Archive for October, 2014

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 31, 2014

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

Happy Halloween everyone!  What great week we had celebrating National Pro Bono Week!  Thank you to all those who worked so hard to make it happen.  It is a great reminder of what we can do when we come together as a community.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • 6 NY Counties take part in study of state funding;
  • South Carolina Legal Services receives its first EJW AmeriCorps Fellow;
  • DOJ names new head of Access to Justice Initiative;
  • No deal on legal aid funding at justice ministers’ meeting;
  • Panel finds MD poor deserve free counsel for family law cases;
  • LSC awards nearly $3.5 Mil in technology grants;
  • Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services received HUD grant;
  • Legal Aid of East TN gets DOJ grant;
  • NYCLU reaches public defender agreement;
  • 13 MD organizations receive funds to combat violence against women;
  • Ontario raises eligibility threshold for legal aid;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants:  Quakers, Abigail Adams, Sarah Grimke, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 17, 2014 – Six counties have been chosen to be part of a two-year study to determine whether state funding is solving the problem of underrepresentation of the poor and underserved in court.  “The University at Albany announced Oct. 2 that it will continue its partnership with the state Office of Indigent Legal Services to research the state of legal counsel for the underserved upstate, evaluating the impact of $12 million in state funding spent on tackling the issue. The study is fueled by a $381,402 grant from the National Institute of Justice.  The study is based on ‘counsel at first appearance,’ a concept that guarantees a person can speak with an attorney after being arrested, and before appearing in court.  ILS Director of Research Andrew Davies, a co-investigator on the study, said having no access to an attorney before court can mean jail time without discussion of bail.”  (Watertown Daily Times)

October 17, 2014 – “South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) is excited to announce that it has been selected by Equal Justice Works to host its first-ever AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works Fellow. Lonnie R. Doles, a 2014 graduate of the University of South Carolina School of Law, will be serving as an Employment Opportunity Fellow to provide legal assistance to remove barriers to employment for unemployed or underemployed people who are actively seeking to join the labor market. This assistance will include expungement of minor criminal records, correcting errors in criminal records, restoring driver’s licenses and occupational licenses, and providing other legal assistance aimed at helping individuals get to work. The fellowship will last for one year with the possibility of renewal for second year.”  (SCLS)

October 17, 2014 – “A former California judge who had been the head of California Common Cause, Lisa Foster, has been named the director of the Justice Department’s ‘Access to Justice”’Initiative, officials familiar with the appointment told BuzzFeed News.  The initiative, started by Attorney General Eric Holder in March 2010, aims ‘to address the access-to-justice crisis in the criminal and civil justice system’ by helping to ensure that the justice system is accessible to all people, regardless of income.”  (BuzzFeed News)

October 17, 2014 – “Federal, provincial and territorial justice ministers were unable to reach a deal in meetings this week on increased funding from Ottawa for legal aid. The issue was at the top of the agenda at a two-day meeting in Banff, Alta., that wrapped up Friday. Ottawa used to split the cost of the program 50-50, but now only chips in about 16 per cent. Since 2003, there has been no new federal funding to the program, leaving it to provinces to make up the difference.”  “This is an ongoing issue and discussion with respect to the amount and the support and the distribution of federal funding for legal aid,” said Justice Minister Peter MacKay, who called the discussions constructive and “very frank.”  “I can assure you there have been no doors closed but we’re very encouraged by innovations, by efficiencies that have been identified, these are discussions that are very important and will continue.”  (CP24 News)

October 17, 2014 – “[A] state task force this month recommended assigning free lawyers in certain family-law cases, and spending nearly $8 million over four years to help the poorest Marylanders work through the complex court system.” “The Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland is a group of judges, attorneys, delegates and state senators that has been meeting since December to discuss the benefits of providing legal representation to low-income people involved in civil disputes.”  “A bill, sponsored by Del. Sandy Rosenberg, D-Baltimore, outlining the task force’s recommendations, will be introduced to the legislature at the start of the next session, which begins on Jan. 14, said Dumais, who plans to co-sponsor the bill.”  (Southern Maryland Online)

October 17, 2014 – “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) today released a list of 38 projects nationwide that will receive Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) funding in 2014. The grants will support a variety of initiatives, including user-friendly online tools for women veterans, mobile delivery of legal services for clients using text messaging, and video-conferencing technology that reaches low-income clients in rural areas. Since its start in 2000, LSC’s TIG program has funded 570 technology projects totaling more than $46 million. With this funding, legal aid organizations have built a network of websites serving both attorneys and clients nationwide, developed easy-to-use online forms, incorporated video technology into service delivery, and enhanced support for pro bono lawyers.”  Click on the article to see which organizations received grants.  (LSC)

