Public Interest News Bulletin – October 26, 2012

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, ladies and gents. It’s been a pleasure to spend time with law school public interest career advisors who’ve descended upon Washington DC for the NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference and the Equal Justice Works Career Fair.  Yesterday’s Mini-Conference reminded of why community-building among professional colleagues is so valuable.  And I’m pretty sure I only managed to alienate people from St. Louis and San Antonio during yesterday’s events.  I’ve done worse.  I want to extend, again, my congratulations and admiration to Elizabeth Gutierrez, a 3L as St. Mary’s University School of Law, who won our 2012 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award.  Liz acquitted herself with great humility during our award presentation, but her record as an advocate for the most vulnerable in her community is stunning. 

The weeklong, national celebration of pro bono, facilitated by the ABA and marked by volunteer projects and recognition events throughout the country, is winding down this weekend.  Events that have taken place are too numerous to mention.  But www.celebrateprobono.org is serving as a repository of related resources, news, etc.

There is just a moderate amount of public interest and access-to-justice news to report on today.  So here we go.  Short version:

  • a new Tennessee MLP (poetry);
  • making the case for an independent New Mexico defender’s office;
  • loan repayment for NY nonprofit and government lawyers;
  • happy 100th, Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo (but the Bills still stink);
  • one CA county’s prosecutors/defenders fight off a pay cut;
  • OPM guidance on the federal government’s “Pathways” program’s intern hiring component;
  • after NY, is NJ also going to require pro bono service as a condition of getting a law license?;
  • could the Income Based Repayment program inadvertently re-inflate the law school tuition bubble?
  • only 40 years until Buffalo – Ohio’s Community Legal Aid Service turns 60.
  • super music bonus!

The summaries:

  • 10.26.12 – in Tennessee, the Vanderbilt University Shade Tree Clinic and the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands have formed a new medical legal partnership.  It seems as though both law and medical students will play prominent roles: “[The] new MLP, which will offer patients a variety of free legal services, is an outgrowth of one that was set up and is still operating in a limited capacity at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. Most MLPs are formed at children’s hospitals because they are teaching hospitals and thus can partner with other university resources, and because they have a higher concentration of families in need than a regular hospital might have…. The Legal Aid-Shade Tree partnership is unique because the clinic is student-run, as opposed to a community health center or larger hospital. Student physicians and, increasingly, student lawyers, gain real-world experience while providing an immediate service to the patient base, says Shannon Jordan, LMSW, a medical social worker at Shade Tree.”  (Story from the Nashville Ledger.)
  • 10.25.12 – a Las Cruces News-Sun op-ed, written by a retired public defender, makes the case for a New Mexico ballot initiative which would take the state’s public defender program outside of the executive branch’s control and make it an independent entity.  One of the main concerns of having the governor continue to control the defender program is an inherent conflict of interest, as the governor also has responsibility to prosecute crime.
  • 10.24.12 – the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) has created a loan repayment grant program for mid-level lawyers in nonprofit and government practice.  From the Buffalo Business Journal:  “The grants, offered through the Steven Krane Special Committee on Student Loan Assistance for the Public Interest, are available to attorneys who have practiced public interest or government law for a minimum of five years. Priority will be given to civil legal services attorneys.”
  • 10.23.12 – in California, Contra Costa County prosecutors and defenders have successfully staved off a planned salary cut: “After months of fractious negotiations, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and associations from both the district attorney and public defender’s offices agreed Tuesday to a new employment contract that would roll back controversial pay cuts in exchange for some concessions.”  (Here’s the password-protected Recorder article.)
  • 10.22.12 – a development concerning federal agencies’ intern recruiting efforts under the new “Pathways” recruiting model: “Federal agencies have been told that they can continue to use interns referred from third parties such as intern placement agencies after a recent overhaul of government intern-type programs.  The government in July formally launched the Pathways program that revised or replaced several prior developmental and hiring programs for students and graduates….  A memo that the Office of Personnel Management sent Friday said that since the revisions, agencies have been asking about the role of third-party intern providers. OPM said that nothing in the new program ‘restricts in any way an agency’s authority to enter into arrangements with third-party intern providers. Agencies retain the same authority to enter these arrangements that they had before the Pathways programs were authorized’.”  (Full blog post from the Washington Post.)
  • 10.22.12 – I’m so tired of New York being a trendsetter.  But here they go again.  “Following the lead of the New York state court system, New Jersey’s top judge has formed a committee to consider requiring prospective attorneys to complete pro bono work before being admitted to the state bar.  The 17-member panel, which Chief Justice Stuart Rabner created last week, will be chaired by Judge Glenn Grant, the acting administrative director of New Jersey’s court system. The committee will review New York’s pro bono mandate, which requires 50 hours of work, and make recommendations to Rabner.  The panel includes private attorneys, bar association officials, legal service providers and officials from the state’s three law schools, as well as a third-year law student and a retired state judge.  According to an Oct. 15 letter Grant wrote inviting the officials to join the committee, 97 percent of small claims litigants and 99 percent of tenants in housing cases in New Jersey show up to court without a lawyer.”  (Full story from Thomson-Reuters.)
  • 10.21.12 – this blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education explores a New America Foundation report on the federal Income Based Repayment program, specifically querying whether IBR, because it allows high-debt, middle-income borrowers to create very affordable repayment plans “could completely remove price discipline in a law-school market that desperately needs it…”  That is, could IBR inadvertently create another law school tuition bubble?
  • 10.19.12 – Ohio’s Community Legal Aid Services is turning 60!  Congrats!  In celebration they are partying Akron-style at the Akron Civic Theater.  Consider yourself warned, Akron.  (Story from the Daily Legal News.)

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