorneys is $115,000 – more than double the prosecutor salary.  And even the median starting salary at a small law firm (2-25 lawyers) is $72,000 – almost 50% larger than the prosecutor salary.  After 8 years of experience, associate salary is $160,000.  (And remember that by year 8 in practice, many law firm attorneys will achieve partnership status, bringing with it considerable upward income mobility that is not reflected in these data.)
  • Federal attorneys are the highest earning public service attorneys, but their salaries are still generally lower than their private sector counterparts.  Starting salaries for federal attorneys vary based on which agency they work with and other factors, but they generally fall in the $50,000-$75,000 range.  Federal attorneys can pass the $100,000 mark over time, but on average still don’t have the upward earning potential of private sector attorneys.  We do wish to note that federal attorneys typically have impressive benefits packages, and loan repayment assistance helps take financial weight off the shoulders of debt-laden junior attorneys.  Nevertheless, the road through federal service seems to be better described as relatively comfortable, but hardly lucrative.

Finally, we’ll close by noting what we see as the most troubling potential side-effect of the barrage of criticism of public servants: a sort of demonization of government service.  Attorneys in government service are not there for the money.  For the vast majority, there is tremendous satisfaction in working to promote public safety and welfare, national defense, preservation of individual rights, environmental justice, and on and on.  We hope that this is not lost in the rancor as the entire country – including its government attorneys – confronts post-recession fiscal realities.

UPDATE: after publishing this post we were reminded of this vigorous defense of the federal workforce against charges that is it bloated and overcompensated.  The author is Max Stier, the head of the Partnership for Public Service, with which PSLawNet and NALP have collaborated in the past.

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PSLawNet Jobs Report: December 20, 2010

NOTE: the PSLawNet Blog will skip next week’s Jobs Report as we will still be on holiday.  Never fear though, a jam-packed issue of the Jobs Report will be back on January 3, 2011.  Happy Holidays!!!

Need a job or internship? During the past week PSLawNet has posted:   65 new attorney positions,   28 new internships, and  10 new law related opportunities.  Additionally, there are currently 1,238 active opportunities in our job database.  To search the database visit PSLawNet

Featured New Positions:

The ACLU Foundation of San Diego and Imperial Counties is current accepting applications for a Staff Attorney/Civic Participation Fellow.  The Fellow will be responsible for cultivating and supporting the ability of local nonprofits to engage in political advocacy and policy change, including compliance with applicable c3/c4 rules and lobbying/disclosure requirements.  The Attorney will also be concerned with election protection and voter rights, including efforts to make voting easier for low-income communities, communities of color, immigrants, young voters, first-time voters, and/or limited English speaking communities.  The Attorney will serve as a community legal resource, educating organizations and individuals on their rights to vote and participate in political advocacy, as well as building up capacity for such work in the local legal community.  The Attorney will engage in non-litigation advocacy where appropriate.  The Attorney will also screen and develop impact litigation, including direct representation and amicus curiae briefs, on relevant issues, in conjunction with members of the legal community.  Visit PSLawNet for full details.

The Children’s Law Center of Massachusetts (CLCM), with offices in Lynn and Lawrence, is seeking 3-4 law student interns for Summer 2011.  These internships provide students a great opportunity to assist in advocacy on behalf of young clients in critical legal matters.  CLCM provides direct representation to indigent children and youth in child welfare, CHINS, delinquency, mental health, and educational matters.  During the twelve-week summer program, student interns concentrate on one or two of the five substantive practice areas.  Each student is assigned to a specific mentoring attorney who they accompany to court and/or education meetings and hearings and provide case support.  Students have direct client contact and assist in client interviewing, investigation, and preparation of motions and memoranda.  In addition, CLCM provides appellate advocacy in delinquency and child abuse and neglect cases.  If a case is pending during the summer months, a student may be asked to assist in research and writing of appellate briefs.  Check PSLawNet for additional details and application instructions.

Featured Public Service Career Resource:

Do you think you might be interested in pursuing summer and/or career employment in a local/state prosecutor’s office? Check out Yale’s Guide to Criminal Prosecution.  Visit PSLawNet’s Prosecutors/Public Defenders Career page for links to other resources regarding working in a local/state prosecutor’s offices or as a federal prosecutor.

Learn more about getting a PSLawNet job seeker or employer account . . .

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Public Interest News Bulletin: December 17, 2010

NOTE: the PSLawNet Blog will skip next week’s Bulletin so that we can finish our Christmas shopping and have a little sip of the egg nog.  The Bulletin will return on Friday, December 30th.  Happy holidays, cats and kittens!

This week: a Tarheel State law school launches a new clinic; New York’s chief judge takes a pragmatic approach in appealing for increased legal services funding; a shady former legal services employee gets time in the clink for skimming funds; Yale Law School’s veterans clinic goes to (legal) war with the Department of Defense – twice!; mandatory pro bono in Mississippi(?); promoting diversity in the federal workforce; a public defense shakeup in San Bernardino, CA; geeks raise money for legal services; some appreciation for the retiring ED of Rappahannock Legal Services; the continuing importance of the DOJ’s access to justice program; a pro bono up-tick in Las Vegas; and, Ropes & Gray’s deferred associates return to the firm following one-year public service placements.

