Archive for November, 2014

You Need a Montage: the Resume Makeover Scene

Sam Halpert, 2014 – 2015 PSJD Fellow

So yesterday I confessed to you all that in my own job search, I’m far from I’m figuratively far from a master. However I work a mere foot away from one. Christina Jackson, NALP’s Director of Public Service Initiatives and Fellowships, will be putting me through my paces for your benefit from now until next semester so you can see how PSJD’s 10-Step Program for keeping your job search warm over the holidays works in practice.

Since then, I’ve been hard at work on Tip 1 (reviewing my resume and cover letter). I shared the most recent version of my resume with Christina, along with a couple of job posts that came up on PJSD that caught my eye (a Pro Bono Coordinator and a Housing Advocate, PDF’d here for posterity).

Christina had solid advice for restructuring and refining my resume. I’ve summarized her strategy below, illustrating it with examples from my two new resumes (you can see all the changes I made in the full versions — “Coordinator” and “Advocate“):

  1. YOUR GOAL: Speak the employer’s language. Your resume and cover letter are a one-two combination aimed to land you an interview. Between them, you need to fit as many of the position’s advertised responsibilities, duties, and qualifications as you can. Reorganize, rephrase, and rewrite your experiences so the employer sees you describe yourself in the terms they would use.
    This means each resume will be different, depending on what kind of employer you’re speaking to. Make categories based on the method of work you’d like to employ, the clients you’re seeking to serve, and the area of law you’d like to apply. Within these categories employers are likely to use similar language and have similar expectations. Write resumes for each one, and you won’t have to do a custom job for each application you send off.

    Pro Bono Coordinator Example

    Housing Advocate Example

    Responsibilities: “Coordinate and support the development of…the platform.” Responsibilities: “Engaging community coalitions, advocates, and public officials.”
    New Resume: “Coordinating with PSJD Advisory Group to develop new resources & features…” New Resume: “[Executed human rights fact-finding mission] by engaging community groups to convince individuals to participate.”
  2. WHAT TO CUT: Look for sections that don’t say something meaningful or new. For example, research has been a component of several of my jobs so Christina downgraded my Research Assistant position to an “activity.” When she didn’t see how my summer program spoke to the “Coordinator” position, she cut it entirely. (I added it back for the “Advocate” resume; my activities that summer demonstrate experience with community advocacy.)
  3. WHAT TO INCLUDE: Be specific — or as specific as you can. Provide concrete examples of the kinds of work you’ve done in your various experiences. For one position on my old resume, I’d “co-authored pre-mission documents” and “conducted interviews.” Christina wanted to know more: What kind of information did the documents include? How many interviews did your team conduct?
    This gets tricky when your work is confidential: Focus on processes, not issues, and remember you may need help. If you’re a student or a recent grad struggling to describe your experience without giving anything away, consider showing your proposed language to your supervisor. They can help you find words that will let employers picture your work without learning confidential details of your clients’ affairs.
  4. WHAT TO EXPECT: Be prepared to be uncomfortable. You’re editing your life for someone else. According to Christina, as a law graduate it’s time for me to retire my GPA from my resume. With the exception of positions that specifically mention “strong academic credentials” or request a transcript, in most graduates’ applications a GPA just takes up space. This was difficult for me to accept. I worked hard for that number. Apparently, though, it means a lot to me but not to most employers. And without it I have more space to say other things and present a package with fewer extraneous details distracting employers from my message. So I took a deep breath, and held down backspace.
    • For students and recent grads, “education” comes first. But generally, two years after graduation “experience” officially trumps. If you’re closer to your fifth reunion than your 1L year, consider moving your “education” section below “experience” unless you’re applying to a job where your education ties you to the institution you’d work for or the location you’d move to.
    • “Experience” typically matters more than “publications” — unless you’re going for a particularly writing-intensive job (e.g., judicial clerk) or your publications speak to your relationship with a particular client group, method of work, or area of law. For example, I moved my “publications” section forward on my “Advocate” resume because one of the reports I co-authored specifically involved housing issues.

I have more work to do on both of these documents. These versions have gone a little overboard, which can happen when you find a position where a lot of your experience is on point. I need to cut each one back a bit, but hopefully these five tips and examples are enough to get you started on your own resume makeovers this weekend. I’ll be chugging along ahead, working on matching cover letters to share with Christina (and you) next week.

