Archive for March, 2011

NLJ's Sweeping Civil Legal Services Report – the Need among Clients and the Poltics of Funding

The National Law Journal has just published “The Power of Hope,” which it bills as follows:

As Congress considers deep cuts in legal assistance to the poor, The National Law Journal examines the impact of legal aid programs on the clients they serve and the political issues surrounding the present funding crisis. As these stories demonstrate, the need is great, and cases run the gamut — from domestic violence to home foreclosures to medical claims. In all, a common theme emerges: Legal aid, for these clients, was their only hope.
 
The feature is broken into three sections, offering 1) stories of clients whose lives were changed by having access to legal services, as well as the pressures on legal services programs; 2) a piece on the Legal Services Corporation’s history; and 3) some perspective on LSC as a political football here in Washington.

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PSLawNet Public Interest Law News Bulletin: March 11, 2011

This week: Wisconsin budget controversy extends to the public interest community; NYT says don’t slash LSC funding; is “holistic defense” the future of indigent defense?; worries about government funding cuts for a Pennsylvania legal services program; the same worries are troubling California-based LSC grantees; and Uncle Sam wants to improve his intern hiring processes. 

  • 3.10.11 – are you tired of news about acrimony surrounding the Wisconsin budget?  TOO BAD!   Not noticed amidst the recent political kerfuffle is the impact that the Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget would have on Badger State public interest lawyers.  Short version: very bad for civil legal services, maybe good for defenders, and good for some prosecutors.
    • Wisconsin Law Journal blog post highlights the danger faced by the Wisconsin legal services community: “The current budget provides approximately $5 million for civil legal services for the poor….  The proposed cut would eliminate 75 percent of the grant money annually issued to legal service providers….  Legal Action of Wisconsin would suffer the biggest hit, losing almost $1.3 million in grant money for each of the next two years.”  Legal Action’s executive director stated that this could lead to cutting over 40% of the staff.  And they would not face adversity alone: “Ten other legal service providers including Wisconsin Judicare Inc., Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and Disability Rights Wisconsin would lose out on substantial grant money through WisTAF, as well.”  With all of this bad news, the WLJ piece does note that public defenders may have reason to sing a happier tune: The governor’s “budget proposal allocates approximately $10 million to support additional staff attorneys” at the State Public Defender’s office. The money would cover salaries and benefits for 45 new positions,.” according to the SPD.  Of course, nothing is guaranteed in this economic climate: “But agency officials are not taking anything for granted, given the SPD could also be adversely impacted by the passage of Walker’s budget repair bill.  The SPD is among 13 state agencies facing layoffs as a result of delayed passage of the state budget.”
    • Last week the Wisconsin State Bar weighed in on the budget proposal.  Reaction is mixed.  It is good news that the proposal would “[p]rovide funding for 45 new positions at the State Public Defender to handle workload generated by [recently expanded indigent eligibility guidelines].”  It’s also good to hear that funding is coming for experienced-prosecutor salary boosts.  But there’s bad news: “Unfortunately, much of the additional money designated in the budget bills for prosecutors and court interpreters comes from the elimination of funding for two initiatives the State Bar also strongly supports, indigent civil legal needs and data collection to study the extent of racial profiling in Wisconsin.”
  • 3.8.11 – the New York Times editorial board opposes a proposal in Congress to slash Legal Services Corporation funding.  “House Republicans voted to cut $83 million from President Obama’s request for the Legal Services Corporation, the federally financed nonprofit program that provides civil legal help to low-income Americans….  Deficit-ridden states have cut their support for these civil legal services programs. Another source of financing — interest earned on lawyers’ escrow accounts — has evaporated because of historically low interest rates. That makes federal dollars even more crucial. Given the economic crisis, and the long line of desperate clients, this is the worst time to be cutting federal support for civil legal services.” 
  • 3.8.11 – the Crime Report looks at the increasing popularity of “holistic defense” in providing indigent defense services, highlighting the work of The Bronx Defenders, which provides a wide range of services to indigent defendants in order to help them not only with the immediate criminal issues but to prevent adverse collateral consequences and to help clients steer clear of trouble in the future.  The Bronx Defenders “deploys an interdisciplinary team of criminal, civil and family defense lawyers, social workers, parent advocates, investigators, and community organizers created to serve clients and their families…”  The program has been viewed as a success.  As a result, the Department of Justice has given The Bronx Defenders grants to offer technical assistance to other indigent defense programs.  Nevertheless, observers in the indigent defense community are looking for more hard data to measure whether or not holistic defense present a viable means of reducing recidivism and strengthening communities.

