Public Interest News Bulletin – July 27, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, dear readers, from a sweltering, sun-drenched Washington, DC.  There is much public interest news to cover this week.  Before that, two other items of interest:

  • Is the U.S. experiencing the highest poverty levels in the last half-century? With new poverty data set for release in several weeks, experts expect that the poverty rate will hit its highest mark since the mid-1960s.  “Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.”  (Story from Washington Post.)
    • Another trend that augurs poorly for the poor is the potential for a continued rise in food prices as a result of drought conditions throughout most of the U.S. (Again, the Washington Post.)
  • From the law-firm world…the National Law Journal has published “The Equity Gap: a Special Report on Women in the Partnership.” The intro: “Virtually every firm claims to be committed to helping women succeed, and they all seem to offer an array of women’s programs — affinity groups, business-development training and work/life balance initiatives. But are large firms committed to promoting women into the equity partnership? Our study of the largest firms in the United States by headcount shows that women represent just 15 percent of equity partners. At just five firms surveyed, women make up more than 25 percent of equity partners.”  (Here’s the multi-part report.)

On to the public interest news.  This week in very short:

  • Access to justice a la Canadien;
  • Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado raises $1.4m;
  • Cal. Western Law’s bridge-to-practice incubator program includes a public service component; 
  • This weekend: the Public Defender Advocacy Hiring and Training Conference for law students;
  • “So how do we define pro bono, and does clinical work count?,” asks a law professor;
  • civil legal services providers across the country benefitting from national mortgage foreclosure settlement funds;
  • the funding woes confronting Peach State legal services providers;
  • DC’s local court expands limited-scope representation to allow pro bono counsel to serve low-income litigants who would otherwise go pro se;
  • The Legal Services Corporation’s board is meeting in Michigan;
  • Birmingham, AL is moving from an appointed counsel system to a staffed public defense program;
  • Everything’s bigger in Texas, including pro bono;
  • A concise overview of successful pro bono models;
  • Recent innovations in legal education highlight a move toward experience-based learning.
  • Mick Jagger is 69 years old and I don’t know what to make of that.  Happy weekend.

The summaries:

  • 7.27.12 – ATJ news from our northern neighbors: “The Canadian Bar Association will take on pro bono family law and poverty law test cases as part of a major push in the coming year to improve the public’s access to justice, says its incoming president.  Robert Brun told The Lawyers Weekly that the CBA will provide representation to litigants pro bono in select cases that could set important precedents on the right to legally aided counsel in areas including prison law, mental health law and refugee law….  The CBA is also announcing a ‘major access to justice initiative’ at its Vancouver annual meeting next month, Brun said. The two-year project will include representations to governments.”  (Story from The Lawyers Weekly.)
  • 7.24.12 – “The Legal Aid Foundation [of Colorado] raised nearly $1.4 million in its 2011-12 Campaign for Justice, providing a welcome funding boost to a system strapped for cash.  Donations from law firms accounted for about 68 percent of the total, with many donor firms giving at the foundation’s suggested leadership level of $350 per associate…. The foundation is the fundraising arm of Colorado Legal Services, which has seen its budgets slashed in recent years.”  (Full story from Law Week Colorado.)
  • 7.24.12 – “California Western School of Law started the Access to Law Initiative last month. It places eight attorneys who each operate their own practices in an office in downtown San Diego’s Symphony Towers. In exchange, the attorneys pledge to provide at least 100 hours per year of pro bono, public service and ‘sliding scale fee’ legal service.  The new lawyers are mentored by professors and practicing attorneys.  Attorney Eric LaGuardia, a consumer rights lawyer who said he ‘represents the little guy,’ told KPBS the program acts as an incubator for recent law school graduates.  The program was started by California Western professor Robert Seibel and modeled on an initiative at City University of New York. San Diego’s Thomas Jefferson School of Law is currently establishing a similar project….” (Full story from KPBS.)
  • 7.24.12 – “Hoping to attract law students and young lawyers facing an increasingly dismal job market, representatives from public defender offices across the country are converging in Washington this weekend to make their pitch.  Since 2008, the D.C. Public Defender Service has organized a biennial conference dedicated to raising the profile of indigent criminal defense work. Public defender offices are often represented at general public interest job fairs, but PDS director of legal recruiting and conference organizer Jennifer Thomas said they saw a need for an event focusing on topics unique to public defender recruitment and jobs.  ‘In the civil legal services…everybody assumes you’re on the side of the angels. In criminal defense, the public perception is very different,’ she said.”  (Full story from the Blog of the Legal Times.)
  • 7.23.12 – in a blog post, Prof. Stephen Ellmann of New York Law School ruminates on the definitional ambiguity of “pro bono” and argues that clinical work performed by law students, even though credit-bearing, should count as pro bono for purposes of NY State’s to-be-imposed 50-hour pro bono requirement for admission to the bar.  (Here’s the full blog post.)
  • 7.23.12 – a look at how the civil legal services community is using funds from the national mortgage foreclosure class action settlement.  Attorneys general across the country are granting some of the settlement funds to legal services providers to bolster housing advocacy for those facing foreclosure and related legal problems.  (Here’s the information from a DOJ Access to Justice Initiative press release.)  
  • 7.23.12 – the funding woes of Georgia’s legal services providers: “Funding for the Georgia Legal Services Program, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Atlanta Volunteer Lawyers Foundation has dropped 13.5 percent since 2008, when their combined total budget was $24.2 million. To weather the losses, they’ve reduced staff, cut programs and dipped into reserve funds, even as the population they serve — people with civil legal problems who can’t afford a lawyer — has increased….  Atlanta Legal Aid, for example, has suspended its retirement plan for employees and for the past three years has dipped into its endowment to avoid layoffs, said its executive director, Steven Gottlieb.  But this year, Gottlieb finally had to lay people off. He said attrition and layoffs have shrunk Atlanta Legal Aid’s staff from 133 employees to 115 since the recession began. Another five to 10 people are also working fewer hours.”  And as is the case in many other jurisdictions, IOLTA revenues have fallen through the floor.  (Full story from the Daily Report.)
  • 7.23.12 – “In two high-volume branches of the District of Columbia Superior Court, civil legal services groups hope to prove that when it comes to pro bono representation, a little is a lot better than none. A policy recently adopted by the court gives the green light for pro bono lawyers to enter temporary appearances for low-income litigants in small claims and debt collections cases. Legal services lawyers say the change means they can provide much needed representation using minimal resources…. Under the new policy…lawyers can file a notice with the court that they’ll be representing a client for a single day of proceedings. Once proceedings are over for the day, the attorney-client relationship ends. There is precedent at the court for limited-scope representation. Beginning in 2007, the court began allowing temporary pro bono representation in the landlord and tenant branch. Last June, a similar policy was put in place for the paternity and child support branch.” (Full, but password-protected, story in the National Law Journal.) 
  • 7.23.12 – from a press release, details about the Legal Services Corporation board meeting which is taking place in Michigan on the 27th.
  • 7.23.12 – “Jefferson County [Birmingham and vicinity] courts will switch to a public defender system as part of a statewide effort to control the spiraling cost of providing lawyers for criminal defendants unable to afford counsel, officials said. The new public defender’s office will replace the current system of judges appointing lawyers for indigent defendants.  It’s hoped that a new defender will be in place this fall, and s/he will hire staff.  “Officials estimated the Birmingham division public defender’s office will have 40 lawyers and support staff.”  (Here’s the full story from the Birmingham News and here’s more coverage from the Montgomery Advertiser.)
  • 7.23.12 – “Despite having fewer average full-time equivalent lawyers in 2011 compared to 2010, the 18 firms sharing pro bono information for their Texas lawyers donated more hours than the previous year.” (It’s password protected, so that’s all I’ve got from this Texas Lawyer article.)
  • 7.17.12 – the National Jurist looks at innovations in legal education: “Law schools are pushing the boundaries of the traditional law school model and experimenting at a level that legal education has not seen for several years, a new story reveals.  The National Jurist invited every law school in the U.S. to submit a nomination for how it is innovating its curriculum. More than 40 schools responded, showing that schools are experimenting with boot camps, mentoring programs, technology and programs that mirror the medical school model.”  The magazine’s next issue, due out in late August, will highlight some schools’ novel approaches to training tomorrow’s lawyers.

Music!  Yesterday marked the 69th birthday of Mick Jagger, a rock & roll legend who is nonetheless rightly criticized for wearing tights way past his time (if ever a time there is).  Here’s one of the Rolling Stones’ best.

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