Wax on, wax off.


Giving and Receiving: Thanksgiving Community Service Efforts from Law Schools and Law Students

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015
Anna Black, VP, Public Interest Law Society – Nova Southeastern University

From left to right: NSU Law students Geoffrey Langbart, Sophia Mitchell, and Anna Black Photo: NSU Publications & Special EventsNSU Law students Geoffrey Langbart, Sophia Mitchell, and Anna Black (left to right) with more than 10,000 cans collected at this year’s “Canned Immunity” drive.
Photo: NSU Publications & Special Events

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope all our readers are able to take a break tomorrow, relax with family or friends, and get to the heart of whatever this particular holiday might mean for each of you. Before the PSJD staff go off to our own celebrations, we wanted to recognize the efforts of some of our member schools, who have been working hard in recent weeks to serve their communities and help make this holiday possible for low-income families. Last week, we asked our member schools and firms what pro bono and community service work they were doing in relation to Thanksgiving. Many law campuses organize community service efforts around the holiday, but here are the ones you told us about:

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Ann Arbor campus has packed and distributed 100 full Thanksgiving dinners for needy families in the Ann Arbor community as part of its annual Thanksgiving outreach program. Wayne State University Law School, also in Michigan, collected 300 pounds of canned goods and non-perishables to help feed Detroit area families. Their partner in the drive was Gleaners food bank, but Barbri also pitched in, offering $25 off its student content to 1Ls who participated. However, it’s Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center, in Fort Lauderdale Florida, that’s truly suffused donation incentives into the law school experience. Anna Black, an NSU Law 2L and Vice President of their Public Interest Law Society, wrote us to explain how:

Every year in preparation for Thanksgiving, NSU Shepard Broad Law Center’s Public Interest Law Society (“PILS”) in collaboration with the Phi Alpha Delta legal fraternity, organizes a highly successful weeklong event called “Canned Immunity.” Canned Immunity is a collaborative effort that aims to ensure those who are currently fighting hunger in our community are well fed this Thanksgiving holiday. The entire week before Thanksgiving, PILS conducts a school-wide drive for canned and other non-perishable food items.

The annual drive always receives a high volume of donations thanks to both the generosity of the law student body and the method by which the weeklong event operates. PILS convinces professors to offer their students certain incentives for bringing in donations, including “immunity” from being called on in class that day or the option of selecting another student to act as “co-counsel” to help discuss a case or topic. These incentives encourage students to donate more and more often throughout the week. PILS also competitively tracks the donations, keeping students and faculty apprised of which sections and professors have donated the most. Last year, PILS collected over 12,000 cans during Canned Immunity Week. This year, we hope to collect even more. [Editor’s note: This year, the event collected over 10,000 cans. According to the Atlanta Community Food Bank, the average can of food weighs almost a pound. That’s over 9,376 pounds of food!] Everything collected during the week is donated to Feeding South Florida, a local food bank.

So thank you, Cooley, Wayne State, and NSU for doing such good work. Thank you Charles Toy, Diane Fears, and Jennifer Gordon & Jennifer Jarema, for taking the time to let us know what each of your respective schools have been up to. (Cooley, Wayne State, and NSU all just made the PSJD Honor Roll for November.) And to all the law students and lawyers who took time this week or this month to make your communities a better place, we at PSJD are most thankful for you.

Enjoy your holiday!


You Need a Montage: PSJD Career Search Tips in Practice

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015

Man in "Karate Kid" Silhouette Photo: Nicolò Bonazzi – CC License

As regular readers already know, between now and the end of the semester we will be blogging about how to make the most of the winter holidays to upgrade your job search tools and hone your job search skills. It’ll be a collaborative effort, but each of us will be in a separate role. When it comes to career development, Christina’s the coach, the drill sergeant, the Mr. Miyagi—choose your favorite metaphor. I won’t be providing knowledge, but raw material. In my own job search efforts, I’m the struggling player, the fresh-faced recruit, the Karate Kid—again, take your pick. (Just so long as you picture Ralph Macchio and not Jayden Smith.) And Christina’s winter goal is to get me—and you—into fighting form.

But wait! (You may very well say.) Sam, what are you doing at if you aren’t a job search guru? Truth is, I bring a fair amount to the PSJD Fellowship: my past experiences have made me an adept web developer, a proficient public speaker, and a comfortable manager. But I’m not adept, proficient, or even comfortable when it comes to looking for work myself. In the last thirty words, I think I’ve already eclipsed the cover letter I wrote last Spring to get this job. I’m comfortable speaking and writing, but not about my own accomplishments. I can advocate for causes I believe in, but I feel awkward asking people I respect to take time away from their important work to help me out with an informational meeting or a job recommendation. I worry so much about whether my materials are perfect that I often run the risk that they won’t be timely-submitted.

In short, if you’re reading PSJDblog to figure out how to improve your job search results, you and I are probably more alike than you think. I believe I’m fairly qualified for my chosen career, but many qualified people are struggling to find work in public interest law right now. If you’re looking for a job next year, so am I—and if you’ve had as much trouble meeting your job search goals this Fall as I have, you have my sympathy.

This is where Christina comes in. Between now and the end of finals, I’ll be putting myself where PSJD’s mouth is. Starting with a resume makeover later this week, I’m going to be trying out each of the ten tips we suggested for our readers; Christina will be critiquing my efforts. We’ll share the results with you here on PSJDblog. I’ll talk about which changes feel most significant, which feel non-intuitive, and how easy or difficult each tip is to put into practice.

Until next time: wax on, wax off.

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PSJD’s 10-Step Program to Keep Your Job Search Warm This Winter

Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships

Thank you to American University Washington College of Law Office of Career and Professional Development for contributing these tips.

Penguins on an Interview
Whether you’re looking forward to finishing your first semester of law school or looking forward to starting your last one, the best holiday spirit is the one that puts you in the mood for career planning. We here at PSJD hope you’re able to take a well-deserved rest from classes, but you can’t afford to let your job search efforts freeze over. To help your job search stay warm through winter without burning you out, we’ve come up with ten concrete activities you can take on between now and New Year’s to be ready to impress your future employers in 2015.

The gist of our ten-step program is below, but stay tuned: We’ll be covering each of these tips in greater detail in upcoming installments of PSJDblog over the weeks between now and the end of the semester.

Tip 1: Review Your Resume & Cover Letter

Perhaps the most important task you can do, especially with limited time. All too often, strong candidates undermine their own candidacy with resumes and cover letters that contain typos and/or are simply not compelling. Review your materials carefully before they are sent, ask a friend to proofread them, and, of course, meet with an OCPD career counselor to review your documents.

Tip 2: Take Advantage of Holiday Gatherings and Festivities

Holiday mixers are an opportunity to let people know:

  1. Who you are;
  2. The kinds of employers and opportunities you are targeting; and
  3. What you are looking to accomplish in your legal career.

This is especially true if you’re job searching in a geographic area different than your law school. You need to get out into the legal community and meet people so that when you’re applying for internships or postgraduate positions, you have some connection to the market. Additionally, many firms and non-profits have their end of the year celebrations. This is a great time to talk with people in a more informal (read less stressful) way. But remember, you’re trying to make professional connections, so act accordingly.

Tip 3: Craft Your Pitch

Speaking of making connections, you need to have your “pitch” created so that you don’t look like a deer caught in the headlights when someone asks you: “So, what do you want to do?” No matter which legal sector you target, being able to quickly and convincingly articulate your skills, interests, and accomplishments is key to presenting yourself in a compelling and focused manner. We will be discussing how to craft your pitch in an upcoming installment of the Holiday Job Search Tips series.

Tip 4: Take Time to Review Your Online Presence

Consider what you are viewing, downloading or linking to on your social media. Be mindful of your connections and public image — As you know, the Internet has a long memory and footprints can be indelible.

Tip 5: Set Up Informational Meetings

We used to call these informational interviews. The point is, you ask the questions to gather information and make connections. Since people may have more time during the holidays, request informational meetings with college and law school alumni who practice in the areas you wish to pursue. Make sure you have clear and cogent questions, and express thanks for their time with a prompt thank you note follow up. You will find this practice especially important if you wish to expand your job search beyond the geographic confines of your law school or home town. Once you’ve had these meetings, make sure you record the information you’ve gathered and periodically follow up with relevant contacts as you continue job searching and beyond.

Tip 6: Visit the Courthouse

Consider observing a judicial proceeding overseen by a judge or in a court you are targeting for a clerkship or internship. Not only will this provide a compelling opener to your cover letter, but it could possibly create an opportunity to speak with the Judge’s law clerk about your interest. While you’re at it, reach out to any lawyers you observe arguing a case of interest to you.

Tip 7: Offer Seasonal Help to a Local Legal Aid Office, or…

another public sector employer who might welcome a lending hand with some legal research or project-based work. Volunteering is always an excellent way to gain experience and demonstrate interest in a particular organization or client base.

Tip 8: Write an Article, or at least…

consider a topic that might be interesting to you. We’re not talking law review here; there are many professional associations, bar organizations, periodicals and trade publications that are content-starved. Publishing opportunities abound and are relatively easy to leverage. For instance, PSJDblog is always looking for guest bloggers. Consider getting yourself out there early and establishing yourself as knowledgeable in a particular area.

Tip 9: Join a Relevant Bar Organization

Many students get scholarships, summer funding, awards, and recognition from national and local bar associations. In addition, full- and part-time job opportunities may arise though meaningful bar association contacts and involvement. Attending their CLE programs is another great way to make contacts and gain valuable resume experience.

Tip 10: Update your Professional References

Too many times to count, I’ve checked references with someone who had no idea what job the candidate was applying to and even that they were being used as a reference. The end of the year is a great time to check back in with the people who’ve offered to be your reference in the past. Let them know what you’re up to and at least give them a general sense of where your job search is taking you now. Also, evaluate your references. Are they still relevant for the types of legal positions you’re now seeking? If not, determine who else could potentially be a reference and make that connection.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 21, 2014

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

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  The Digest will take a holiday next week to celebrate Thanksgiving with the family.  We will return in December with news to prepare you for the winter break.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New certificate program at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law prepares students to work in the public interest;
  • Former MS Volunteer Lawyers official pleads guilty to stealing federal funds;
  • National Center for Access to Justice revises Justice Index;
  • ABA launches site to aid unaccompanied minors;
  • USAJobs is getting another makeover;
  • Kings County (WA) Council delays PD layoffs;
  • TN CLE Commission supports access to justice;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Maureen Alger;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 12, 2014 -“The Loyola University New Orleans College of Law now offers a new Social Justice Certificate Program, which assists students who want to effectively advocate for the poor and the marginalized.  Through hands-on experience and focused academic study in this certificate program, students will not only be able to advance public interest causes for the needy and disadvantaged, but also provide a strong signal of their commitment to social justice to fellowship programs and future employers.  Students must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher in the certificate courses and an overall GPA of 2.5 or higher to receive the certificate, while completing four to eight hours of doctrinal coursework, seven to 10 hours of experiential hours, as well as 50 hours of public service work.  (Loyola University New Orleans)

November 13, 2014 – “The former executive director of the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project faces up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine for stealing less than $1,000 in federal Legal Services funds. Shirley Mae Williams, 47, of Jackson pleaded guilty Wednesday to theft of less than $1,000 in federal funds, which is misdemeanor. Federal prosecutors say from January 2009 through December 2012, Williams, while employed as MVLP executive director, converted the federal funds to pay for a portion of her family’s cellular phone expenses and health club membership. MVLP received Legal Services Corp. grant funds as a sub-grantee of both North Mississippi Rural Legal Services and Mississippi Center for Legal Services.”  (The Clarion-Ledger)

November 13, 2014 – “The National Center for Access to Justice revised The Justice Index on November 13, 2014 to reflect comments and corrections received from 21 states following publication of The Justice Index on February 25, 2014.”  A notice will be published on the Index when the updates are finalized.  (National Center for Access to Justice)

November 14, 2014 – “Child advocates have for months voiced concerns about unaccompanied minors not having an attorney by their side in immigration court, and now the American Bar Association is stepping in to help. The group launched a website this week as a resource for attorneys who want to volunteer their time to help unaccompanied minors navigate through the immigration system. The goal is to get more attorneys to provided unaccompanied minors with legal representation on a pro bono basis. The website is dubbed the Immigrant Child Advocacy Network. It was put together by the American Bar Association’s working group on unaccompanied minors in collaboration with partner organizations, like Kids in Need of Defense and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.” (VOXXI)

November 17, 2014 – “The Office of Personnel Management once again is revamping USAJobs, the website most people use to apply for jobs in the federal government. The agency wants to streamline and clarify its job descriptions and make sure job postings don’t ask applicants redundant questions, said OPM Director Katherine Archuleta on Friday during a virtual town hall where she took questions on topics including recruitment, diversity and the role of veterans’ preference in the hiring process. She did not say when a new site might debut.”  (Government Executive)

November 17, 2014 – “The King County department that helps defendants who can’t afford an attorney will lose 40 employees, including about 20 attorneys, under the two-year county budget adopted Monday by the Metropolitan King County Council. But the controversial staff reduction won’t happen immediately and could potentially be reversed next spring, because of a last-minute amendment by the council. County Executive Dow Constantine had proposed the reduction, saying the Department of Public Defense, at nearly 400 employees, had more staff than required. But the council tweaked the proposal after hearing one attorney after another testify Monday that the reduction would harm poor people and fail to save money.”  “Lisa Daugaard, deputy director of the Department of Public Defense, said the council’s amendment was in line with the board’s recommendations. ‘This is an important and welcome shift,’ said Daugaard. ‘It gives everyone involved a chance to get on the same page about what the real staffing requirements of the department are and then to make budget decisions in light of that information.'”  (Seattle Times)

November 19, 2014 – “The Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialization has awarded more than $100,000 in grants to support Access to Justice initiatives in the state. The grants will extend by one year each the pro bono coordinator position and the aLEGALz project. ‘Encouraging lawyers to give back to their communities is a priority for the Court,’ said Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee. ‘These programs play a significant role in identifying opportunities and aligning the appropriate resources and we are grateful that the funding to continue them was possible.'”  (The

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: On November 14, 2014, at its annual conference of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA), Cooley pro bono partner, Maureen Alger, was awarded the 2014 Arthur von Briesen Award for her work on behalf of equal justice. The von Briesen Award honors outstanding service in advancing the cause of equal access to justice, and recognizes the contributions of individuals and programs from a cross-section of the legal aid, public defense, and corporate law communities.  Congratulations!  (Market Wired)

Super Music Bonus!  Happy Thanksgiving!


Job’o’t’Week (Entry-Level Edition) — Cut Your Teeth on Legislative Policy Issues with FlyersRights [Closes Soon!]

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

If you’re a law student or a recent grad looking for your first policy experience, you may want to act fast. FlyersRights, a consumer advocacy organization, is looking to fill two internships and a one-year staff attorney position specifically for a recent law graduate. The organization has been around since 2006, working on behalf of airline travelers. Among their legislative successes is a federal statute requiring airlines to allow stranded passengers to disembark from planes after 3 hours on the ground.

FlyersRights’ post on PSJD is eye-catching for the care it takes to describe how working with the organization would allow legal newcomers to grow their legislative advocacy skillset:

The person we are looking to hire for one year would be a staff attorney (or as a legal analyst if the person has yet been admitted to the bar) under my primary supervision. The person would receive substantial training in public interest advocacy and law, including research and drafting of administrative rulemaking petitions, legislation, Congressional testimony and legislative memos and policy papers, amicus brief writing, as well as non-legal writing and advocacy.

If you know you want to do policy work, you should consider letting FlyersRights show you how it’s done. Check out the full post on PSJD.

If you’re interested, it’ll cost you a weekend: the Application Deadline is Sunday, November 23rd.


Job’o’t’Week (Experienced Edition) – Winston & Strawn Seeks Attorney to Manage its Pro Bono Practice

Help Wanted

Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

Those of you with a few years of experience under your belts and an interest in community economic development may want to consider going private. Winston & Strawn–one of US News’ Law Firms of the Year for Bankruptcy, Creditor/Debtor Rights, and Insolvency and Reorganization Law–recently advertised on PJSD. The firm is looking for an attorney to work out of New York City, managing its pro bono practice. The majority of your time would be pro bono; the firm expects its Pro Bono Practice Attorney to log a minimum of 1750 pro bono hours. You would be working with employees at all levels (from paralegals to partners) throughout the firm, supporting and facilitating attorney involvement in nonprofit corporate and community development efforts.

So, if you have several years of experience in nonprofit corporate law and an interest in moving to large law firm pro bono, check out the full posting at PSJD. (Application Deadline: Jan 1, 2015)


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 14, 2014

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

Happy Friday everyone!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Georgia State Law School opening clinic to help vets;
  • Lewis & Clark Law School shuts down pro bono legal clinic;
  • SUNY Buffalo Law School launches new veterans clinic;
  • Brooklyn charity fund seeks to help people too poor to afford bail;
  • William & Mary Law receives DOJ grant to expand domestic violence clinic;
  • Immigrant aid expands to western NY;
  • Columbia Law’s Human Rights Clinic launches mentor program;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: The Public Interest Law Society, the Black Law Students Association and the Latin American Law Students Association of Widener Law;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

November 7, 2014 – “Georgia State University officials say the school is opening a law clinic to serve roughly 800 veterans who are enrolled as students. GSU officials say the Law Volunteer Clinic for Veterans will open with a ribbon cutting ceremony Nov. 11 at 4 p.m. GSU dean and law professor Steven Kaminshine said in a statement that the clinic will demonstrate how a law school can provide a valuable community service. Kaminshine says the clinic will allow students to work with experienced volunteer lawyers and receive pro bono credit.”  (The Florida Times-Union)

November 7, 2014 – “The downtown Lewis & Clark Legal Clinic, a source of pro bono legal services for low-income Portlanders since 1971, will close on Jan. 1, 2015.  The Clinic was run by legal clinicians and law students enrolled in externships through the law school. It created a mutually beneficial relationship between LC and the community: students received practical law experience; low-income Portlanders received help with legal issues including child support modifications, domestic violence cases and tax controversies.  The closure will force people to find pro bono services elsewhere.”  “Despite the loss to the local community, the downtown legal clinic is not the only public interest clinic run by the law school. There are six others currently in operation. In addition to services provided through the clinics, externships and internships, [Dean Jennifer] Johnson stated that students provided more than 15,000 hours of pro bono community service last year.” (The PIOLOG)

November 7, 2014 – Beginning in January, 2015, the SUNY Buffalo Law School clinical program will launch a new Veterans’ Economic Security Clinic to help veterans.  “The clinic will provide free civil legal services to western New York veterans facing eviction and consumer debt issues. Law faculty and students will work to prevent veterans’ homelessness and increase their financial security by helping them navigate the legal system, and crafting comprehensive suggestions for needed law reform. The clinic will strive to ensure equity in securing basic necessities required to thrive in civilian life.”  (University at Buffalo)

November 8, 2014 – You can plead guilty and get out of jail right now or fight your case, and stay in jail.  This situation is faced by many of the Brooklyn Defender’s clients who are pleading guilty to charges because they can’t afford to miss work or their family will be turned out of a shelter because they won’t be back for the night.  “To help these indigent defendants fight their cases out of jail and without the pressure to plead guilty, [Josh] Saunders and a fellow public defender, Scott Hechinger, are creating a charity fund, which would be sponsored by their employer, the Brooklyn Defenders Services.”  “The charity, called the Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, is made possible by a 2012 law that allows nonprofit organizations to post bail for defendants with misdemeanor charges, who are facing bail of $2,000 or less.”  This fund will follow the example of the first nonprofit bail fund in the state, the Bronx Freedom Fund works with clients from The Bronx Defenders.  So far, that Fund has “served 149 clients so far, with roughly $100,000 in the fund.”  (The Epoch Times)

November 11, 2014 – “William & Mary Law School has announced that its Domestic Violence Clinic is the recipient of a grant from the Department of Justice Office of Violence Against Women (DOJ OVW). The grant will provide more than $250,000 over two years to expand the services of the existing clinic.”  “The W&M Domestic Violence Clinic provides domestic violence legal education and protective order advocacy. The grant funding will be used to expand the clinic’s services to provide a more holistic approach to assisting clients and enable the clinic to represent more clients.”  (William & Mary Law School)

