Archive for January, 2011

Syrup, Cheese, and Environmental Lawyers: Made in Vermont

Earlier this month we blogged about Vermont Law School’s release of its inaugural “Top Ten Environmental Watch List.” This past weekend The Burlington Free Press took note of both the local and global impact of Vermont Law School’s environmental focus.

Environmental lawyers. Vermont Law School turns out scores of them every year, and they’re sprinkled through congressional staffs, state and federal regulatory agencies, environmental advocacy organizations and private law firms that take on environmental cases.

According to Marc Mihaly, the Director of the school’s Environmental Law Center,

‘We’re better known outside the state than inside,’ said Marc Mihaly, director of the law school’s Environmental Law Center. ‘Everybody knows us in China.’

By ‘everybody,’ he meant the few Chinese lawyers who specialize in environmental law, many of whom have either visited South Royalton or participated in conferences that Vermont Law School has organized in China. With a State Department grant, the school is training environmental advocates at Chinese law schools and helping to set up an environmental law firm in Beijing. Meanwhile, Vermont law students conduct collaborative research on environmental issues with their counterparts in China.

For potential law students that are interested in practicing environmental law the school offers a robust program:

Students can choose from more than 60 courses with an environmental focus — ranging from land-conservation law to climate change litigation.

They can work in environmental clinics that handle real cases for real clients — a form of experiential education that’s being promoted at law schools generally. Mark Foster, a third-year student who’s on the editorial board of the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law, recalls working on a friend-of-the-court brief that figured in to a decision by the Montana Supreme Court — an achievement that gave him ‘a very empowering feeling.’

We leave you with this fun fact for the road:  one student decided to attend the school’s L.L.M. program in part because ‘[i]t was the only law school that rented cross-country skis out of the bookstore.’

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End of Death Penalty in Illinois? If So, a Harbinger of a National Trend?

The National Law Journal’s Tony Mauro just wrote a piece about the push by the Illinois state legislature to repeal the death penalty in the Land of Lincoln.

On Jan. 11, the Illinois Senate passed a repeal measure by a 35-22 vote, five days after the state house approved the measure, 60-54. Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, is weighing whether to sign or veto the bill, with his timetable and ultimate decision uncertain. But death penalty opponents are already allowing themselves to contemplate that a major Midwestern state, not known as light on crime, is about to take a dramatic stand against the death penalty.

Why is movement in this one state watched by death penalty opponents and proponents alike?  Well, Illinois may be a bellwether state because of its position near the middle of the cultural/political spectrum.  It is a Midwestern state that is neither as socially conservative as many Southern states nor as progressive as many Northeastern states.  And, if we view Illinois as a laboratory where experiments on this nationally-divisive issue have been taking place, it’s been a busy one:

For the past decade, most of the arguments in the death penalty debate have played themselves out in Illinois. In 2000, Gov. George Ryan declared a moratorium on executions, humbled by the number of death row inmates who were being freed on new evidence of innocence — much of it dug up by students at Northwestern University. Two commissions looked at the capital punishment system, and the legislature enacted reforms. But exonerations continued, and now the legislature has, in effect, thrown up its hands.

The NLJ piece further notes – and this has been discussed elsewhere recently – that it’s no coincidence that a capital-punishment repeal is considered at a time of state budgetary woes.  Maintaining a death penalty program is very expensive, in large part because of the costs of the appellate process (which, in the PSLawNet Blog’s opinion is absolutely necessary in capital-punishment jurisdictions since, even with sophisticates appellate processes in place, innocent people are still executed). 

Here’s some reaction to the legislature’s votes from the Chicago Tribune and the Sun-Times.  And here’s an editorial from the Peoria Journal Star, which ran before the Senate repeal vote, in favor of the repeal:

In good conscience it is impossible to slough off as no big deal the fact that Illinois came so close to killing 20 innocent people. In fact the state has freed more Death Row inmates than it has actually executed – 12 – since 1977 (which also was true even before the moratorium). That’s not proof the system worked, as some have argued, but that it failed miserably and would have done so fatally but for the efforts of advocates on a mission. Many of these guys may not be saints, but you don’t steal an innocent man’s freedom, family and irretrievable time and say the system “worked.”