   

  • 3.7.11 – Mid-Penn Legal Services is featured in a piece about how federal and state budget cuts may impact social services providers who work with society’s most vulnerable in Central Pennsylvania.   As reported in the Chambersburg Public Opinion, Mid-Penn executive director James Kearney noted that, “‘We are already stretched to the max … We only take the most critical cases, we are concerned.'”  Even at its current funding level Mid-Penn “turns away about half of the low-income people who come for help in civil court cases.”
  • 3.6.11 – The Ventura County Star looks at potential LSC funding cuts and how they may impact LSC grantees in the Golden State.  “California-based LSC programs received $51 million for fiscal year 2010. The House bill would reduce funding for California programs by $9 million, LSC spokesman Steve Barr said.”  California Rural Legal Assistance “would lose $2 million of its funding and 15 of its 100 lawyers.”  The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) “received $9.3 million from LSC in 2010 and has been analyzing potential impacts of the proposed cuts.  According to Silvia Arqueta, LAFLA’s executive director, cuts could mean up to a 25% reduction in services provided to clients.
  • 3.4.11 – Government Executive website has a piece about a proposal in the House aiming to improve the process for recruiting and retaining (as future employees) federal interns.  “Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on Thursday introduced the 2011 Federal Internship Improvement Act (H.R. 914) to increase the number of government interns who are converted to full-time employees. This legislation would establish reporting requirements so that the Office of Personnel Management could evaluate agencies’ implementation of intern programs based on conversion rates, as well as determine the quality of those programs through exit interviews. It also would also establish a central clearinghouse so that agencies can recruit qualified candidates who interned for another agency … Connolly expressed concern that agencies convert just 6.6 percent of interns to full-time employees compared with more than 50 percent in the private sector. Government will have to fill more than 200,000 mission-critical jobs in the next three years, he wrote.”

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Illinois Gives Capital Punishment the Death Sentence

From the National Law Journal (article may be password-protected):

Opponents of the death penalty applauded Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn for deciding on March 9 to sign legislation abolishing capital punishment in the state and to commute the sentences of the 15 inmates still on death row to life in prison without parole

Abolitionists said the dramatic step taken by Illinois would add new momentum to efforts in other states to end the death penalty. Illinois is the fourth state in four years to end capital punishment – the others being New Mexico, New Jersey and New York. Legislators in Montana, Connecticut, Kansas and Maryland may act on repeal measures this year.

Another NLJ article back in January, which we blogged about, touched upon the potential significance of Illinois’ actions in influencing the national debate on capital punishment.  As we noted at the time:

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. 

For more coverage of the repeal, see the Chicago Tribune (“What killed Illinois death penalty” was inaccuracy, not just morality), and the Chicago Sun-Times (“Quinn signs bill repealing Illinois death penalty”).

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Public Interest Job Search Best Practices – A Free Webinar

Hunting for a postgraduate public interest job?  NALP is very pleased to present a free webinar entitled “Destination Public Interest: Landing the Ideal Public Interest Job.”  This webinar, which we present in partnership with our friends at Equal Justice Works, is designed for 3Ls and recent graduates who are pursuing public interest careers.  It offers concrete best practices and tips in the areas of cover letter and résumé drafting, as well as interviewing and professional networking.  And the webinar clocks in at under 35 minutes, so we like to think it offers a very efficient means for job seekers to take in a great deal of helpful information quickly.

We hope you find the webinar useful, and wish you the best of luck on your job hunt!