November 12, 2014 – “The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, a joint venture between the Vera Institute of Justice and other groups, expanded to the Buffalo area on Monday, with the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project providing free legal services to 55 immigrants facing deportation.”  (New York Law Journal) (free subscription required)

November 12, 2014 – “Students working in Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic have been paired with experienced advocates from leading human rights organizations as part of an exciting new mentoring initiative.  ‘The Mentorship Program is designed to develop a new generation of human rights advocates while increasing practitioner links to new allies and fostering a supportive environment for human rights work,’ said Sarah Knuckey, the Lieff Cabraser Clinical Associate Professor of Human Rights, faculty co-director of the Human Rights Institute, and director of the Human Rights Clinic.  The just-launched Human Rights Clinic Mentorship Program connects students with mentors drawn from the global community of human rights practitioners. Selected to ensure diversity of experiences, the mentors work as advocates at organizations defending everything from the environment to freedom of expression, and from the rights of civilians in armed conflict to indigenous communities harmed by extractives projects. Students have been paired with mentors based on their interests and career goals, and the mentorship will promote the students’ development as strategic, principled, and reflective advocates for social justice.”  (Columbia Law School)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Law students from the Harrisburg campus will be embarking on a new service project this holiday season that provides a meaningful opportunity to give back to the community.  Signups are now underway for students who will participate in a Thanksgiving Day of service at the Bethesda Mission in Harrisburg. The effort is a joint public service project of the Public Interest Law Society, the Black Law Students Association and the Latin American Law Students Association.  ‘This experience – the interpersonal skills and giving back – that’s what we are founded on,’ said Bri Gaumer, president of the Public Interest Law Society, which formed just last year.  The organizations will volunteer at the mission from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving afternoon. Gaumer said they will be serving plates of food but also able to sit with residents and engage and connect with them. The students will also set up a table with access-to-justice information and resources for low-cost community legal services.”  Read more about this outstanding new project here.

Super Music Bonus!  A dance tune that’s been running through my head lately.


Pro Bono Trend: Lawyers at the Library (Now in DC!)

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow 2014 – 2015

“Public libraries are critical access points to government institutions. As times get tougher, it becomes more and more important that people have libraries where they can find out how to protect their rights and navigate the complexities of our society.”

— Self-Represented Litigation Network, National Center for State Courts

"Everyday Justice" (retitled), photo by umjanedoan, licensed under Creative Commons
(Photo: umjanedoan-CC License)

If you’re looking for pro bono opportunities, you might want to try your local library. For example, just this fall the D.C. Public Library partnered with D.C.’s Neighborhood Legal Services Program, joining a growing number of public libraries where low-income patrons can obtain legal information or advice. (Update: Check out the Washington County [Oregon] Law Library’s list of library-legal aid collaborations to get a sense of scale.) Working with the library, NLSP lawyers will focus on employment law, adding a legal component to job programming, which the DC Public Library (like many similar institutions) has offered its patrons for some time. In addition, the partnership includes seminars on tenant rights and paternal rights.

With this new partnership, the D.C. Public Library joins a number of its sister institutions working to address the United States’ access to justice gap. The concept has been picking up steam since at least 2010, when the Self-Represented Litigation Network of the National Center for State Courts held a conference titled “Public Libraries and Access to Justice” at the University of Texas at Austin. In 2012, followed up on the conference with a Webinar Series titled “Libraries and Access to Justice.”

Both of these events explored the logic behind library-legal aid partnerships and the variety of forms they have taken. Like DC, some of these institutions bring pro bono lawyers into the library to provide community education. Other libraries ask lawyers to train library staff to work with online legal resources; a third group hosts full-blown legal aid clinicsUpdate: Liz Keith of recently clued me in to Colorado’s Virtual Pro Se Clinic initiative, which connects pro se litigants to volunteer attorneys via webcam–a model that relies heavily on public libraries’ computer services.

For my fellow Washingtonians, if you’re interested in being involved contact the NSLP’s project attorney, Dan Choi (, with questions or requests for information.  For those located elsewhere, ask your local library whether they have any similar partnerships going. If your area isn’t yet lucky enough to host one of these partnerships, remember that both the Self-Represented Litigation Network and have left all of their event materials online. Between the two, you have access to a wealth of information and contacts to help you think about how your community might begin leveraging libraries for legal aid.