PSLawNet Jobs Report: January 17, 2011

Need a job or internship? During the last week PSLawNet has posted: 75 new attorney positions, 48 new internships, and 24 new law related opportunities. Additionally, there are currently 1,137 active opportunities in our job database. To search the database visit PSLawNet.

Featured New Positions:

The Kentucky Equal Justice Center seeks an attorney with experience in health care law and policy and demonstrated commitment to public interest advocacy as our new Health Law Fellow.  The Health Law Fellow will work as a multi-forum advocate on a policy agenda for low income Kentuckians through:

  • Policy research and advocacy:  researching policy opportunities and best practices for health care coverage, access and quality; analyzing and commenting on state and federal proposals; preparing briefing papers on promising options and current issues.
  • Communications and coalition building:  participating in state and national networks focused on health; providing policy support to Kentucky public interest partners; communicating with decision-makers and the public on new developments and proposals.
  • Litigation:  filing selected cases with a focus on health care eligibility, cost, quality and coverage.

Applications are being accepted through January 27, 2011.  Visit PSLawNet for full details.

The University of North Carolina Center for Civil Rights is seeking summer interns to work under the direct supervision of the Center’s Senior Managing Attorney Mark Dorosin; Staff Attorney Elizabeth Haddix, and Attorney Fellows Benita Jones and Peter Gilbert, on a variety of civil rights issues including: public school desegregation and integration;  equitable and adequate public school funding; municipal inclusion; fair housing; and land retention.  The deadline to apply is February 12, 2011.  Check PSLawNet for additional details and application instructions.

Featured Public Service Career Resource:

Have an interview?  Make sure you go well prepared . . . Take a look at PSLawNet’s Interviewing Tips for Post-Graduate Jobs. Here are just a few as a teaser:

  • Do mock interviews. Participating in mock interviews (which can be set up through your career services office) will help you identify areas which may require more preparation and calm your nerves by giving you a sense of how an actual interview will progress.
  • Think broadly when researching the employer organization. Many job seekers research employer organizations’ websites and memorize facts/figures (“there are so many attorneys on staff, so many in this particular unit, etc.”). These facts are certainly useful, but remember to step back and look at the larger public interest community in which the employer operates: who it collaborates with, how it is funded, whether it has a longer-term strategic plan, etc.
  • Good interview questions. Always be prepared to ask the interviewer questions. Below are some examples:
    • How did your interviewer get to their job?
    • What do they find to be the most challenging facet of their work?
    • What are three things they find rewarding about their work?
    • What attributes are required to successfully do the job you’re applying for? (This may present a chance to further sell yourself by noting that you possess them.)
    • What is the supervisory structure for your position?


Current Issues in Special Education Advocacy – Free Registration for Conference at American University Washington College of Law (CLE Credit Available)

A Symposium entitled Keeping the Needs of Students with Disabilities on the Agenda:  Current Issues in Special Education Advocacy is being presented by the American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy & the Law and The Washington College of Law Disability Rights Law Clinic on February 25, 2011 at American University, Washington College of Law in Washington, D.C.

While the school house doors have technically been opened to students with disabilities, children, parents, advocates, teachers, and education officials face new challenges in this era of school reform and of difficult financial constraints that states and local school districts are experiencing. As schools and the systems that govern them, in the wake of a financial crisis and in an era of school reform, aim to improve the quality of public education in school districts across the nation, it is more important than ever that the needs of special education students remain on the agenda. Individual advocacy strategies and systemic reform efforts are adapting to take on these new challenges. This symposium provide a forum for academics and practitioners to discuss these and other issues related to special education advocacy in today’s times. Expert panelists from across the country will discuss current issues in this evolving field and Alexa Posny, Assistant Secretary for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education, will provide a keynote address.

Admission to the symposium is free to the general public, but registration is required.  To learn more and register go here.