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Federal Internship Hiring Improvement Proposal

The Government Executive website has a piece about a proposal in the House aiming to improve the process for recruiting and retaining (as future employees) federal interns.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., on Thursday introduced the 2011 Federal Internship Improvement Act

I Want You(r internship to go exceedingly well)!

 (H.R. 914) to increase the number of government interns who are converted to full-time employees. This legislation would establish reporting requirements so that the Office of Personnel Management could evaluate agencies’ implementation of intern programs based on conversion rates, as well as determine the quality of those programs through exit interviews. It also would also establish a central clearinghouse so that agencies can recruit qualified candidates who interned for another agency.

Connolly expressed concern that agencies convert just 6.6 percent of interns to full-time employees compared with more than 50 percent in the private sector. Government will have to fill more than 200,000 mission-critical jobs in the next three years, he wrote.

It’s noteworthy that this proposal comes in the wake of large-scale changes to the way that Uncle Sam attracts junior talent.

Federal agencies currently are overhauling the process for bringing students and recent graduates into government service. President Obama on Dec. 27, 2010, issued an executive order scrapping the controversial Federal Career Internship Program. The directive also established three pathways for young talent to enter the federal workplace. OPM Director John Berry in January outlined how agencies should convert FCIP participants to competitive service, along with the steps for continuing use of current internship programs while regulations are finalized.

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Lost in All the Wisconsin Uproar…State to Cut All Funding for Civil Legal Services(?) (Updated)

Wisconsin state politics have become national news of late. But here’s a bit of particularly bad news for the legal services community that hasn’t made it to the fore of news coverage…

The Wisconsin Law Journal reported last Friday that:

Civil legal service providers for poor people in Wisconsin are facing substantial cuts pending the inclusion of a budget proposal that eliminates all state money for those organizations.

Part of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-13 budget reallocates money collected by the Wisconsin Trust Account Foundation and distributed to organizations such as Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and Legal Action of Wisconsin to other aspects of the criminal justice system

Walker’s proposal would shift money allotted to civil legal service providers to support pay increases for assistant district attorneys and also for additional court reporters in the state.

The executive director of Legal Action noted in the piece that the cut could cause his organization to lay off over 40% of its staff.  The PSLawNet Blog is all for raising prosecutors’ salaries, but not – repeat, not – at the expense of cutting off legal services funding at a time of acute need.

UPDATE: here’s reaction to Governor Walker’s budget proposal from the Wisconsin State Bar. It offers some context for the funding changes which would affect public service lawyers, and notes that the budget contemplates adding 45 public defender positions statewide – a healthy development.

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Public Interest Law News Bulletin: March 4, 2011

This week: attorney licensing fee increases to bolster Minnesota public defense and civil legal services programs; New York’s pilot program to provide counsel to homeowners facing foreclosure; jail time for a former Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services employee who embezzled $188K; a North Carolina law professor minces no words in criticizing those on Capitol Hill who would do away with LSC; the funding woes plaguing the Massachusetts legal services community; in Texas, legislative proposals to channel funding to legal services; more Minnesota – this explains why funds are needed to prop up legal services providers; a couple of law student group fundraisers, including the “Spartan War Helmet” mustache(?); the Pro Bono Institute puts the lie to the notion that pro bono contributions could make up for a poorly funded legal services infrastructure; the Nat’l. Law Journal looks at law school employment bridge programs for recent grads; and, “Law Schools Revamp Their Curricula to Teach Practical Skills.”