October 17, 2014 – “The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Wednesday awarded $450,000 to Southwestern Pennsylvania Legal Services Inc. for education and outreach under the Fair Housing Act.  The agency, based in Washington, said the goal is to make people aware of illegal acts affecting themselves or others in their community because of their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability, and the rights available to them.”  (
October 20, 2014 – “The Department of Justice is giving Legal Aid of East Tennessee a $500,000 grant to help serve victims of domestic violence as part of the Violence Against Women Act.  The group typically provides services to individuals whose income is at or below the poverty line and a grant like this helps them serve more victims. ‘This grant allows us to serve people that are above that 125% of poverty level, and I think the Department of Justice realizes that victims of domestic violence often are in financial situations where their hands are tied, and they might not have access to family resources where other people might be able to pay a lawyer. So we have a little bit of leeway when it comes to serving folks who are a little above our normal income guideline,’ said Debra House, director of Legal Aid of East Tennessee. They have gotten this grant before but it previously was not renewed.”  (WBIR)
October 21, 2014 – “The New York Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Schulte Roth & Zabel LLP today announced a historic settlement that overhauls public defense in five counties and lays the foundation for statewide reform of New York’s broken public defense system. By entering into the agreement, the state is taking responsibility for providing public defense for the first time in the more than 50 years since the Supreme Court held that it is a state obligation.”  “Under the agreement, the state will adopt major reforms focusing on five New York counties – Ontario, Onondaga (Syracuse), Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington – that were chosen because their public defense systems are all different and cover communities large and small, but are all emblems of New York’s flawed approach. The agreement will last 7½ years and is subject to court approval.”  Click on the article for the provisions of the agreement.  (NYCLU)
October 26, 2014 – “U.S. Senators Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin (both D-Md.) announced that thirteen organizations in Maryland have received a total of $8,286,161 in grants from the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) for efforts around the state that will help protect women and families from domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking and other dating violence. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. These funds are authorized by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), legislation introduced in 1994 by then-Senator Joe Biden which Senator Mikulski cosponsored. Senators Mikulski and Cardin have both fought to reauthorize the legislation, most recently 2013. Senator Mikulski is Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Commerce, Justice, Science (CJS) Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds VAWA programs administered by DOJ and OVW.”  Click on the article for a list of the organizations.  (
October 30, 2014 – “Ontario is moving forward with a plan that will allow over one million more people to qualify for legal aid services. Ontario will raise the income level — also known as the eligibility threshold — at which people can qualify for legal aid assistance. Once fully implemented, an additional one million low-income people will have access to legal aid services — more than double the number of people eligible for legal aid services today. The 2014 budget includes an initial investment of $95.7 million to increase the eligibility threshold by six per cent for the first three years of the plan. The first increase will take place on Nov. 1, 2014.”  (Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Society of Friends (the Quakers), Abigail Adams, Sarah Grimke, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth.  What do these and  many more individuals have in common?  They worked tirelessly to ensure that all men and women were free and had the right to vote.  A mid-term election is coming up next week, which generally means lower voter turnout.  Keep in mind the struggles of others to ensure our right to vote, and exercise your rights come Tuesday.

Super Music Bonus!  



Sam’s Soapbox: Detroit’s Water Crisis & What it Means for EVERY US City

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015

First, the news:

One of the many community water stations that have emerged in response to the ongoing crisis in Detroit.
Citizens of Detroit: whistleblowers, not freeloaders.
(Photo: People’s Water Brigade-CC License)

Yesterday afternoon, two UN-appointed human rights investigators with mandates to understand and develop the human right to adequate housing and the human right to water (respectively) concluded their three-day investigation into Detroit’s ongoing humanitarian crisis with a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Riverfront Hotel.

According to their press release, the UN experts were “deeply startled” by the magnitude of people affected: “thousands of households are living in fear that their water may be shut off at any time without due notice, that they may have to leave their homes and that children may be taken by child protection services as houses without water are deemed uninhabitable for children.” As the UN News Center reports, the Special Rapporteur on the human right to water was particularly blunt: “It is contrary to human rights to disconnect water from people who simply do not have the means to pay their bills.” The UN investigators called on the City of Detroit, the Federal government, and other lawmaking authorities to take a variety of steps to remedy Detroit’s problems and to protect against similar vulnerabilities elsewhere.

When people ask me what I would do if I could work on anything, I don’t blink: Water Affordability. This moment seems a perfect time to grab my first soapbox. Every once in awhile, I’ll take a break from more typical PSJD blogging to write about issues that matter to me personally as an advocate. This is a big one. The recent UN visit to Detroit invites a few questions which I’ll try to address in this post: First, is access to water for domestic uses a human right? Second, are thousands of people in Detroit really without the means to pay their bills? And third, why are some of the UN’s recommendations aimed at government actors generally—isn’t this a Detroit problem? In brief: yes, yes, and no.

The Human Right to Water – An Emergent Norm

Access to water for drinking and sanitation is a human right. It is explicitly mentioned in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights has discussed at length the right’s implicit presence within the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ (ICESCR) “right to an adequate standard of living.” Within the last few years, the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council have adopted resolutions formally recognizing the human right to water.

Granted, UN resolutions are not binding, and the United States has not ratified either CEDAW or the ICESCR. That’s likely why the Special Rapporteur’s comments yesterday were carefully shaded, discussing Detroit’s disconnections as “contrary to,” rather than “a violation of,” human rights.  That doesn’t make her wrong. The idea that human beings have a right to water for limited domestic purposes (drinking, cooking, washing, sanitation) and that states must progressively realize this right among the people they govern is an increasingly well-accepted international norm. Other countries may not have the means to provide water, but we do. And yet we do not. We are disconnecting thousands of people from water services for circumstances beyond their control, contrary to this emergent norm. Whether the United States has a legal obligation or not, it has failed its people in the eyes of the international community. That ought to be a big deal.

