Archive for May, 2012

Here's How to Maximize Your Summer Public Interest Experience!

by Kristen Pavón

Yesterday, we hosted our Summer Success: Getting the Most from Your Summer Public Interest Experience webinar. Our presenters, Deb Ellis, the former Assistant Dean for Public Service at NYU School of Law, and Lindsay M. Harris, the EJW fellow and Immigration Staff Attorney at Tahirih Justice Center, provided some great tips on how interns/externs/volunteers can maximize their summers. If you were “there,” thanks for attending! ūüôā

In case you missed it, the webinar recording should be available in the next week or so. In the meantime, here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Act as though your summer position is an extended interview.
  • Be realistic about your expectations for feedback (meaning, don’t expect to get comments and notes on every single assignment).
  • Make your supervisor your mentor.
  • Be indispensable and take advantage of all learning opportunities (some organizations take note of attendance and non-attendance).
  • Keep track of your summer work product.
  • If you’re in a new city for the summer, have fun! (Check out PSLawNet’s Having Fun on the Cheap page for suggestions!)


Job o' the Day: Staff Attorney at Prairie State Legal Services in IL!

Prairie State Legal Services, Inc., a 65-lawyer legal services organization, serving 36 counties in northern and central ILLINOIS outside of Cook County,

is seeking applicants for a STAFF ATTORNEY position in our community legal services office located in BLOOMINGTON.  The successful applicant will participate in a full range of legal activities, including the preparation and
Prairie State Legal Services offers free legal services for low income persons and those over 60 who have serious civil legal problems and need legal help to solve them.conduct of administrative hearings and trials of cases for elderly and low-income persons.

Learn more at PSLawNet!


Job o' the Day: Senior Policy Analyst at National Skills Coalition in DC!

National Skills Coalition (NSC) is seeking applications to fill a full-time Senior Policy Analyst position in our Washington, DC office. The successful candidate will work with NSC’s Federal Policy Director to help maintain the organization’s expertise in a number of policy areas, and to assist with our efforts to improve those policies within federal legislation, agency regulation and related funding initiatives. The Senior Policy Analyst will also work with Field staff to involve NSC members in those advocacy efforts, and to support their advancement of similar policy goals at the state and local level.

National Skills Coalition is a broad-based coalition working toward a vision of an America that grows its economy by investing in its people so that every worker and every industry has the skills to compete and prosper. We engage in organizing, advocacy, and communications to advance state and federal policies that support these goals ‚Äď policies that are based on the on-the-ground expertise of our members.

Learn more at PSLawNet!


Doing Good Work: Adriana Rodriguez, EJW Fellow at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid

by Kristen Pavón

Adriana Rodriguez is the EJW Fellow at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid in Laredo, Texas. She is a 2011 graduate of the University of Texas School of Law.

I met Ms. Rodriguez at NALP’s Annual Education Conference last month. She was the speaker at our Public Service Section Luncheon. She gave us great insights into Texas’s legal aid situation and reinvigorated our public interest passion.

She is just one of the many young attorneys doing good work — learn about her and her work here, and get inspired!

Tell me a bit about yourself.

I grew up in Laredo, Texas along  the U.S.-Mexico border.  My parents instilled a strong sense of community service in my brother and me.  I was talkative and very social as a child, and I continue to be as an adult.

When and why did you decide to go to law school?

I decided I wanted¬† to go to law school in high school.¬† I, like many, read ‚ÄúTo Kill A Mockingbird‚ÄĚ and felt inspired and deeply stirred by the character of Atticus Finch.¬† The life of a lawyer seemed very appealing to me.¬† As a teenager, I liked the idea of dramatic courtroom moments to help someone find justice, but now, as an actual lawyer, I realize there‚Äôs a little more to it.

Did you know you wanted to go into public interest law before starting law school?

I was pretty certain I wanted to do some kind of service oriented lawyering early on.  My pre-law school years as a school teacher in Houston really cemented my commitment to low income communities.  It seemed my students and their families had so many troubles, some of which seemed to have legal remedies .  As a first year law student, I was anxious to learn more about the access to justice issues that kept so many away from the legal help they needed.

What is the legal aid/access to justice situation like in Texas?

Texas is fortunate to have three legal aid service providers across the state.  Unfortunately, there are about 11,000 eligible clients for every 1 legal aid attorney.  Accessing legal services is often much more difficult for Texans who live in rural communities.  The Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Access to Justice Commission advocate zealously for legal aid funds  in Texas despite a struggling economy.  Still, there is much work to be done to improve access to legal services to all Texans.

Can you describe your EJW project at TEXAS RIOGRANDE LEGAL AID?

My Equal Justice Works Fellowship Project sets out to support survivors of domestic violence and help them achieve some kind of peace at home.  The Project, partnered with the local women’s shelter, assists survivors in attaining protective orders and resolving divorce and custody disputes.  The Project also helps  undocumented survivors apply  for special immigration status through VAWA and U-Visas self-petitions.  Additionally, the Project sets out to bring more pro bono resource s to the Laredo area by recruiting attorneys from Dallas, Austin, and San Antonio to take  these special immigration cases.

How and why did you decide on this particular project?

I remain concerned about the home-lives of my students and the many like them across the country.  After learning more about domestic violence and its long-term effects on families and communities, I wanted to develop a project around the issue.  During my time as a student in Austin, I learned a great deal about the services available  to survivors and their families in Travis County.  I wanted to replicate some of these great ideas back in Laredo, where I knew low-income survivors did no t have the same access to services, especially legal representation.

You mentioned during the public service luncheon that Laredo is not a favorite destination for new attorneys to start their careers. However, you decided to work there anyway. Describe how you came to that decision.

I decided to return to Laredo with this two-year project because I wanted to be a part of the network of support available to survivors in the Laredo area.  I was hopeful that I could increase access to legal services for women who were indigent and unable to access our court systems otherwise.  There are plenty of young attorneys willing to do this difficult work in bigger cities.  I figured I should take my energy back home.

What do you plan to do after your fellowship?

I would like to continue to work with survivors of domestic violence at Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.

What is one thing you know now that you wish you had known before and/or during law school?

Most law schools don’t teach students how to build rapport with clients.  Some students learn how to do this when they work in law school clinics or while they intern somewhere, but plenty don’t.  As a young attorney, I’ve learned that building a positive  rapport with clients is tremendously important, especially in the domestic violence context.

What advice would you give pre-law or current law students about law school, the job market, and/or public interest work?

I think anyone who aspires to be a public interest lawyer needs to seek opportunities to gain experience and  real perspective about the issues affecting many low income communities.  Reading or hearing about the issues that plague people in our communities is simply not enough.  Volunteer!  Intern!  Just get out there.

Learn more about TEXAS RIOGRANDE LEGAL AID here.

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Job o' the Day: Connecticut Veterans Legal Center Public Engagement Fellow in West Haven, CT!

The New Haven Veterans’ VISTA PROJECT is a multi-site collaboration of organizations in the New Haven area that work with Veterans experiencing homelessness and serious mental illness.

The partner organizations will hire three AmeriCorps VISTA members to work on inter-related projects to help end homelessness amongst veterans. One partner organization, the Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, provides free legal services to help veterans overcome barriers to housing, healthcare and income. The CVLC’s model is to leverage relationships with client’s mental health practitioners and volunteer attorneys to help veterans identify and resolve legal problems. The CVLC’s staff and volunteer attorneys provide services on-site at a VA community mental health facility to reduce transportation and scheduling issues for indigent veterans. The CVLC also participates in legislative and law reform efforts to shape public policies to serve veterans in need.

The focus for this VISTA is to create a Public Engagement program to increase participation, ownership and awareness of the CVLC’s mission among the public, volunteers, funders, and other legal services providers. The VISTA will develop a media strategy to increase volunteerism and giving which will include social and traditional media. The VISTA will organize events to recognize volunteers and a mini-conference to bring together legal services organizations serving veterans to identify best practices and high priority issues.

The VISTA will improve the volunteer management system to maximize volunteer satisfaction and participation by creating materials and administrative procedures for continuous volunteer engagement throughout a pro bono assignment. The VISTA will survey veteran interest and create educational opportunities for veterans around common legal issues, for example debt collections and child support modifications. The VISTA will report directly to the CVLC’s Executive Director and will also receive supervision from the CVLC’s staff attorneys and supervising attorney.

Interested? See the listing at PSLawNet!


Job Advice: Remember to Water the Plants

by Kristen Pavón

In the May 21, 2012 issue of Fortune, Dupont CEO Ellen Kullman said the best advice she received was from her father.

“My dad started and ran a landscaping business. He put me to work watering plants for my grandmother and for our house. His mantra was, ‘If you don’t water it, it’s going to die.’ That was the job I hated most: pouring water on those darn flowers. But my mother and my grandmother had the most beautiful gardens in town.

For Kullman, her father’s advice translated into “investing yourself in what you’re building in order for it to grow.”

For me, the “water the plants” advice also has to do with patience, and is especially relevant in the slowed public interest job market. Just as lovely flowers don’t grow over night, your dream public interest job may not be available the day you graduate.

However, if you stay relevant, work hard, persevere, and create opportunities to build your credibility and skills, you’ll eventually land where you want to be [or, to keep the analogy going — you’ll grow your own strong public interest law flower… or something like that].


Job o' the Day: Staff Attorney at the Montana Legal Services Association!

Incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1967, the Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) is a law firm that empowers low-income people by providing legal information, advice, and other services free of charge.  MLSA works both on individual cases and under a systemic approach to help low-income people escape domestic violence, keep their housing, preserve their public benefits, protect their finances, and much more.

The Staff Attorney will provide legal services to clients throughout the state of Montana in the area of foreclosure assistance and loss mitigation, including housing, consumer, bankruptcy, and related civil legal issues. Services provided will range from brief counsel and advice, to more extended assistance, including representation. Requires travel within and outside Montana.

This position will handle all aspects of legal representation including client contact, pleading preparation, research, file maintenance, and hearing and trial work. The staff attorney will also participate in MLSA’s statewide initiatives, implement grant and contract requirements through casework and foster pro bono involvement with the private bar.

Interested? Check out the full listing at PSLawNet!


National Database Contains Data on 2000+ Criminal Exonerations in 23 Years

From an AP report on CBS’s website:

More than 2,000 people who were falsely convicted of serious crimes have been exonerated in the United States in the past 23 years, according to a new archive compiled at two universities.

There is no official record-keeping system for exonerations of convicted criminals in the country, so academics set one up. The new national registry, or database, painstakingly assembled by the University of Michigan Law School and the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law, is the most complete list of exonerations ever compiled.

The database compiled and analyzed by the researchers contains information on 873 exonerations for which they have the most detailed evidence. The researchers are aware of nearly 1,200 other exonerations, for which they have less data.

They found that those 873 exonerated defendants spent a combined total of more than 10,000 years in prison, an average of more than 11 years each. Nine out of 10 of them are men and half are African-American.

Nearly half of the 873 exonerations were homicide cases, including 101 death sentences. Over one-third of the cases were sexual assaults.


Job o' the Day: Staff Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP) in DC!

Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP), a private, non-profit law firm that provides vigorous and high quality civil legal services to low-income residents of the District of Columbia, seeks a Staff Attorney to provide civil legal services to clients in its community-based law office.

NLSP has a long tradition of fighting for justice for the poor, combining direct representation to protect essential rights and opportunities for low-income individuals and families with efforts to achieve broad-based change. The successful applicant will be passionate about achieving justice and overcoming barriers facing low-income people, a creative and zealous lawyer and a team-player, committed to achieving lasting results for clients and low-income communities.

The Staff Attorney will be located in NLSP’s Far Northeast neighborhood office. The Staff Attorney will report to the Managing Attorney of NLSP’s Far Northeast and Southeast offices.

Interested? Learn how to apply at PSLawNet!


Public Interest News Bulletin – May 18, 2012

Happy Friday, dear readers.

“May you live in interesting times.”*¬† Is this a well-wish or a curse?¬† It could be either, and I was reminded of this while attending the Equal Justice Conference¬†earlier this week.¬† I was heartened to learn of so many creative approaches taken by access-to-justice stakeholders in trying¬†to¬†serve increasing numbers of clients even in the midst of crushing funding shortages.¬† But the fact remains that these are dark times for the AtJ¬†community.¬† One legal services executive director, while¬†contemplating¬†funding cuts, the disappearance of¬†government support programs for low-income communities, and swollen caseloads, said simply, “I feel like we’re losing.”¬† It was a sobering experience for me to hear that from someone who’s spent her entire career fighting for¬†those on society’s margins.

Still, I left the conference with a sense of optimism.¬†¬†After all, the EJC¬†brings together a¬†highly diverse group of legal professionals – legal services and¬†law firm lawyers, bar association officials, judges, law school faculty and administrators, etc. –¬†who are unified by a commitment to¬†making our justice system work for all, especially¬†our most vulnerable.¬† Many of¬†the¬†older¬†more senior attendees have weathered¬†storms like the present one before –¬†funding cuts on federal and state levels, IOLTA shortfalls, staff layoffs, client-support programs eroding.¬† And yet here¬†they are, year¬†after year, sharing the solutions¬†they’ve developed to make due in tough circumstances, and brainstorming to generate new solutions.¬† They are accustomed to uphill battles.¬† In these interesting times, I’m so grateful for the creativity and resilience which¬†has long characterized the access-to-justice community.¬† (And I’m grateful that Angela Vigil makes us all laugh.)

(*I stole this proverb from David Udell of the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law.  Thanks, David.)               

This week:

  • a new diversionary court for vets in Illinois;
  • filing-fee increase in Connecticut will boost legal services funding;
  • Governor Brown may siphon mortgage settlement cash away from legal services providers;
  • a nicely written piece on the importance of pro bono in the profession;
  • in PA, class action residuals will better assist the legal services community;
  • the financially strapped NOLA¬†public defender’s office may have been shorted thousands¬†in $;
  • a Houston Chronicle editorial supports the controversial public defense program in Harris County;
  • a call for indigent defense reform in PA.

The summaries:

  • 5.16.12 – as has happened in many other county court systems, a new diversionary court for veterans has¬†launched in Joliet, IL¬†(Will County).¬† “The new court will function like the existing drug court in Will County… In many cases, selected defendants will be required to plead guilty to their crimes up front before they are allowed into the court. They will be required to remain drug free, submit to random drug tests, find work, follow through with treatment and attend weekly counseling sessions. If they comply with all of the court terms, they will graduate and their charges will be dismissed.¬† In certain cases, the court may not require a guilty plea upfront, or the state may forego filing criminal charges at all if the participant successfully completes the program.”¬† (Story from the Herald-News.)¬†¬†
  • 5.14.12 – in Connecticut, a¬†boost in court filing fees will generate funds for legal services providers.¬† “State lawmakers have provided cash-strapped legal aid programs with a financial shot in the arm, as they agreed last week to increase court filing fees for the second time since 2009…. The latest increases are expected to generate more than $4.8 million annually for legal aid agencies, which have been hit hard by layoffs and service cuts in recent years. Agency leaders say they think the new money will stave off further cuts ‚ÄĒ for the time being…. By all accounts, the higher filing fees were the topic of intense negotiations by lawmakers, legal aid officials and lawyers. Some trial lawyers were not pleased with the latest round of increases.”¬† (Story from Connecticut Law¬†Tribune.)¬†¬†
  • 5.14.12 – [In California,] Gov. Jerry Brown apparently has his own plans for a $410-million all-cash slice of a national mortgage settlement: Plug some of the holes of California‚Äôs massive deficit.¬† The state attorney general‚Äôs office told The Times last Friday it hoped to use about half the cash from the settlement with the nation‚Äôs five biggest banks to aid housing counselors and legal services agencies. But the governor plans instead to use the money to make interest payments on bonds for housing projects that include low-income and senior housing as well as shelters for battered women (see page 89 of the revised budget).¬† Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris immediately objected to the redirecting of the money, which was won as part of a massive settlement with five of the nation‚Äôs largest banks over mortgage servicing and foreclosure abuses.”¬† (Full story in the L.A. Times.)
    • here was an earlier L.A. Times¬†report: “About half of the $410 million flowing into California’s coffers from the national mortgage settlement with major banks will be pumped into the state’s housing counselors and legal services agencies that help struggling homeowners.”
  • 5.14.12 – “New rules announced May 11 by the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania direct unclaimed money from class-action lawsuits be mandated to provide legal services for low-income Pennsylvanians.¬† Prior to this, the disposition of residual funds was left to the discretion of the trial judge.¬† The new civil procedure rules take effect July 1.”¬† (Story from¬† (And here’s a little more coverage from the Allentown Morning Call.)
  • 5.14.12¬†– a brouhaha concerning statutorily¬†required funding transfers¬†among various NOLA city agencies seems to have shorted the already strapped public defender’s office by potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.¬†
  • 5.13.12 – criticism of the much-discussed plan to require 50 hours of pro bono service for admission to the New York bar.¬† “Mandatory pro bono work for lawyers is a good idea. But Judge Lippman‚Äôs plan is deeply flawed, as it affects only aspiring lawyers who have not yet gained admission to the bar. As a result, the beneficiaries of Judge Lippman‚Äôs largess will be served by people unlicensed to practice law ‚ÄĒ who by definition have no real practice experience. (Though internships and law school clinics are useful training grounds for future lawyers, they are no substitute for the rigors of licensed practice.)”¬† Full op-ed, by¬†Prof. Ben Trachtenberg of the U. of Missouri School of Law,¬†in the New York Times.
  • 5.11.12¬†– a¬†Houston Chronicle¬†editorial voices strong support for the city’s public defense program which, two years after its creation, is¬†being¬†sharply criticized by some judges and the local¬†Republican party.¬†¬†