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  • 3.2.11 – we don’t know whether to characterize this as bad or good news. From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Cheri A. Logue faces 22 months in prison for embezzling around $188,000 from the Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services Corp., under a sentence handed down Monday [in federal court] … Logue…took the money by way of 467 transactions over seven years – writing checks, making withdrawals from accounts, steering agency funds to cover her bills, and wrongly using the company credit card.”  Logue said that a gambling addiction fueled her behavior.
  • 2.28.11 – Professor Gene Nichol, of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity, minces no words in criticizing North Carolina congresspersons who voted to eliminate federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation.  Writing an op-ed in the News Observer, Nichol notes that “Every Republican member of the North Carolina delegation, except Virginia Foxx, voted to end legal services. For Howard Coble, Renee Ellmers, Walter Jones, Patrick McHenry and Sue Myrick, no aid to the one-third of North Carolina families qualifying for legal services was more than enough … Let me try to put those votes into perspective … Poor and near poor Americans are effectively priced out of the civil justice system. As studies have demonstrated for decades, in North Carolina and nationally, we leave millions unrepresented on some of the most crushing issues of life – domestic violence, child custody, housing, employment, education, health care, sustenance, vital benefits and the like.”  Nichol highlights the fact that, in comparison with the legal systems of other developed democracies, the U.S. has measured poorly in providing meaningful access to justice for all its citizens, in spite of the many platitudes suggesting that America’s civil justice system is exemplary.
  • 2.28.11 – the Houston Business Journal brings some news about state legislative proposals to prop up flagging legal services funding in Texas: “The Texas Legislature will consider bills soon that would help fund civil representation for poor Texans through fees. Preliminary state budget estimates reflect a reduction of 51 percent in funds for such legal aid, a decline of more than $23 million … Sen. Jose Rodriguez, D-El Paso, filed Senate Bill 726, the Judicial Access and Improvement Fund legislation, on Feb. 15. The bill relates to the establishment of a judicial access and improvement account to provide funding for basic civil legal services, indigent defense and judicial technical support through certain county service fees and court costs imposed to fund the account.  On Feb. 16, Rep. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, filed House Bill 1392, which would impose a fee on the transfer of property following a foreclosure sale to fund civil legal services for indigents.  A proposal to mandate funds generated by consumer protection suits will also be proposed, according to statements made by the Texas Access to Justice Commission and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation.”
  • 2.28.11 – MinnPost.com takes an in-depth look at the funding woes confronting the Minnesota legal services community.  The reporting is good; the news is bad.  IOLTA revenues plummeted by 85% between 2007 and 2010.  Even worse, the fund will exhaust its reserves in the next year.  Stakeholders in the legal services community are scrambling to prop up other existing funding mechanisms or to find new ones.  But it doesn’t look like providers will see an appropriations increase from the state government, and other solutions are limited at best.
  • 2.28.11 – the Yale Daily News reports on fundraising efforts to support public interest funding.  The Public Interest Auction is at the core of the fundraising initiative: “Around 250 members of the Law School community attended the auction, which raised nearly $44,000 for the Law School’s public interest fellowships for recent graduates and graduating third year students.”  And although less lucrative than the auction, the mustache competition – a fundraising event which the PSLawNet Blog finds troubling and noble at the same time – brought in some welcome revenue: “Though it was not part of the auction, the Mustaches for Public Interest Competition garnered $750. Male and female law students raised money based on the impressiveness of mustaches they grew over the past few weeks.”  (The mustache competition winner was something known as the “Spartan War Helmet.”  Good stuff!)
  • 2.28.11 – in the National Law Journal, Pro Bono Institute president Esther Lardent argues that cutting LSC funding would be unwise – not only because it would lead to constrictions among LSC grantees at a time of increased client need, but also because it will lead to diminished pro bono work.  “The reality is that effective pro bono service by attorneys in private practice is possible only if these attorneys can rely upon the expertise and consistent community presence of LSC programs. Pro bono is not a panacea. All too often, pro bono is not available or appropriate for a wide range of matters. Conflicts of interest, for example, have severely limited volunteer service in foreclosure matters and are often endemic in smaller cities and rural areas. And pro bono resources are difficult to secure in emergency matters. Without a strong core of full-time advocates, pro bono simply does not work … Our legal pro bono efforts are the envy of the rest of the world. Congress needs to understand that cutting funding for legal services will stop the flow of valuable and free private assistance. This proposed funding cut not only threatens the very core of access to justice; it is economically unwise.”
  • 2.27.11 – the Chronicle of Higher Education, in a (password-protected) piece entitled “Law Schools Revamp Their Curricula to Teach Practical Skills,” notes a small movement toward integrating more experiential learning opportunities into legal education: “Nationwide, law schools are integrating more clinical experiences and practical-skills training into their curricula in response to complaints that their graduates lack real-world experience. But few have gone as far as Washington and Lee, which has jettisoned the entire third year and rebuilt it from scratch … The change reflects a practice-based trend that has assumed greater urgency with the escalating costs of legal education and diminished job prospects for graduates.  The changes are also in response to criticisms from a number of national foundations and associations regarding the strictly theoretical approach many law schools have long taken to preparing students for legal careers.”  Highlighting curriculum changes at Washington & Lee, as well as Cal Western, Harvard, Stanford and Touro – the degree of change varies widely from school to school – the piece also reviews the chorus of calls for change, coming from the Carnegie Foundation, the ABA, the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), and many legal employers.