Public Interest News Bulletin – January 14, 2011

This week: we begin with an exciting announcement about…case management software(!), but then we move on to a profile of Chicago’s Cabrini Green Legal Aid; kudos for a Florida-based Equal Justice Works fellow; the ABA wants guaranteed counsel in civil contempt proceedings; profiles of Judy Clarke, the accomplished federal defender who will represent accused killer  Jared Loughner; a NOLA administrative battle has judges squaring off against the DA and public defender; thoughts from a deferred associate leaving Texas RioGrande Legal Aid; UNC law forges a new pro bono partnership; a statewide legal services hotline is launched in Oklahoma; Legal Aid of East Tennessee gets $125K in IOLTA revenue; free legal help for Staten Islanders facing debt collection cases; and office/staff constriction at Southern Arizona Legal Aid.

  • 1.13.11 – looking for new case management software, legal services providers?  According to a press release, “Technology consulting firm Urban Insight today announced a donation of nearly $100,000 in free software to help nonprofit legal services organizations that serve millions of residents in 12 states … Urban Insight’s free and open source software, called Drupal for Legal Aid Websites, or DLAW, enables legal aid programs to affordably manage complex websites using only a web browser … DLAW is developed and maintained in the public interest by Urban Insight in collaboration with Legal Services National Technology Assistant Project (LSNTAP), Idaho Legal Aid Services (ILAS) and legal aid organizations from Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Vermont and West Virginia. Original development of the software was funded through a Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant.  More information about DLAW is available on a special website,, where legal aid organizations can also download the latest version of the software for free.”
  • 1.12.11 – hey, wait a minute.  More Huffington Post.  And, only a week after naming an Equal Justice Works fellow its “Greatest Person of the Day” (Anneliese Gryta – 1/4/11), Huffington Post did it again.  January 11’s Greatest Person of the Day was Equal Justice Works Fellow Peterson St. Philippe of Gulf Coast Legal Services in Tampa, FL.  “[A]s an Equal Justice Works Fellow working with Gulf Coast Legal Services, Peterson finds himself in a prime position to give back. For Haitian immigrants who arrived before the quake, he assists in filing for Temporary Protected Status–letting them stay and work here for up to 18 months.  But for survivors who fled to America after the quake, the legal options differ. Typically granted temporary visa status, these immigrants cannot legally work or drive a car, leaving them stranded in legal limbo. Many of these people have nothing to go back to in Haiti, where they have lost homes and family members.”  While both Gryta and St. Philippe are doing great work and undoubtedly deserve this kind of recognition, we at the PSLawNet Blog find it curious that two EJW fellows have been featured in consecutive weeks.  As it happens, we’re going to happy hour with a friend from EJW this evening.  We’ll get to the bottom of this.  We’ll likely also stick our friend with the bar bill, but let’s keep that between us.
  • 1.10.11 – the New York Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune are among many news outlets that have written about the federal defender who will represent accused Tucson killer Jared Loughner.  Judy Clarke’s record of helping defendants in high-profile cases avoid the death penalty is remarkable.  From the Times piece, which refers to Clarke as a “master strategist”: “The capital-defense lawyer who will represent Jared L. Loughner in the shootings in Tucson, Judy Clarke, is a well-known public defender who gets life sentences in cases that often begin with emotional calls for the death penalty.  Ms. Clarke has helped a number of infamous defendants avoid death sentences, including Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber; Eric Robert Rudolph, the Atlanta Olympics bomber; and Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drowned her toddlers.”  The Union-Tribune article focuses on Clarke’s low-key personality, work ethic, and her passion for making the justice system work fairly for those accused of crimes.  “Those who know her say she’s the most low-profile high-profile attorney in the country — she doesn’t chase after cases and she doesn’t do press conferences. All she does is work.”
  • 1.10.11 – according to the New Orleans Times Picayune, a strange battle is playing out in New Orleans criminal courts regarding the system for assigning cases to judges.  “The DA’s office and public defenders want a system that allows them to better manage their offices by assigning cases to a judge the moment a person is arrested. This summer, the judges agreed to that change, but then three months later scrapped it, saying it wasn’t fairly distributing cases.”  And what’s a courtroom – or courthouse – drama without dueling experts?  The judges abandoned the new system after a report from the National Center for State Courts (which had been commissioned by the judges) found that the system created an imbalanced workload from judge to judge.  Not to be outdone, though, the DA and PD can point to a recent report from the New Orleans inspector general’s office which is critical of the NCSC report. The latest is that the judges are commissioning yet another study.  The “battle of the experts” may end up being a battle of attrition.  (Here, by the way, is a Times Picayune editorial siding with the DA and PD.)
  • 1.10.11 – the TRLA Times, a newsletter run by Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, features a post by an outgoing Sidley Austin deferred associate who spent a year in TRLA’s Austin office defending low-income clients who were facing eviction actions.  Vijay Desai ran a trial within his first month of work (lost, but learned a lot), and through the course of his year got a lot of litigation skills under his belt.  Here’s how he closed the piece: “Finally, I learned that legal aid attorneys and staff are among the most decent human beings I have ever met.  I do not know where it begins, but the greatest characteristic I can identify is their unshakable passion for helping the helpless.  Advice from one of my supervisors almost always begins with ‘It’s just not right!  They shouldn’t be allowed to do this.’  And I have never worked in an environment where my supervisors were so enthusiastic about stopping everything they were doing to answer my questions … I am still whole-heartedly committed to my career in IP law, but now I have a new commitment to continue housing pro bono work as well.  Sidley Austin is gaining more than an attorney – they are gaining an associate who knows that his strength lies less in his one year of knowledge and more in his friends at TRLA who will always be his mentors.”
  • 1.7.11 – We end the digest, unfortunately, with some bad news out of the Arizona legal services community.  The Nogales International reports that budget strains have taken a toll on Southern Arizona Legal Aid, which last week shuttered its Santa Cruz County office and let two staffers go.  SALA is looking for free office space now, and the county attorney, who referred many cases to SALA, is supportive of a continued presence.  Like a lot of providers, the main culprit causing SALA’s budget woes is a huge falloff of IOLTA funding – 50% in this case.

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Rhode Island Legal Services and ACLU-Rhode Island Secure Victory for Special Education Students

Last year Rhode Island Legal Services (RILS) and the Rhode Island  affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU-RI) collaborated to advocate on behalf of special education students and their parents.

The organizations filed a “class-action administrative civil rights complaint [with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights] challenging [the Pawtucket School District’s] practice of routinely destroying documents related to the evaluations conducted to determine whether a child has a disability, and if so, the nature of the educational services needed by that child. The documents that were being destroyed included the notes and observations of the evaluators, the children’s answer sheets, and other raw data on which the school’s final written reports were based. As a result, parents never had the opportunity to review the documents that led to determinations regarding a child’s special education needs and services.”

Under a settlement reached in late December, “the school district has agreed to develop a policy to retain all the evaluation documents it had previously been destroying; to notify parents of their right to review those documents; to offer to conduct new special education evaluations of students in those instances where the documents had been destroyed; and to provide training to all staff about the new policies. The agreement also sets a timeframe for meeting all of these requirements, which the Office of Civil Rights ‘will monitor until fully implemented.””

RILS attorney Veronika Kot said,  “Parents of children with disabilities are equal participants in decision making about the services their children may need to achieve good educational outcomes. They have the right to full and equal access to the information that forms the basis for such decisions. The resolution of this complaint is a welcome reaffirmation of these rights.”

RI ACLU volunteer attorney Amy R. Tabor added: “This resolution sends a message to all school districts in Rhode Island that they cannot adopt document-destruction or document-withholding policies that deprive parents of their right to full access to their child’s educational records.”

In light of this agreement, the organizations are also advocating that the U.S. DOE issue a reminder to all districts that they are “obligated by federal law to keep evaluation documents and to allow parents to access them.”

