PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 24, 2014

by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Happy Friday everyone!  We have had our first big winter snow storm this week, and I forgot how much fun snow sports can be.  I also forgot how much “fun” driving in DC in the snow can be.  If you’re experiencing cold temperatures, don’t forget about your neighbors, especially the elderly.  Check on them if possible.  Stay safe and vigilant out there everyone.

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: If you know someone we should honor, drop me a line.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Batch of death penalty cases drains Wyoming Public Defender budget;
  • Annual diversity scholarship available for Ohio law students;
  • Goodwin Procter LLP announces its 2014 Public Interest Fellowships for Law Students of Color;
  • ABA considers new law school accreditation standards, including pro bono requirements;
  • WV access to justice commission releases plan for future;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Pro Bono Partnership;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 16, 2014 – “A rash of actual and potential death penalty cases left the Wyoming Public Defender’s Office pinched for money last year, the agency’s director said Wednesday.  The office spent $665,000 on seven potential cases between July 1, 2012 and Oct. 31, 2013 compared to only one capital case in the past two budget cycles, Diane Lozano said during a budget hearing before the Legislature’s Joint Appropriations Committee.”  “Lozano said she had to ask Gov. Matt Mead for authority to hire an additional attorney and may need to ask for a second.  She is asking the Legislature for an immediate appropriation of $370,000 to replace dollars borrowed from other agency accounts to pay costs of the capital cases.”  While at this point the office is able to handle these cases, the money needed for mitigation investigations has not been forthcoming.  Linda Burt, director of the Wyoming chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Wednesday said it’s important that defendants get the best representation they can.  The ACLU will be monitoring the situation as well in the coming year.  (Billings Gazette)

January 17, 2014 – The Ohio Association of Civil Trial Attorneys’ annual Law Student Diversity Scholarship program is open to incoming second- and third-year African American, Hispanic, Asian, Pan Asian and Native American students enrolled at Ohio law schools.  Incoming second- and third-year female law students enrolled at Ohio law schools also are eligible regardless of race or ethnicity.  Up to two scholarships worth $1,250 each will be awarded to successful applicants.  Applicants are required to submit a completed application, law school transcript and a cover letter addressing the following: academic, personal and professional accomplishments and why they should be selected as a recipient of the scholarship. Applicants can submit up to three letters of recommendation.  The completed application and all other requested material must be received by April 18. Winners will be announced in June.  The 2014 OACTA Law Student Diversity Scholarship Application can be found at  (The News-Messenger)

January 17, 2014 – Goodwin Procter LLP, a national AmLaw 50 firm, today announced its 2014 Public Interest Fellowships for Law Students of Color program, which provides awards of $7,500 to law students of color who demonstrate outstanding academic performance, leadership skills and a commitment to community service. The fellowships are designed to help support students who plan to work in public interest law positions in the summer following their first year of law school. This year, four fellowships will be awarded. Application guidelines and forms are available online; the application deadline is March 14, 2014.  (Herald Online)

January 19, 2014 – “The ABA is weighing a comprehensive proposal to change the Accreditation Standards for American law schools. The proposal, developed during an administrative process conducted by the ABA over the past several years, touches on many important aspects of legal education and law school accreditation, including pro bono service, experiential learning credit requirements, and law professors’ tenure.”  With respect to pro bono, the current Standards require law schools to provide students with “substantial” opportunities to perform pro bono service, without defining the term “substantial.”  The National Center for Access to Justice and Equal Justice Works, in separate comments, have urged the ABA to modify the standards regarding law student pro bono service to specify the number of hours.  By memorandum issued September 6, 2014, the ABA has invited submission of Comments by January 31, 2014 in anticipation of a hearing that will be held at the ABA on February 5th and 6th, 2014.  Comments received by the ABA are posted on the ABA’s Notice & Comment web site.  Law students can weigh in on the issue by signing a petition initiated by EJW.  (NCAF Blog)

January 22, 2014 – “A commission meant to help residents gain better access to the state’s justice system released a three-year plan Wednesday that recommends creating forms in “plain language” and asks attorneys to do more charitable and free work.  In its strategic plan, the West Virginia Access to Justice Commission says it will continue to examine and identify barriers West Virginians face while utilizing the legal system.”  One recommendation is to develop a “self-help center” and an online assistance center.  The idea is to “provide assistance to those who may have been turned away from Legal Aid due to funding cuts or statutory restrictions and provides an opportunity for attorneys to engage in pro bono work, the report states.”  (The Charleston Gazette)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  “Since the Great Recession, it has been a challenging time for nonprofits. In addition to struggling with dwindling financial resources, they have had to comply with new federal and state regulations regarding transparency, accountability and governance. Some have sought strategic alliances or merged with others in order to survive.  Fortunately, many nonprofits in the greater New York metro region and beyond have been able to become more viable in fulfilling their missions, thanks to the services of a very unique resource. It is the Pro Bono Partnership, a dedicated staff of 18 professionals including nine lawyers who supervise hundreds of volunteer attorneys in providing pro bono services to qualified nonprofits that serve the disadvantaged or enhance the quality of life in neighborhoods. Among the legal issues addressed are corporate structure and governance, real estate, employment law, environmental law, compliance with state and federal regulations, fundraising, lobbying, intellectual property among others.”  What makes the Partnership unique is that they are the only organization in the country that is focused primarily with corporate in-house counsels and the only one that is doing so in several states.  In addition to serving the nonprofit communities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, the partnership recently started an affiliate in Atlanta and is in the process of establishing another in Cincinnati.  To read more about it’s founding and the amazing work they are doing, see the Westchester Business Journal.
Super Music Bonus!  A little cool jazz for a cool day.

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