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Summer Funding: Summer Corps Info from Equal Justice Works (Application Deadline 4/5/11)

Our friends at Equal Justice Works have shared the following:

Summer Corps is an AmeriCorps-funded program that in 2011 will provide 700 law students with the opportunity to earn a $1,132 education award voucher for dedicating their summer to a qualifying legal project at a nonprofit public interest organization.

The Equal Justice Works Summer Corps program provides law students with the opportunity to dedicate their summer to a legal project at a qualifying nonprofit public interest organization. Summer Corps members expand the delivery of critically needed legal assistance in low-income and underserved communities across the country on a broad range of issue areas.

Summer Corps members:

  •  Gain first-hand experience and legal skills in areas such as client intake, representation, and legal research and writing;
  • Earn a $1,132 AmeriCorps education award upon completion of 300 hours of service that can be used to pay current educational expenses or qualified student loans;
  • Have access to the Equal Justice Works network of alumni, experience and expertise as the nation’s largest provider of public interest opportunities for law students and attorneys;
  • Become an official member of AmeriCorps, one of the largest national service networks in U.S. history.

Please visit http://www.equaljusticeworks.org/law-school/summercorps for information how to apply. The application will only be available on the website from March 16 – April 5, 2011.  Questions? Email Summercorps@equaljusticeworks.org

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Law School Public Interest Fundraising Season!

The PSLawNet Blog is always happy to learn of instances where entrepreneurial, public-interest minded law students stage fundraisers to support summer and postgraduate public interest opportunities for themselves and their classmates.  In fact, later this year we are going to produce a resource manual for student groups by gathering information and best practices on student-led fundraising initiatives from schools throughout the country.

For now, we want to pass along coverage about recent, successful fundraisers at Yale, and one taking place today at UC Irvine.

  • First, the Yale Daily News reports on fundraising efforts at YLS.  As with a lot of other schools, a Public Interest Auction is at the core of the fundraising initiative: “Around 250 members of the Law School community attended the auction, which raised nearly $44,000 for the Law School’s public interest fellowships for recent graduates and graduating third year students.”  And although less lucrative than the auction, the mustache competition – a fundraising event which the PSLawNet Blog finds troubling and noble at the same time – brought in some welcome revenue: “Though it was not part of the auction, the Mustaches for Public Interest Competition garnered $750. Male and female law students raised money based on the impressiveness of mustaches they grew over the past few weeks.”  (The mustache competition winner was something known as the “Spartan War Helmet.”  Good stuff!)
  • Second, UC Irvine is putting on a fundraising event that is new to us.  The school’s student-run Public Interest Law Fund is hosting a “Community Trivia Quest.”  It seems as though it’s your basic, pub quiz trivia event recast to raise money for summer public interest work: “Among the 12 teams of Community Trivia Quest contestants will be representatives from law firms, elected officials, in-house counsel, faculty and students, and others, including Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, corporate teams from The Irvine Company, Broadcom, and Taco Bell, and three former state senators: Joe Dunn, Jim Brulte and Dick Ackerman.”

Don’t be bashful.  Please share your school’s public-interest fundraising ideas in the comments section…

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