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Rutgers University School of Law-Newark Grad's Pro Bono Efforts: Microfinance Initiative for Haiti

It has not been a stellar week for finding good news – the Tucson, Arizona shootings and the reporting this week on the challenges still facing the people of Haiti as they strive to overcome the tragic earthquake of January 12, 2010.  The PSLawNet Blog was heartened to read today about the pro bono work of a Rutgers University School of Law-Newark alum, Ralph Delouis.  Following the earthquake last year,

Delouis put his skills and expertise to work to help implement a long-term plan to stimulate the country’s economy. One year later, Delouis is being honored for his efforts.

Delouis, an associate at McCarter & English law firm, has been named a recipient of the National Law Journal’s 2010 Pro Bono Awards.  Delouis and firm partner R. Andrew Richards are developing a microfinance initiative that will enable predominantly low-income Haitian farmers to obtain loans, with the goal of stimulating economic development in the earthquake-ravaged country . . .

[His] work in Haiti will facilitate small loans to farmers in this country where there are few lending sources for the underprivileged. The loans are expected to help farmers increase their yield and transform their commodity crops – including mangos, coffee and cocoa – to higher value end products. The program will provide seed money to the working poor in Haiti and help them build and stabilize their farming and business ventures.

For Delouis, the mission is also a personal one. “As the son of Haitian immigrants who lost close relatives in the earthquake, it was very important for me to give back to a country and a people so close to my heart. We are confident that the project will have a long-term impact, especially given the growing emphasis on decentralization in Haiti,” he said.

Delouis and Richards were recruited for the case by the International Senior Lawyers Project (ISLP), a New York-based group which provides pro bono assistance to governments and non-profit organizations in the developing world . . .

Delouis was also recognized by ISLP in October for the assistance he provided to public defenders in the Haitian provinces, which lacked access to such basic legal resources as their constitution and criminal codes. Currently, Delouis is working with Lutheran Social Services of New York to help Haitian immigrants who arrived after the earthquake apply for deferred action status, which allows applicants to remain in the United States for a temporary authorized period of time.

We hope you enjoyed reading this good news as well!  Congrats Ralph for earning a well-deserved recognition for your hard work this year!

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Public Interest Employers: PSLawNet Needs Your Feedback During Our Redesign

PSLawNet is beginning a large-scale website redesign to ensure that we provide you with the best resource for job listings and reaching job seekers.

We need your input as employers to guarantee that PSLawNet makes the changes to the website’s design and job posting functionality that will best serve your needs. Further, we welcome your suggestions for new functions you would like to see available through PSLawNet.

Please go here to complete our short survey (should take you no more than 5-10 minutes).

Thank you for taking the time to complete our survey! Please feel free to contact us at with any other feedback.

Are you a job seeker? PSLawNet needs your feedback as well.  Please go here to complete our short job seeker survey (should take you no more than 5-10 minutes).

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Expert Opinion: 10 Public-Interest Networking Tips

When hunting for a public interest job (summer or permanent), networking is an invaluable career-building tool.  As we’ve noted before, networking is not schmoozing.  Rather, it is the process of developing relationships with individuals and organizations who operate in the professional arena that you wish to join (or advance within).   We’re thrilled to present this guest post –  10 Tips for Networking Made Easy! – by Michael Bergmann, executive director of the Chicago-based Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI).

Michael joined PILI in 2006 as Pro Bono Initiative Director and more recently served as PILI’s Director of Programs prior to being named Executive Director on December 1, 2010.  Prior to joining PILI in 2006, Michael served as the Guardian Ad Litem Program Director for Chicago Volunteer Legal Services.  An active member of the American Bar Association, he is Chair-Elect of the ABA Young Lawyers Division and Secretary of the Lawyers Conference of the Judicial Division.   