  • 12.15.10 – the Rochester City Newspaper reports on New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s efforts to better fund legal services providers in the Empire State.  “Last month, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman released a report that recommends doubling the funding for New York’s low-income legal-service providers over a period of four years. He’s including a $25-million increase in his proposed 2011-12 budget, which state legislators will have to approve. New York’s legal service providers receive $200 million a year, some from the state, some from the federal government, and from other sources … What makes the judge’s report compelling…is that it focuses on the benefit to institutions and taxpayers. It doesn’t just reiterate the many important benefits to clients.  The report says that New York loses an estimated $400 million annually because state residents have difficulty collecting federal funds for which they are eligible, including disability payments and veterans’ benefits. State and local governments, and ultimately taxpayers, end up paying for that, the report says.”

Keep reading . . .

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Elon University School of Law Steps in to Meet the Needs of Refugees in North Carolina

Lutheran Family Services (LFS) has provided free services to refugees for decades in the Carolinas.  The Greensboro News & Record reported today that the nonprofit is shutting down its refugee resettlement program because of current “economic conditions.”

The announcement [that LFS was ending its program] came after a series of problems with providing refugees services, including a group of resettled Iraqi families who found themselves in apartments with no heat and leaky plumbing; some lacked proper clothing and follow-up services.

About one-third of all refugees coming to North Carolina come to the Triad (a 12-county area surrounding the cities of Greensboro, High Point, and Winston-Salem), the state refugee coordinator has reported, because of the concentration of resettlement agencies here. . . . The Triad area expects to receive about 400 new refugees next year.”

In an effort to address the gap in legal services this closure will create for refugees in the Triad community, Elon University School of Law plans to open the Humanitarian Immigration Law Clinic in January.

Students, supervised by law professors, will assist clients in applying for political asylum, permanent residency, citizenship and employment authorization, as well as reunifying families separated by war and conflict.

Legal services are “incredibly important” to refugees, who have a year to get a Green Card or become naturalized, said Helen Grant , an Elon law professor and the clinic’s director.

The PSLawNet Blog was excited to learn about Elon’s new initiative to serve their community and wishes them the best as the school community establishes their new clinic!

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New Initiative of Washington's Law Schools to Ensure "Equal Justice Under Law"

In a recent op-ed in The Seattle Times the Deans of Gonzaga University School of Law, Seattle University School of Law, and University  of Washington School of Law announced the formation of the “Race and Criminal Justice System Task  Force” by their law schools in partnership with the Washington State Access to Justice Board Chair and King County  Superior Court Judge Steve Gonzalez. 

From their op-ed:

DISPROPORTIONATE prosecution and imprisonment of minorities haunts our criminal-justice system. Too often we see confusion over why minorities are overrepresented among criminal defendants. Studies by University of Washington researchers, which were vigorously debated this year by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a lawsuit alleging racial bias in the state’s criminal-justice system, are shedding light on the contentious question.

Research shows that disparate minority imprisonment in Washington is mainly due to problems in how justice-system actors exercise discretion rather than higher minority involvement in crime. The problems of discretion occur at numerous junctures, leading to racial disparities in discretionary decisions, from whose car to search during the investigation stage to what sentences defendants receive. . . .

Our three law schools are engaged in a newly established “Race and the Criminal Justice System Task Force” in partnership with Washington State Access to Justice Board Chair and King County Superior Court Judge Steve Gonzalez. We are building a broad-based coalition with partners from the community at large, legal profession, minority bar associations and justice system to examine the issue of race and the criminal-justice system. The task force’s objectives will include deepening research and education in this important area and making recommendations for structural reform of our state’s and our nation’s criminal justice systems.  Read full op-ed.

To learn more about the efforts of the Task Force visit their website.

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Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law: 2011 Essay Competition

The Academy on Human Rights and Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law sponsors an annual essay competition “to stimulate the production of scholarly work in international human rights law.”

This year’s topic is:  The Rights of Children and International Human Rights Law. Competition participants may focus their writing on any subject related to this topic.

There will be two awards granted, one for the best article submitted in English and one for the best article submitted in Spanish.  Award recipients will receive:

  • a scholarship to the Program of Advanced Studies in Human Rights Law and Humanitarian Law
  • travel expenses to Washington, D.C.
  • housing provided in university dorms
  • a per diem for living expenses.

Further, the best articles may be published in the American University International Law ReviewVisit the Academy’s website for eligibility and requirements.

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Charleston School of Law Student Sets Record – 1,550 Pro Bono Hours

We were pleased to see Peter Kaufman, 3L at Charleston School of Law, featured today in the Post and Courier for completing 1,550 hours of pro bono at the 9th Circuit Solicitor’s Office while in law school.  According to Dean Andy Abrams this is the “largest contribution of pro bono service hours of any student in the school’s history.” (and the PSLawNet Blog is willing to wager it would clock in as the largest contribution at most law schools).

From the Post and Courier:

The school requires students to perform at least 30 hours of free public service work as part of its graduation requirements.Abrams said, “graduates like Peter have been instrumental in the remarkable success that our law school has experienced.  We are proud of their accomplishments and are confident that each of them will make a significant impact in the days ahead as leaders and change agents in their communities.”

Kaufman said he put in most of the hours during the past two years. And his grades actually improved while he was working in the solicitor’s office, mostly doing investigative research.  He attributes that to seeing legal work in action on an almost daily basis.  “Things just made more sense,” he said.

He hopes to eventually land a job doing trial work in a solicitor’s office.

But for now, he’s going to study for the bar exam, which he’ll take in February. Then he’ll begin job hunting, he said.

And he’d advise others to do public service even if they’re also busy with other things. “Always try to pay it forward,” he said. “You have to give it away to keep it.”

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