Water Affordability – A Nationwide Issue

So far, though, I’ve assumed that people losing access to water in Detroit have no control over their situation. As the Special Rapporteur said, disconnections are contrary to human rights only if the people disconnected “do not have the means to pay their bills.” How do I know that the residents of Detroit—half of whom were subject to disconnection notices this past summer—are actually that insolvent? It may be difficult to accept, but water is increasingly priced beyond the reach of many low-income families.

We’re used to thinking of water as inexpensive because for a long time the way we’ve managed it has prevented us from feeling the true cost of water service. For one thing, we’ve deferred maintenance on our water system for so long that estimates for the cost of renovations run from the hundreds of billions to the low trillions. Moreover, when we do pay up, it’ll be in a financial regime under which rate-payers are covering a much higher proportion of the tab than they used to. In previous phases of infrastructure development, state and federal governments would cover some costs in the form of grants. In the 1980s, we replaced these grants with loans, pushing water systems to charge their customers full-cost or nearly full-cost rates (see page 21). In the last 20 years, regular ratepayers have financed 90% of water and wastewater investments in the United States.

Logically, low-income households are the first to feel the pressure. The US Conference of Mayors and the American Water Works Association consider water to be “unaffordable” for households which must devote more than 2% of their monthly income to water bills. Little data available describes how many people in the United States live under these conditions, but what there is is discouraging. For example, the Pacific Institute recently estimated that over 100,000 households in the Sacramento region pay more than this 2% threshold. (Not people, households.)

As far as I know, most of these Sacramento households are still paying for water. The Pacific Institute’s study merely suggests they’re seriously struggling to afford their bills. Rules for how water utilities may proceed against customers in arrears vary from location to location, but many utilities will disconnect customers who fail to pay them. This measure might make sense in a system where water is cheap enough to be readily affordable for most people. In such a system, being disconnected would be a wakeup call to poorly-organized or dishonest individuals to take out their wallets and pay into the system. Disconnections would be brief, and would prevent anyone from freeloading.

But we don’t live in that system. When people genuinely can’t afford their water bills, they can’t simply pay up. Even if they find the money (and Detroit has had some success with collections through its shutoff campaign), qualitative research in Detroit and Boston suggests that families often turn their water back on by giving up prescription medications, food, or other essential goods also protected by human rights principles. If they can’t find the money, prolonged disconnections create severe consequences for affected families who find themselves unable to bathe at home (making it harder to stay employed), unable to cook or do laundry, forced to send children to live with relatives so child protective services won’t place them in foster care, and at risk of losing their homes entirely.

Struggling households aren’t asking for water to be free. Only for it to be affordable. If it were, some experts think water utilities might actually collect more revenue, not less. When customers genuinely can’t afford their bills, disconnecting them is more likely to result in default. The utility loses one of its customers, and must raise rates on every other customer in order to pay off the fixed cost of its infrastructure. If water utilities were to keep customers paying into the system at whatever rate they could manage (based on ability to pay), they would be able to put more toward these fixed costs than if they leave many former customers disconnected.

Looking Beyond Detroit

So far, much of the coverage of Detroit’s water crisis has assumed that the problem is specific to Detroit. I hope I’ve made the case it isn’t. As a nation, we’ve under-financed our water infrastructure and changed our finance strategies to rely on local ratepayers instead of state or federal tax dollars. As water becomes unaffordable for many Americans (just how many is hard to determine), the collections policies of many of our water utilities continue to assume it’s cheap. Detroit isn’t the only city where water disconnections are causing widespread human suffering: the problem is also significant in more prosperous cities like Boston. We don’t know how many such cities there are, and any city where large numbers of households struggle with their water bills is one economic shock away from the level of injustice and suffering that’s brought the United Nations’ humanitarian experts to Detroit’s doorstep. The citizens of Detroit who have been struggling to call attention to this issue for years are not freeloaders, but whistleblowers, working valiantly to inform the public of a hidden danger to us all.

I think the UN’s independent experts understand this. Speaking yesterday, they directed their recommendations not only to the City of Detroit but to the country generally. With one recommendation in particular, I think they’ve identified the smallest, simplest and easiest first step: They want federal and state agencies to deny funding and permits to water utilities that refuse to report annually on their water shutoff practices. From talking with non-profits focused on this issue, I’ve learned that the reason there’s little information about water affordability is because water utilities have resisted non-profits’ questions about their customer bases and survey methods like those used in Sacramento and Boston are difficult and expensive to implement. Tying utilities’ funding and development permissions to these reporting requirements would require only a small commitment from governments, but would generate the information we all need to truly understand the scale of this problem and –hopefully–will bring us one step closer to forming the political resolve we need to fix it.


EJW’s NEW Immigrant Children’s Defense Corps Seeks Fellows to Begin Dec. 1st

From our friends at EJW:

Last month, we announced some very exciting news about a new justice AmeriCorps program that will fund legal assistance to unaccompanied immigrant children facing deportation. The new Immigrant Children’s Defense Corps is an initiative of that program, and we are now recruiting fellows to begin by Dec. 1!

About Immigrant Children’s Defense Corps

The Immigrant Children’s Defense Corps is an initiative of the new justice AmeriCorps program. Through this initiative, Equal Justice Works is partnering with Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC), Kids In Need of Defense (KIND), and the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) to place 55 legal professionals – lawyers and paralegals – in 14 cities across the United States.

We have created a separate website,, with more details on this new initiative, including how to apply and how you can help support the Immigrant Children’s Defense Corps.

Applications are now being accepted

Interested individuals should apply as soon as possible and must be ready to start Dec. 1! Applicants should submit materials directly to the host organization(s) of interest. A list of host organizations and their contact information is available at

Special opportunity to meet our host organizations

We have set aside a special room at our Conference and Career Fair Oct. 24-25 for host organizations to interview and network with any recent graduates interested in applying for positions this fall. Law school professionals and current students also are invited to stop by and learn more about the program and our host organizations. You can learn more about Conference and Career Fair on our website.

Recent graduates do not have to register for the entire event to take advantage of this opportunity. Fill out this form to sign up for updates, and let us know if you’ll be attending.


Additional information about this new initiative is available at Feel free to email us at with any questions about the program.


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 17, 2014

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

Happy Friday everyone!  Next week is National Pro Bono Week!   There are great events happening all over the country.  Now is the time to recommit to serving your community.  One of the events next week is the NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference.  I’m looking forward to seeing all of you there.  As such, our next Digest will be on October 31st.  Enjoy next week celebrating all the wonderful law students and lawyers who give back to their community so selflessly.  And thank you!!!

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • There is still time to register for the PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference;
  • NLADA launches;
  • San Francisco court workers hold one-day strike
  • UT Law receives gift for Pro Bono Program;
  • HUD awards $325,000 to combat MN housing discrimination;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants:  Celebrate National Pro Bono Week;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 13, 2014 – Public interest career counselors, pro bono program managers, and other public-service career professionals from the law school and employer communities are invited to attend the 2014 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference on Thursday, October 23rd at the Washington, DC office of O’Melveny & Myers LLP with additional programming for newcomers and a welcome reception on Wednesday, October 22nd.  Register here!

October 13, 2014 – The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) has launched a new website called  “Thanks to a generous grant from the Public Welfare Foundation, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association has developed this research database providing free access to research reports and other documents about evidence-based practices and research results on civil legal aid. The site provides access to over 250 different studies, which are now ready to browse.” (MassLegal Services)

October 14, 2014 – “A one-day strike held by San Francisco Superior Court workers with Service Employees International Union Local 1021 at courthouses across the city Tuesday slowed down the city’s justice system, court officials said.  SEIU Local 1021 workers set up picket lines at the city’s three courthouses, alleging that court management is bargaining over their labor contracts in bad faith.”  “The union filed charges with the state’s Public Employment Relations Board alleging that the court has refused to bargain over mandatory issues, withheld information from the union so it can bargain properly and has threatened the jobs of union members at the bargaining table.  Michael Yuen, the court executive officer for the San Francisco Superior Court, has been bargaining with the union since March and said the alleged unfair labor practices charge is ‘bogus.'”  (NBC Bay Area)

October 15, 2014 – “A recent $1 million gift to The University of Texas School of Law from Richard and Virginia “Ginni” Mithoff of Houston will support the school’s Pro Bono Program. The gift brings the Mithoffs’ total contributions to the program to $2 million.  By participating in the Pro Bono Program, students increase access to justice and build their professional skills by assisting individuals and communities in need.  The program will be renamed the Richard and Ginni Mithoff Pro Bono Program to acknowledge the donors who first supported it with an initial $1 million gift at its founding five years ago. The Mithoffs’ recent donation will increase the endowment for the program.” (UTexas News)

October 15, 2014 – “The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced Wednesday that it is awarding $325,000 in grants to a Minneapolis group working to combat housing discrimination.  ‘These funds support community-based organizations that do great work every day on the front lines in the fight for fairness and equality in our nation’s housing market,’ HUD Secretary Julián Castro said in a news release.  Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, which serves the working poor through several offices in 20 counties, was awarded the grant through the housing agency’s Fair Housing Initiatives Program. The money is to be used to help educate ‘housing providers, local governments and potential victims of housing discrimination about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act.'”  (StarTribune Minneapolis)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: 

The National Pro Bono Celebration focuses the nation’s attention on the increased need for pro bono services during these challenging economic times and celebrates the outstanding work of lawyers who volunteer their services throughout the year. It is essential that the entire legal community engage in conversation and action that results in equal access to justice for all. The energy generated by the National Pro Bono Celebration is a powerful force that helps us build a just legal system.   The ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service chose to launch this important initiative because of the increasing need for pro bono services during these harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand.  Find an event in your area and celebrate!!

Super Music Bonus!  


Progressive Lawyer talks with PSJD.

Progressive Lawyer is a new digital hub connecting lawyers and law students with socially progressive organizations and law firms active in social justice and public interest advocacy.  This week, I had a chance to speak with Mark Boudreau about PSJD and how it connects the public sector community.  They had a great conversation with Appleseed last week, and look to be doing some wonderful work in bringing information to the public sector.  Check out the PSJD article and this new resource for bringing the community together.


2014 Pro Bono Publico Award Winner Announced!

We are very pleased to announce the 2014 Pro Bono Publico Award Winner: Alex Dutton from Temple University Beasley School of Law.  This year we selected 6 finalists and then had to choose a winner from a VERY competitive pool.  It was so tough, we’ve also selected two Merit Distinction recipients as well.  All three will be guest bloggers for the PSJD Blog.

In addition, we will be presenting Alex with his award (and his $1,000) at Temple.  I look forward to meeting him, his family, and all those who helped him create the Youth Court Program at Strawberry Mansion High School.

Here is the full announcement, with all the great finalists.  We are so grateful to them for their incredible work!!!

20th Annual PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award

This prestigious award honors one law student nationwide for their pro bono contributions to society, and recognizes the significant contributions that law students make to underserved populations, the public interest community, and legal education through public service work.


Alex Dutton

Temple University Beasley School of Law

In 2012, as a 1L, Alex volunteered to assist with Philadelphia’s first Youth Court, located at Strawberry Mansion High Schoolthe only high school on the Philadelphia School District’s list of “persistently dangerous schools. Youth Court initiatives are exercises in restorative justice, using positive peer pressure to reshape student behavior and interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline by providing an alternative to suspension for students who commit minor offenses. Philadelphia’s new program had significant expertise behind it: it was backed by the US Attorney’s Office and run by Mr. Greg Volz, a seasoned practitioner who had already implemented Youth Courts successfully elsewhere. Even among such company, Alex distinguished himself by teaching as much as he learned. In order to reach students overtly distrustful of anyone associated with the criminal justice system, he convinced his supervisor to set aside the Court manual temporarily and meet with students in small groups so the students could take the lead and educate the program staff and volunteers about their lives and their values. (Alex later added to the manual and helped create new curricula.) Alex’s involvement with the program has continued throughout his law school career, as he has successfully attracted other law students from all six Philadelphia region law schools to support the city’s burgeoning Youth Court programs.

In his letter of recommendation, Mr. Volz summarized best the impact of Alex’s contribution to the Youth Court program and to the Philadelphia community: “Alex[‘s] efforts have sparked a potential paradigm shift in law school pro bono activity and shown how youth courts help disadvantaged youth help themselves.” 


Shannon Johnson

Boston College Law School

Shannon is a multi-talented advocate single-mindedly dedicated to immigrant youtha group whose concerns she has been addressing in one way or another since she first encountered them at age 18. As the inaugural student in Boston College Law School’s hybrid crimmigration clinic, she assisted her clinical supervisors as they developed the program into an official course at Boston College. Shannon’s recommenders focused on her ability to adapt her strategy and tactics to the idiosyncrasies of a wide range of legal fora and to the changing wishes and circumstances of her clients. They speak of her “enormous respect” for her clients, and her “incredible ability” to understand their complicated lives and serve them in a holistic fashion. In addition to her work helping develop Boston College Law’s new clinical program, Shannon partnered with the Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project to create a pro bono project in which law students of all levels represent detained non-citizens requesting releases on bond.

Alexander Gamez

Southwestern Law School

Alexander leads by example. As a 2L, he recruited 50 other students (an unprecedented number) to consistently volunteer as part of the Children’s Deportation Defense Project (CDDP), a pro bono program he founded in collaboration with the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project. Esperanza attorneys have been able to screen five times as many children in sessions in which they have the CDDP’s help. Alexander is himself the CDDP’s most prolific volunteer. Without Alexander’s personal and structural contributions to their work, Ms. Carolina Garza De Luna, Esperanza’s Pro Bono Coordinator believes her organization “would not have been able to respond to the surge of demand for legal screenings for unaccompanied alien children.” Alexander also heads Southwestern Law School’s chapter of the National Lawyers’ Guild, through which he trained and recruited many students to participate in the NLG’s new Immigration Court Watch Program. The NLG’s Mr. James Lafferty believes that Southwestern owes its status as one of the Guild’s most active chapters in the L.A. area to Alexander’s “inspirational leadership.”

Alexander best expressed the source of his own inspiration: “My parents went through all of the hurdles of obtaining legal status and eventually obtained US citizenship. Now, although people can still question their immigration status, they cannot, however, take it away from them…Each of my clients has had a profound effect on my legal capacity to assist others and my attitude towards life by giving me a newfound appreciation on what it means to live without the constant fear of being taken away at [any] second.”


Matt Brooks, Boston College Law School.

Revived Boston College’s chapter of the Foreclosure Taskforce. Created a housing search workshop for Greater Boston Legal Services.

Katherine Collins, California Western School of Law

Worked over 500 hours of uncredited, unpaid pro bono service for Human Rights Watch.

Kristine CruzSMU Dedman School of Law [Nominated by Mosaic Family Services]

Went beyond the terms of her internship to design training materials for legal interns and pro bono attorneys, resulting in large-scale, systemic impact on Mosaic’s work.



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EJW Fellowship Deadlines EXTENDED for Animal Rights, Texas Orgs

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015

If you’re not sure what to do with your weekend, here’s a suggestion: consider applying for an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Regular readers may recall that in my post on Project-Based Fellowships a few weeks back, I noted that Equal Justice Works Fellowships are about the most prominent (along with Skadden Fellowships). An EJW Fellowship is a fantastic start to a public interest career: By the organization’s own count, over 85% of Fellows are able to continue their careers in public interest. A number of them go on to become the Executive Directors of legal service organizations or found their own organizations themselves.

At this point, though, you may be confused. After all, the initial application deadline for EJW Fellowships was September 17th. But that’s why I’m excited: Equal Justice Works has extended the application deadlines for two subsets of their Project-Based Fellowships. Specifically, if you’re interested in working on a variety of legal aid issues in Texas or on Animal Law issues anywhere, you should strongly consider reaching out to organizations to create project proposals right now. In Texas, one foundation issuing EJW grants would like to see a larger pool of applications before it begins to evaluate its candidates. In the Animal Law field, it seems as though the overall demand was greater than initial interest. Either way, if you’re interested in these two areas its not too late to apply for an EJW Fellowship this year! Here’s how EJW explained their decision to extend these deadlines:

Texas Access to Justice Foundation Grantee Fellowships:

“We recently learned that Equal Justice Works’ applicant pool for the 2015-16 Class has very few applicants with [Texas Access to Justice Foundation] grantees as the host organization. While TAJF has made no decision regarding any current applicants, they have asked Equal Justice Works to re-open the application to diversity the pool. Again, the quality of the current candidates has not yet been reviewed or judged—this decision is about the total number of applications received. All applicants will be carefully reviewed once the pool is complete…The new deadline for these Fellowship applications is December 1, 2014 at 5:00pm EST. Should you have any questions please contact Carolyn Schorr at or (202) 466-3686 ext. 137. To speak to TAJF about this opportunity, please contact Lisa Melton at”

EJW also directs potential applicants to this list of Texas Access to Justice Foundation’s grantees.

Animal Law Fellowships:

“Equal Justice Works is extending the deadline for applicants interested in working on Animal Law issues! There is a growing demand for strong candidates with top quality projects across the country. You now have until November 15th, 2014 to submit an application…If you have questions about Equal Justice Works Fellowships, please visit our website or contact”

Good luck with your project proposals!


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 10, 2014

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

Happy Friday everyone!  Today is World Mental Health Day.  Take a little time to assess your own mental health today, and perhaps reach out to someone you suspect is struggling.

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

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Neighborhood Legal Services celebrates 50 years;
  • Social Security seeks MD attorneys for pro bono pilot project;
  • Ohio agencies awarded $19 mil in grants for crime victim services;
  • Canada pledges 9.76 mil CAD to Ukranian Legal Aid Project;
  • New pro bono clinic at UVA Law investigates claims of false conviction;
  • STAR awarded $1 mil in grants to expand services;
  • Legal Aid Ontario invests $600,000 to support domestic violence survivors;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants:  Former President Jimmy Carter;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 3, 2014 – Celebrating the 50th anniversary of Washington’s Neighborhood Legal Services Program, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. praised the program’s lawyers for carrying on their work ‘with remarkable tenacity’ despite budget cuts and other obstacles in recent years.  “The program, which began in 1964, put lawyers in some of the District’s poorest communities. At one time the program had 10 offices across the city, but budget cuts forced it to scale back its operations. Today, the program has three offices in Wards 5, 7 and 8.”  “A grantee of the federal Legal Services Corp., the organization has struggled in recent years to cope with more cuts in funding. But Executive Director Hannah Lieberman said in her remarks Thursday that the program had ‘rebounded’ from those losses and that its ‘future is bright.’  ‘We continue to strive to eradicate many of the same inequities that existed when we started,’ Lieberman said.”  (National Law Journal Legal Times)

October 3, 2014 – “Implementation of a pro bono pilot in Maryland for attorneys interested in being a representative payee for a Social Security beneficiary was announced today by Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security. Representative payees, she said, provide crucial help to the most vulnerable individuals in our community with their Social Security and Supplemental Security Income payments.  ‘The Maryland Representative Payee Pro Bono Pilot offers attorneys a chance to fulfill the Court of Appeals’ aspirational goal of providing pro bono services – by assisting the young, elderly, and disabled with their Social Security benefits,’ Colvin said. ‘Attorneys are held to high ethical standards and will serve this at-risk population with the compassion and integrity they deserve.'”  “Payees receive monthly payments on behalf of the beneficiary and use the funds to meet the individual’s basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter. They also keep records and ensure that Social Security funds are used to care for the recipient. Once the pilot is successful in Maryland, the agency will consider expanding to states nationwide.” (

October 3, 2014 – “Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced this week that he has awarded 282 Ohio crime victim services agencies with a total of nearly 19 million in grant funds. The programs receiving funding include: domestic violence shelters; human trafficking outreach centers; aged-out foster youth initiatives; sexual, elder, and child abuse programs; legal aid initiatives; and court appointed special advocate programs.  The funding was awarded as Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and/or State Victims Assistance Act (SVAA) grant funding for 2014-2015.” (

October 3, 2014 – “The authorities of Canada have pledged 9.76 million Canadian dollars ($8.6 million) to Ukraine within the Quality and Accessible Legal Aid program, Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development stated.  ‘Today, I am pleased to announce that we are contributing $9.76 million towards the Quality and Accessible Legal Aid project,’ James Bezan from the Canadian House of Commons said in a statement published on the ministry’s website Friday.  According to the statement, the project will enable the vulnerable stratum of the Ukrainian population to protect their rights.”  (RIANovosti)

October 3, 2014 – “A new extracurricular pro bono effort at the University of Virginia School of Law is giving students hands-on experience investigating potential false convictions in the state’s criminal justice system and supporting the work of the school’s Innocence Project Clinic.  The Virginia Innocence Project Pro Bono Clinic recently transitioned from being a student-run organization (the former Virginia Innocence Project Student Group, or VIPS) to an independent clinic, but still operates with the same mission. Students vet claims of innocence from Virginia convicts who have exhausted all other avenues for appeal. The pro bono clinic exists separately from the Law School’s for-credit Innocence Project Clinic, and the work is done under the supervision of Innocence Project Clinic interim director Deirdre Enright.”  (University of Virginia School of Law)

October 6, 2014 – “Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response (STAR) was awarded two competitive funding grants totaling $1 million to refine and expand its services, the center announced on Monday.  ‘We are thrilled to receive this much-needed funding to expand our services to sexual assault survivors,’ Racheal Hebert, executive director of STAR said in the release. ‘These projects will allow STAR to strengthen our direct advocacy services to survivors, create new services to address the legal needs of survivors, enhance collaboration with our medical and criminal justice partners, and develop regional protocols to address sexual assault in the Capital Region.’ The first $500,000 grant comes courtesy of The Legal Assistance for Victims Program. It is a three-year grant aimed at providing legal services for sexual assault survivors.”  “The second grant, totaling $650,000 over a three-year period, comes via The Grants to Encourage Arrest Programs, which awarded the Louisiana Department of Justice and Attorney General the money.  According to the release, the Attorney General has subcontracted with STAR to rectify a lack of coordinated community response to sexual assault.”  (The Daily Reveille)

October 8, 2014 – “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) is investing $600,000 over three years in a partnership with Luke’s Place, a centre devoted solely to improving the safety and experience of abused women and their children as they proceed through the family law process. This investment is to help improve access to justice for women who have experienced domestic violence.  Luke’s Place will work with the new family law service centre in Oshawa to provide a safe, supportive site for low-income abused women.”  (CNW)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: 

On this day in 2002, former President Jimmy Carter wins the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”  After he left office in 1981, Carter and his wife Rosalynn created the Atlanta-based Carter Center in 1982 to advance human rights and alleviate human suffering. Since 1984, they have worked with Habitat for Humanity to build homes and raise awareness of homelessness. Among his many accomplishments, Carter has helped to fight disease and improve economic growth in developing nations and has served as an observer at numerous political elections around the world.  You can read more about the Carter Center and Mr. Carter’s great work.

Super Music Bonus!  On this date in 1935, the first American opera Porgy and Bess opens.


The Evolution of DC Pro Bono Week

As we get ready for Pro Bono Week 2014, here is a great example of how a community came together to do good work and sustain pro bono throughout the year in Washington, D.C.

The Evolution of DC Pro Bono Week

Each week in October, DC Pro Bono Week serves as a companion to the ABA’s Celebrate Pro Bono Week. Although it started small, DC Pro Bono Week is now a vibrant celebration – featuring a range of activities, events, and trainings designed to provide legal services and get more people involved in pro bono work. The evolution of DC Pro Bono Week into its current form has resulted from extensive collaboration, with many people from many organizations rolling up their sleeves.

The Inception

In 2009, Dechert’s pro bono partner, Suzie Turner, launched an informal working group that planned activities to promote DC Pro Bono Week. Merely by announcing a meeting on a listserv of DC legal services providers, she got attorneys from nonprofits, law firms, and law schools to come together and think about ways to celebrate DC’s pro bono community and encourage more attorneys to do pro bono work.

These haphazard meetings produced concrete results; for several years, this working group planned a series of activities around DC Pro Bono Week. The group planned pro bono fairs, where attorneys and law students could meet with pro bono coordinators at legal services organizations – making an initial connection that could grow into a serious pro bono relationship. The group also facilitated a reception in which local judges recognized attorneys who volunteered in court-based programs and thanked them for their service; as well as several other activities and clinics.

A Growth Spurt

The Pro Bono Week committee continued to expand and create major new initiatives:

  • Go Casual for Justice: Go Casual is a citywide fundraiser for the DC Bar Foundation, the largest funder of civil legal services in the District of Columbia. Employees at participating workplaces donate $5 (or more) to wear jeans to work on any day the office designates. In its first year, in 2009, thirty law firms raised $30,000. Over the years, the effort has expanded to include more than 100 law firms, corporate law departments, banks, and other workplaces. Last year, over 100 workplaces of all sizes raised nearly $90,000. These funds have helped to support the DC Bar Foundation’s legal-services grants, trainings, and loan-repayment assistance programs.
  • Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll: Each year, lawyers who did more than fifty hours of pro bono work are encouraged to register for the Capital Pro Bono Honor Roll. Those who did more than 100 hours of service are recognized on the High Honor Roll. Attorneys also receive letters of thanks from the Chief Judges of DC Superior Court and the DC Court of Appeals. The size of the Honor Roll has grown each year.
  • Virtual Pro Bono Fair. Marcia Maack (Mayer Brown) and Becky Troth (Sidley Austin) coordinated this major effort, producing an online resource that is always available to attorneys who want to make a pro bono connection – without leaving their desks. The Pro Bono Week committee was able to obtain free video services, and the gracious hospitality of Pro Bono Net, to host the Virtual Pro Bono Fair online.

A New Home

In 2013, DC Pro Bono Week had grown so much that it needed additional structure – a home, if you will. Washington Council of Lawyers volunteered to be the steward of DC Pro Bono Week. The “open door, all are welcome” approach to DC Pro Bono Week has continued – with the inclusion of law schools, bar associations, and Equal Justice Works, in addition to the law firms and service providers that have participated for years.

Jen Tschirch is a member of the Washington Council of Lawyers board of directors, and the Pro Bono Coordinator at the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law. She chaired the DC Pro Bono Week committee in 2013 and is co-chairing this year (along with another WCL board member, Georgetown Law’s Sara Jackson). According to Jen, “It’s amazing how much this group is able to accomplish by having every participant contribute their small piece of the puzzle. From credit counseling sessions to court and clinic visits to an all-new immigration clinic, it has been inspiring to see so many groups work together to highlight and expand the important pro bono work taking place in Washington, DC.” Perhaps the most amazing part is that DC Pro Bono Week is powered almost entirely by volunteer service and voluntary contributions.

The mission of Washington Council of Lawyers is to promote pro-bono service and public-interest law. Organizing DC Pro Bono Week is a natural fit for this collaborative organization dedicated to increasing the availability of quality legal services to those in need.


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To learn more about DC Pro Bono Week, please visit


You can follow Washington Council of Lawyers on Twitter at @WashLawyers.


Winter is Coming: Homeless Advocates Prep for Cold Weather Services. Can You Help?

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015

As I write, my co-workers are festooning my desk with plastic ghosts and rubber spiders. It’s fall. But while DC’s nights may only be beginning to bite, for homeless advocacy organizations it’s already time to start preparing for winter, when shelter can be a matter of life or death for individuals experiencing homelessness here and in cities around the country. In one way or another, volunteers are often crucial to helping their neighbors make it through the winter. If you want to be involved, the time to begin is now:

Ameriqa [Zach Stern, 25 Jan 2011]
Limited License under Creative Commons

For example, in the District of Columbia formal responsibility for ensuring homeless individuals survive the winter lies with the city. DC’s Homeless Services Reform Act of 2005 provides that the District “shall” provide space indoors for homeless people when the temperature falls below freezing [§7(c)]. It’s one of the few cities in the United States that does so. But as DC’s homeless population has grown to include more families (who have an additional, more expensive right to separate facilities [§7(d)]), these families have become increasingly less welcome in District shelters. In recent years, the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has found DC officials shutting the door on homeless families through “unlawful procedures that have created almost insurmountable obstacles.” According to the Legal Clinic’s 2013 report, DC officials have failed to call hypothermia conditions in a timely fashion after freezing forecasts, denied pregnant women and single fathers shelter placement, and threatened to expel families for unauthorized reasons. This is where you come in.

The Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless has responded by creating the Homeless Family Outreach Project. The project depends on law students and community members willing to serve as volunteers. These volunteers stand in front of the Virginia Williams Family Resource Center, DC’s central intake center for families seeking shelter (920 Rhode Island Avenue NE). They pass out flyers and speak one-on-one with families about the family right to shelter under DC law and other rights crucial to survival under severe weather conditions. They provide families with contact information for local officials so homeless families can speak to decision-makers about their needs. Finally, volunteers connect families who believe they have been unlawfully denied shelter or who have suffered from other legal violations to legal counsel at the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless so that an attorney can try to assist them.

The project itself won’t begin until next month: volunteer outreach runs Monday – Thursday from November 1st to March 31st in two shifts (8:00 – 9:30am and 3:00 – 4:30pm). But volunteers must attend a training before doing outreach. (For more information or to RSVP for a training, contact the Legal Clinic’s volunteer coordinator at or call 202-328-1263.)

Homeless advocacy groups in other cities may not have as strong a legal hook to hang their winter efforts on, but there are groups across the country doing what they can within their own communities to help folks see another Spring. If you’re curious about what work is happening in your own area, you might try looking up the respondent organizations to the National Coalition for the Homeless’ 2010 Report on Winter Homeless Services. If you know what work is happening in your own area and you’d like to receive the same attention from PSJD as the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless, write to me at and I’ll post your volunteer information as an update to this article.