10 Tips for Networking Made Easy

  1. It’s always better to give than receive!  Networking isn’t about getting a job or business development; it’s about developing relationships and making connections.  Networking is about meeting others to learn about what their needs are, how you can help and what connections you can make.  If you approach it from this angle, you’ll be successful and receive your rewards.  If not, you’ll be labeled a schmoozer, ‘pol’ or worse.
  2. RSVP when asked, and do what you said!  They wouldn’t ask if they didn’t care.  If a host is asking for responses, be sure to let them know if you’re coming and if you say you are, be there.
  3. Turn your cell phone/PDA/pager off!  I know it’s hard, but try it.  Hiding in a corner checking messages or on a call doesn’t go unnoticed.   And, answering the phone or checking e-mail while you’re talking, well, need I say more?
  4. Listen more than you talk!  This is critical to a good networking session.  Take the time to learn about the person.  But, no one wants to carry the weight of the whole conversation, so talk responsibly.
  5. Learn the person’s name and use it!  This is important during the conversation and for afterwards.  Doing so will show your sincerity and interest in the person and will help you remember their name later.
  6. Know who you are and what you are!  Be able to explain who you are and to tell a little about yourself.  No one wants to hear the highlights of you resume or feel like their being sold something.  Explain who you are and what you do in a short but thorough way and relate to what you’ve learned about them.
  7. Put your best face forward!  If you’re that mad/sad/angry/sick, don’t go.  No one wants to hear your whining or sob story when they first meet you and your less than sunny disposition will impede your ability to make connections.
  8. Always have business cards on you!  Nothing kills a great networking opportunity like not having a way to connect again in the future.  And, be sure the one you give it is really yours!  You might jot down some important facts about the person or your conversation on the back of the card for later use.
  9. Don’t shoulder surf!  You may think no one notices, but they do.  When talking with someone be sure to give them your full attention.  If you’re not enjoying the conversation, then politely move on.
  10. Follow up with the contacts you make!  Whenever possible, you should follow-up within a week of meeting a new contact.  Include some highlights from your discussion to help them remember you.  And, if they follow-up with you first, be sure to respond.

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PSLawNet Jobs Report: January 10, 2011

Need a job or internship? During the  last week PSLawNet has posted:   34 new attorney positions,   17 new internships, and  4 new law related opportunities.  Additionally, there are currently 1,031 active opportunities in our job database.  To search the database visit PSLawNet.

Featured New Positions:

The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) in San Francisco is hiring for an attorney to direct and supervise its Claims Project, which provides low-income and unemployed workers with information, counseling and representation in wage/hour claims and unemployment insurance appeals.   To implement the project, the staff attorney trains and supervises law student counselors to represent clients in administrative hearings, corresponds with claimants, employers, judges, the Labor Commissioner and representatives of the EDD/CUIB, and follows up on behalf of clients.  The staff attorney will provide technical support and possible co-counsel to LAS-ELC litigation staff; will conduct periodic trainings on UI and wage/hour and other issues to sister organizations and other groups; and will seek to influence policy through legislative or agency policy-making processes or amicus work.  Additionally, the staff attorney will periodically supervise the LAS-ELC’s Workers’ Rights Clinic, will conduct extensive community outreach, and will evaluate potential claims on behalf of the organization.  As an integral member of the Community Legal Services program, the staff attorney works with the program director, language access coordinator, and program assistant to provide direct legal services to several thousand clients throughout California each year.  Application Deadline:  January 21, 2011.  Visit PSLawNet for full details.

The Illinois Migrant Legal Assistance Project is seeking summer interns to work with Spanish-speaking migrant and seasonal farmworkers in Illinois.   IMLAP has been at the forefront of farmworker advocacy for decades providing legal representation to farmworkers harvesting crops, detasseling corn, working in packing sheds, or cultivating nursery products throughout Illinois.  Interns will be assigned to one of three satellite offices and be responsible for its daily operations (Mendota, Champaign/Rantoul, or Carbondale).  Paid internships begin May 31st and end August 14, 2011.  Application Deadline:  April 15, 2011. Check PSLawNet for additional details and application instructions.

Featured Public Service Career Resource:

Searching for a summer or post-graduate positions?  Don’t forget to maximize the effectiveness of your application materials by taking advantage of the resume tips and cover letter samples on our Job Search Fundamentals page.  Also, check our blog regularly in the upcoming months because we will be featuring a variety of posts on resume/cover letter drafting, interviewing, and more.  Check out this post from last week on strategic planning for your post-graduate job search.

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