PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 9, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone and welcome to 2015! Pro Bono hours are in, and I’m so pleased to see an increase in both hours and the number of individuals who have answered the call to service.  Keep up the great work!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. receives 1.4 mil gift;
  • TX county tests indigent defense pilot project;
  • Crowd-funding a public interest career?;
  • CT boosts legal aid ranks with ‘LawyerCorps’;
  • DE launches Access to Justice Commission;
  • Washington State to license LLLTs;
  • New rules clarify NJ requirements for pro bono exemption;
  • Syracuse University College of Law opens veterans clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants:  National Law Journal Pro Bono Hotlist – 10 firms making a real impact on their communities;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 22, 2014 – Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. covers 16 counties with “16 attorneys and seven paralegals trying to cover a geographic area where 200,000 people could be eligible for its services. 362 private attorneys also provide pro bono services, amounting to 5,600 hours of work.”  The agency “recently received a boost from someone it helped. William T. and Virginia N. Lyons never forgot the work that Legal Services provided for its clients and for the internship that [Executive Director Kris] Knab provided William Lyons over 30 years ago, when he took up law as a second career.  Legal Services this week announced receiving a gift of $1.4 million from the estate of the couple, now both deceased. To honor the agency’s single largest donation, Legal Services has renamed its Tallahassee office the William T. and Virginia N. Lyons Justice Center.”  The money comes at a critical time when all agencies are cutting staff and services in the face of budget cuts and funding shortfalls.  (Tallahassee Democrat)

December 28, 2014 – A central Texas county “will be the first in the country to give [indigent defendants] the ability to choose their own attorneys at the government’s expense.  It’s part of a pilot program in Comal County that could determine whether the idea could be adopted in other jurisdictions and provide a new wrinkle to how the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments are exercised.  Under the new system, a defendant who is declared indigent will be given a list of 30 to 50 attorneys who have been approved by the county. An individual will have a day to make a choice.  Legal experts have suggested that defendants will be more invested in their cases, and there will be more accountability for attorneys.”  The program is set to begin January 12.  (ABC News)

December 30, 2014 – Here is an interesting article from Above the Law about one student who is attempting to crowdfund her public interest law firm.  It is an intriguing idea, and, in her case, well thought out.  Give it a read.  (Above the Law)

December 30, 2014 – “Connecticut’s legal aid community breathed a collective sigh of relief when lawmakers in 2014 approved a plan to continue using increased court filing fees to fund their legal services programs for the poor.”  Each of the state’s three largest legal aid agencies—Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, and the New Haven Legal Assistance Association—is in the process of reviewing applications for the new [LawyerCorps Connecticut] fellowships. Hiring committees will interview applicants and choose fellows, who maybe either in law school or recently graduated. The new fellows will work to help those in need obtain protection from domestic violence. They will also help clients with legal issues related to housing, education and health care.”  Law students and admitted lawyers interested in applying for the LawyerCorps Connecticut program can visit lawyercorpsct.org/apply. Applications are due by Jan. 20.
(Connecticut Law Tribune)

December 31, 2014 – “Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. earlier this month launched the Access to Justice Commission, a task force focused on helping low- to moderate-income individuals obtain legal services for criminal and civil cases.  The commission’s main efforts will be to ensure organizations providing indigent legal services make the most of limited resources, increase attorney pro bono offerings, and lessen the economic hardship on attorneys representing low-income clients.  ‘All of the commission’s mandates are equally important,’ Strine told Delaware Law Weekly. ‘We will take the time to look specifically at these issues and how to go about addressing them with the talent that is relevant to those issues. You will see distinguished in-house attorneys look at increasing pro bono work or financial experts look at increased funding.'”  (Delaware Law Weekly) (free subscription required)

January 1, 2015 -Washington’s (and the nation’s) first limited license legal technicians are preparing for practice. The inaugural class of 15 “have taken the required courses and will sit for a licensing examination in March. The state will begin licensing those who pass in the spring.  These nonlawyers will be licensed by the state to provide legal advice and assistance to clients in certain areas of law without the supervision of a lawyer.  The first practice area in which LLLTs will be licensed is domestic relations.”  “So far, Washington stands alone in formally licensing nonlawyers to provide legal services. But California is actively considering nonlawyer licensing, and several other states are beginning to explore it. New York has sidestepped licensing and is already allowing nonlawyers to provide legal assistance in limited circumstances while also looking to expand their use.  In its January 2014 final report, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education called on states to license ‘persons other than holders of a JD to deliver limited legal services.’ Now this issue of allowing nonlawyers to provide legal services is among the topics being taken up by ABA President William C. Hubbard’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services.”  The Washington and New York programs are detailed in the article.  (ABA Journal)

January 5, 2015 – “Rule changes aimed at helping New Jersey lawyers fulfill their annual pro bono obligations kicked in at the start of the new year.  The changes were proposed in 2012 by the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Task Force and adopted by the state Supreme Court last July, but had a delayed effective date of Jan. 1.  New Jersey has a unique system of mandatory court-appointed pro bono service, but lawyers can claim an exemption from it by doing at least 25 hours of pro bono work for a qualifying organization in the preceding year. It is known as Exemption 88.”  “New Rule 1:21-12 for the first time sets forth the exemption in the form of a single rule, stating that lawyers who certify to 25 hours of voluntary qualifying pro bono service in the prior year are exempt from court-appointed service under Madden. The other new rule, Rule 1:21-11, defines what constitutes ‘qualifying pro bono service’ for purposes of satisfying the obligation and requires certification of the programs through which lawyers provide such service.”  More information can be found on the Court’s website.  (The New Jersey Law Journal) (free subscription required)

January 8, 2015 – “Military veterans in Central New York will have access to free legal help through a new, year-round legal clinic opening today at Syracuse University’s College of  Law.  The Veterans Legal Clinic opens today at SU’s Dineen Hall. It will specialize in work involving the Department of Veterans Affairs such as appeals of adverse VA decisions and attempted  upgrades of military discharges.  Tom Caruso and Josh Keefe, both of whom graduated from SU’s College of Law and SU’s Maxwell School this year, helped create the clinic.  Each is returning to active duty as a judge advocate  – Caruso for the U.S. Navy, Keefe for the Marine Corps.”  (The Post-Standard)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: As law firms continue to expand their services globally, so too have their pro bono programs, with lawyers volunteering in 2014 to help with immigration matters, natural disaster relief and human trafficking cases. Last year also brought plenty of pro bono opportunities stateside. Attorneys devoted their time to gun control cases, voter identification laws, free speech issues, abortion rights and same-sex marriage cases.  Here is the National Law Journal’s list of the top 10 firms that made exemplary contributions to access to justice.

  • Arnold & Porter
  • Chadborne & Parke
  • Crowell & Moring
  • Farella Braun + Martel
  • Jenner & Block
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Morrison & Foerster
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Reed Smith
  • Sidley Austin

Read about their great work.  (National Law Journal)

Super Music Bonus! http://youtu.be/OPf0YbXqDm0

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