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 7, 2014

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

Happy Friday everyone!  Welcome to November.  Can you believe the holidays are almost upon us?  Now that we’re in the full swing of 1L counseling, any new initiatives out there we should know about?

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Alberta increases legal aid funding/raises eligibility threshold;
  • Vermont Legal Aid receives HUD grant;
  • FL Supreme Court to decide bar dues increase fight;
  • New York Law School starts public interest center and new externship program;
  • NY State Bar seeks broader definition of pro bono;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants: Jeannette Rankin;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 30, 2014 – “The provincial government on Thursday announced increased Legal Aid funding which will allow lower income Albertans, such as those on AISH, access to justice.  An additional $5.5 million was pledged to the $47.9 million already committed for this fiscal year, meaning the maximum annual eligible income will be increased from $16,176 to $19,056.  The additional funds were ‘necessary to increase the eligibility requirement above AISH levels,’ Justice Minister Jonathan Denis said of those on Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.”  (Calgary Sun)

October 30, 2014 – “Vermont Legal Aid has received a three-year Fair Housing Initiatives Program Grant from the Department of Housing and Urban Development to continue the Housing Discrimination Law Project’s work to ensure Vermonters’ access to housing and to challenge both individual and systemic discriminatory practices. The $975,000 grant will be disbursed over three years to fund Vermont Legal Aid’s statewide systemic and complaint-based testing project, fair housing counseling, representation in enforcement actions, education, and land use planning and policy advocacy with state and local officials.”  (vermontbiz)

November 4, 2014 – Legal aid providers in Florida are at the crisis stage.  “A combination of [Governor Rick] Scott’s budget vetoes and the [Florida State] bar’s refusal to add a new $100 fee to its membership dues mean that Florida’s legal-aid budget is about to take a 40 percent whack. Pending a last-minute emergency rescue by the Florida Supreme Court next month, hundreds of attorneys who help the poor will be out of a job.”   A group led by Kent Spuhler, executive director of Florida Legal Services Inc., has challenged the State Bar’s decision.  Oral arguments will be heard by the Florida Supreme Court on December 2.  (Miami New Times Blog)

November 4, 2014 – “New York Law School has launched the Impact Center for Public Interest Law, which will act as an umbrella for seven new and five existing initiatives seeking to advance social justice.  The Unshared Bounty Project, the Health Law and Patient Safety Initiative, the Voting Rights and Civic Participation Project, the Detention and the Struggle Against Terrorism, and the Safe Passage Project will be housed at the Center.”  “Separately, the school has started an externship program that places four fellows within eight business improvement districts (BID) in the city. The three students and one recent graduate in the Neighborhood Legal Fellows Program this fall are researching BID legal issues, such as city administrative law compliance, under the supervision of the city’s Small Business Services legal team. The graduate fellow will receive $3,000 while the students receive course credit.”  (New York Law Journal) (free subscription required)

November 4, 2014 – “The Unified Court System will work with the New York State Bar Association to develop a more expansive definition of pro bono to guide attorneys when they disclose pro bono hours and monetary contributions.  State Bar President Glenn Lau-Kee said drafts of more liberal definitions of pro bono were being exchanged between his group and the court system. On Saturday, the state bar’s House of Delegates adopted his resolution calling on the court to amend §118.1 of the Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge to identify additional activities as ‘reportable hours and financial contributions given by attorneys’ toward pro bono (NYLJ, Nov. 3).  “Lau-Kee said adding new categories of service to §118 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator will effectively formalize new and expanded definitions of pro bono.”  (New York Law Journal) (free subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: On this day in 1916, Montana suffragist Jeannette Rankin is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. She is the first woman in the history of the nation to win a seat in the federal Congress.  Today, in the 113th Congress, there are 99 women (20 in the Senate and 79 in the House of Representatives) serving.  That is 18.5% of the elected officials in Congress.  Doesn’t seem like we’ve come that far in 100 years, have we?  One avenue toward change is to motivate our girls to grow up to become women who  seek change in positive ways.  I know we all know someone like that.  Let’s make an extra effort to support and encourage them.  We all benefit from diversity in our electorate.  ( Center for American Women and Politics)

Super Music Bonus!  A little blues from two of my favorites.