Public Interest News Bulletin – January 27, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers.  I often begin bulletins with my attempts at humor because the content that follows can be disheartening to public interest advocates and other access-to-justice stakeholders (to say nothing of those who visit our blog while on the public-interest job hunt).  The lightheartedness is meant as a sort of preemptive counterbalance.  However, it’s tough to lead with humor today because the bulletin’s first (and biggest) story is of survey results about staff losses in civil legal aid.  So we’ll dispense with a whimsical anecdote – which, today, would have centered on my recent introduction to yoga and why yoga is an enhanced interrogation technique – and get right into the news.  (For those law students among the readership, I close this week’s bulletin with some thoughts about keeping your chins up and navigating a poor employment market.)      

This week:

  • LSC-funded programs forecast continuing layoffs in 2012;
  • making the business case for legal services can get the state legislature’s attention;
  • IOLTA shortfall’s impact in the Evergreen State;
  • Legal Aid of Arkansas’s fiscal woes;
  • the New Orleans public defender’s office is running on financial fumes;
  • Vivit lingua Latina.  Lexis Nexis and Lex Mundi forge a pro bono partnership;
  • the Hispanic National Bar Association launches a pro bono program serving vets;
  • harnessing technology to enhance pro bono in Virginia.

Here are the summaries:

  • 1.26.12 – the Legal Services Corporation has released results of a grantee organization survey focused on anticipated staff layoffs in 2012.  The news is perhaps not surprising; yet it is quite disheartening.  From LSC: “According to the survey, LSC-funded programs anticipate laying off 393 employees, including 163 attorneys, in 2012.  The reductions continue a staffing downturn that began about a year ago. In December 2010, LSC-funded programs employed 4,351 attorneys, 1,614 paralegals and 3,094 support staff. During 2011, LSC programs reduced their staffing by 833 positions through layoffs and attrition. They now anticipate a new round of layoffs this year, bringing the staffing loss to 1,226 full-time personnel.”
  • 1.26.12 – something a bit more uplifting: when legal services programs make the case about the economic efficiencies of supporting their work, legislatures do listen.  From a Boston Globe op-ed: “A study by [the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation] estimates that legal aid boosted the state’s economy by $53 million last year through federal benefits won and state costs saved.  Those numbers have made an impression on Beacon Hill. Legislators recently proposed upping the Legal Assistance Corporation’s $9.5 million appropriation to $10.5 million. Governor Deval Patrick’s budget plan released yesterday bumps their funding for next year to $12 million. Powers and Jourdan, among others, will be on Beacon Hill today trying to persuade legislators in the House and Senate to go at least that far.”
  • 1.24.12 – funding cuts are causing layoffs at Legal Aid of Arkansas.  From the 4029 TV news: “Blaming cutbacks in state and federal funding, an organization that helps poor people with legal services says it will lay off eight workers and close its office in Mountain View.  Lee Richardson, the director of Legal Aid of Arkansas, tells the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the group won’t be able to take on as many clients as a result. The organization serves 31 counties in northern Arkansas. It’s among the groups nationwide losing money because of a $56 million cut in federal funding to Legal Services Corp.  Legal Aid of Arkansas says it will lose about $345,000 in federal funding this year. The group says it’s also lost state funding because of a shortfall in the Arkansas’ Administration of Justice Fund, which receives money from filing fees and court costs.”
  • 1.24.12 – bad funding news flows down the Mississippi River.  From New Orleans news site Gambit: “The Orleans Parish Public Defender’s office was down to $36,000 in the bank and may be unable to make its payroll this month, according to chief parish public defender Derwyn Bunton and Louisiana Public Defender Board Chairman Frank Neuner, who reported the budget problems at a Jan. 18 meeting of City Council’s Criminal Justice Committee. According to Bunton, the immediate financial problem results from an alleged failure by the New Orleans Traffic Court to hand over monthly indigent defendant fees, which were due Jan. 10.  Even if that’s resolved, the office still faces a $1 million shortfall for the year and may have to lay off as many as 14 staff members, Bunton said. The office already has instituted a hiring freeze and suspended payments to contractors in an attempt to save money.”
  • 1.23.12 – I was honored as the Latin Scholar of the Cardinal Dougherty High School Class of 1994.  And I ain’t rusty.  Here is a press release wherein I have identified at least four and perhaps more Latin words: “The Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation and LexisNexis are pleased to announce a joint collaboration to strengthen the rule of law throughout the world. Working together, these two organizations are combining their skills and resources to support and empower social entrepreneurs who are working around the world to improve the lives and communities of the poor and disenfranchised and to mobilize leaders of the global legal profession.”
  • 1.23.12 – keeping with a trend, a new pro bono program serving vets (from a press release): “The Hispanic National Bar Association (HNBA) is proud to announce the new HNBA Veterans Legal Initiative Program (“Veterans Initiative”), a new effort to provide free legal services to the men and women of the American armed services and their families.”
  • 1.13.12 – in Virginia, Capital One, a handful of prominent law firms, and other pro bono stakeholders are unveiling JusticeServer, online pro bono software that is intended to increase efficiencies in pro bono delivery.  Here are the details.

More bad news than good news in this week’s bulletin.  I started producing the bulletin several months ago as a way to help public interest stakeholders, law school career professionals, and law students track developments related to funding, economic health, and the job market in the public interest arena.  I believe that it’s always better to have information, even if the information conveys bad news.  But I’m mindful that law students reading the bulletin may feel exasperated by so much bad news, particularly regarding the employment market.

It’s simply a tough time to be looking for public interest work.  But it’s important to remember two things:

  • Accept what you cannot control.  Control what you can control.  Life happens and we have to react accordingly.  We are much more subject to the course of events around us than we are masters of it.  This is certainly true of the job market.  Job seekers are stuck, at present, with poor economic conditions.  You cannot control those.  What you can control is the strength of your candidacy for public interest jobs.  Because the market is so tight, now more than ever it’s necessary to makes yourselves the best job applicants possible.  Work with career services staff.  Use PSLawNet and other resources to polish your cover letters and resumes.  Do mock interviews.  Network, network, network.  I know, it may seem to some of you like trite advice.  But the strength of your candidacy for jobs is one variable you can control.  It’s a hugely important variable.  Control it.
  • There Are Jobs Out There.  “If it bleeds, it leads” is the saying used to convey the fact that bad news is what makes news.  Media will cover the laying off of 15 public defenders much faster than they will cover the hiring of 15 public defenders.  Just because most of the news you read focuses on the tightness of the job market, that doesn’t mean there aren’t jobs.  In the last week we posted 120 jobs on PSLawNet.  There are over 1100 job listings on the site right now.  Layoff news notwithstanding, there are jobs.  Again, the key is to make yourself the best job candidate possible.       

1 Comment »

  1. Advice for Law Students looking for Public Interest jobs « Office of Law & Social Justice Initiatives said,

    January 27, 2012 at 11:08 am

    […] there are jobs.  Again, the key is to make yourself the best job candidate possible.   From the PSLawNet Blog       Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment