Archive for March, 2015

PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 27, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  Below is our last featured spring break pro bono trip.  There are so many programs, we couldn’t feature them all.  We’re so excited that so many of  you spent your time off helping your community. You are truly outstanding public servants!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal aid gives Tennessee economy a $188 mil boost;
  • Oregon and California consider limited license practioners;
  • Settlement reached in New York requiring court facilities to provide space for confidential defendant/attorney meetings;
  • Ohio counties seek reimbursement increase for indigent defense;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 22, 2015 – “When we hear about economy boosts in Tennessee, we generally think of revenue generated by local businesses, by tourism, or farming. What we don’t always know is the amount of revenue generated in the legal industry. A newly released report show that civil legal services providers generated $188.6 million in economic impact from cases handled across Tennessee in 2013.  The study also showed that every dollar invested in legal aid produced more than $11 in financial benefits to businesses, local governments and individuals across all social classes.  ‘This report demonstrates that access to free civil legal representation has a profound impact not only on individual clients served, but also on the state, which receives an economic benefit worth millions of dollars,’ TBA President Jonathan Steen said.”  (Knoxville Daily Sun)

March 23, 2015 – “Washington is currently the only state with a program allowing limited license legal technicians to help civil litigants prepare legal documents and provide advice on legal procedures. But bar groups in two other states are taking steps that could lead to legal technician programs in their own jurisdictions.  A task force of the Oregon State Bar issued a report last month recommending that the bar’s board of governors consider the concept of legal technicians to help increase access to justice, according to Robert Ambrogi’s LawSites. Now a California bar task force has published for comment a draft report that calls for a legal technician pilot program in one subject matter area, LawSites says.  The report by the State Bar of California’s Civil Justice Strategies Task Force says the state bar should first study design of the pilot program, addressing how oversight and licensing would be handled.  The California report also calls for a pilot program of volunteer navigators to attend hearings with self-represented litigants. The navigators could sit at the counsel table with litigants, but would not address the court.  The navigator idea is based on a New York pilot program that uses nonlawyer navigators to help unrepresented litigants in housing and consumer-debt cases.”  (ABA Journal)

March 24, 2015 – “East End towns and villages have settled a lawsuit brought last month by the Suffolk County Legal Aid Society over the towns’ justice court facilities.”  The Legal Aid Society filed suit, alleging the court facilities in the towns of Riverhead, Southold and Southampton and the villages of Southampton and Sag Harbor did not “provide confidential meeting space for attorneys to confer with defendants in custody, compelling defendants to converse with their lawyers in the presence of law enforcement personnel. That arrangement violates the criminal defendant’s constitutional rights, the suit alleges.  Under a settlement that’s already been signed and was filed yesterday in state court, the towns of Riverhead and Southold have agreed to undertake some construction work.”  They are the only two jurisdictions that need to undertake construction, with the work in all facilities to be completed by April 30.  (Southold Local)

March 27, 2015 – “Ashland County is joining with other counties across the state to support an effort of County Commissioners Association of Ohio to seek additional state funding for indigent defense reimbursement. Counties now are reimbursed for 40 percent of the cost of representing indigent people, and CCAO is lobbying the state to increase reimbursements to 50 percent– providing an additional $12 million in reimbursements to counties for fiscal years 2016 and 2017.”  (Ashland Times-Gazette)(subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  UC Irvine School of Law. Each year since 2011, the UC Irvine School of Law subsidizes an alternative spring break trip for 30 students to volunteer with the Mississippi Center for Justice.  The past 2 years, the students have visited all three MCJ offices with a group in Biloxi, another in Jackson, and the final group in Indianola (“the Delta”).  Student work has involved legal assistance on behalf of victims of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill as well intensive research in areas of education and consumer law.  Each year the students have had a fabulous experience.  Simply researching and applying the law in an area very different than California has been an eye opening experience.  The students always comment on the surprising cultural differences, but most often they are humbled by the kindness of the Mississippians that they encounter.  Read student Aaron Adams’ (2L) account of his work in both Jackson and the Delta in The Notice.

Super Music Bonus!


Job’o’th’Week (Internship) — Get Courtroom Experience in Western North Carolina

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

Just yesterday, Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction Honoree Shannon Johnson wrote about how community-minded law students and lawyers should focus on “listening to what a community asks of you.” Well, readers, western North Carolina is asking:

Pisgah Legal Services is a nonprofit law firm providing legal assistance to low-income people in western North Carolina. From its three office locations Asheville, Hendersonville, and Spindale, Pisgah staff and volunteers  helped 14,000 clients last year. Their work involves a wide range of practice areas, and they’re interested in multiple rising 2Ls and 3Ls they’ll be able–ultimately–to throw into a courtroom: “Law clerks will shadow supervising attorneys in the office and in court, but will eventually take on their own caseload and clients[, with] the opportunity to interview clients and attend administrative hearings, judicial hearings, and trials.” If you want to get into court and help low-income clients this summer, Pisgah could be for you. Rising 3Ls, in particular, might apply to become certified legal interns through the NC State Bar.

If this sounds like something for you, check out the full post on PSJD. (Application deadline: April 15th, 2015)


Developing an Elder Law Project Proposal for the Borchard Foundation Fellowship

Adrienne Lyon Buenavista, 2013 Borchard Fellow; Staff Attorney, AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly

As the population of seniors in the United States continues to grow, there is an increasing need for lawyers to practice Elder Law—a field encompassing a wide array of practice areas, including Medicare/Medicaid planning, guardianship proceedings, elder abuse, and other issues affecting elderly individuals. Unfortunately, the most well-known fellowship programs (Equal Justice Works and Skadden) do not fund project proposals focused on Elder Law with the same frequency as project addressing other populations, despite an increasing number of law students pursing Elder Law careers.

Luckily, students interested in pursuing an Elder Law fellowship project can apply to a separate fellowship program specifically devoted to their interest: the Borchard Fellowship in Law and Aging. The Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging funds three fellows per year for a one-year fellowship term.

The Borchard Fellowship application is due on April 15, 2015.  When reviewing applications, the Borchard Foundation looks for three things—an innovative project aimed at assisting elders, a sponsoring organization that is engaged and eager to supervise the fellow, and an applicant with a deep interest in policy that affects the aging and a deep desire to advocate for their interests. 

Proposing an Innovative Project

Although it helps to begin early, there is no uniform process or timeline for developing a project proposal.  Applicants rarely conceive of their ideas in a linear fashion, first defining the legal problem (the “need”), then defining the tasks to address the problem, and finally describing the anticipated impacts of the tasks.  More typically, an applicant will have an idea of one aspect of the project proposal.  For example, one applicant might begin by envisioning what his or her dream job would be like, then define the tasks or activities he or she wants to pursue during the course of the fellowship, and finally backtrack to identify a genuine (and timely) problem he or she will address by performing these desired tasks. A second applicant might begin by brainstorming what legal issues need to be addressed—new legislation to be enforced, or an increase in certain case types (e.g., elder abuse). This second applicant can then work from these legal issues to define the problem his or her project might address, and consider what discrete tasks or actions will meaningfully (yet feasibly) address this problem.

Regardless of how any applicant devises his or her project, a successful project proposal will identify a genuine legal problem, propose tasks to alleviate that problem, and describe anticipated impacts.  As applicants work from one area of their applications outwards to the others, they must continue to assess whether their defined problem, tasks, and impacts correspond.  For instance, if an applicant identifies an increase in senior homelessness as a problem, then his or her proposal’s tasks should include legal strategies for alleviating senior homelessness, and its expected impacts should describe how senior homelessness will be alleviated if these strategies work.  If a proposed project’s impacts are ill-defined or not clearly linked to its tasks, the Borchard Foundation Center on Law and Aging (or any other funding organization) will be unlikely to support the plan, no matter how important the underlying need.

When an applicant is structuring his or her project, the following diagram may be useful (click to enlarge):

Developing a Fellowship Project

Choosing a Sponsor Organization:

While the applicant needs to think through his or her own interest areas, the process of coming up with a project idea is not done in a vacuum. Choosing a sponsor organization that has credibility and experience in Elder Law is critical—this organization should have practitioners in a position to identify the service gaps for their elderly clients.

Demonstrating a Deep Interest in Elder Law:

When applying for a Borchard Fellowship, it is important to demonstrate a sincere interest in Elder Law.  An applicant should ensure his or her resume, cover letter, and personal statement address all experiences providing evidence of this interest: family law and estate planning coursework, Elder Law clinic work, relevant pro bono work or internships, and relevant law review articles or other research.  Additionally, if an applicant has a compelling personal experience that explains why he or she is dedicated to Elder Law, this should be incorporated into the application as well. Stories about specific client experiences that left a particular impact on the applicant are also helpful.


 Landing a postgraduate fellowship, especially one in Elder Law, is a highly competitive process.  Applicants need to start early and take the time to cultivate a relationship with a sponsor organization and draft a compelling project proposal.  Applicants should also spend time assessing their resumes and cover letters to ensure their commitment to Elder Law reads through every sentence.

Finally, remember that the process of developing a fellowship proposal is useful even for unsuccessful applicants: Fellowships are an excellent opportunity for recent graduates to envision their dream jobs.  The process of developing a proposal, even if it does not result in funding, forces applicants to define their own goals and to build professional relationships which will prove useful when embarking on their Elder Law careers.   


Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: “Being Proximate— A Holistic Approach to Youth Advocacy

Shannon Johnson, BC Law '15Shannon Johnson, 2014-2015 Merit Distinction Honoree
(Photo courtesy of Boston College Law School)

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2014-15 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction honorees will be guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. (This year’s Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, Alex Dutton, will publish his blog next week when he receives his award.) Today, we’re featuring Merit Distinction honoree and Boston College Law School student Shannon Johnson, a multi-talented advocate single-mindedly dedicated to immigrant youth and the inaugural student in Boston College Law School’s hybrid immigration and juvenile clinic.

Being Proximate–A Holistic Approach to Youth Advoacy
Shannon Johnson, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Merit Distinction Honoree, 2014-2015 (Boston College Law School)–

I will never forget the night I heard Bryan Stevenson’s keynote address at the “Rebellious Lawyering” Conference for aspiring public interest attorneys. (As you may know, Bryan Stevenson does prolific civil rights work in the south.) I was in my first year of law school and already felt alienated from my public service goals.  I had pursued a legal education to work with immigrant youth and domestic violence survivors. I hoped to grow into a community lawyer, but actually lost my community connections while shuffling from torts class to legal research seminars. In my disconnected state, I was still able to latch onto something Bryan said during his talk. He urged us to seek to be proximate to the communities that we desired to serve.  In other words, true social justice advocates must leave our comfort zones to meet community needs. We had to challenge the confines of prestige found even in the public interest community (i.e. the pressure to accept prestigious fellowships in world-class cities).

I internalized Bryan’s words.  What did it mean to be proximate to a community when I was immersed in a world that felt so alienating? I struggled with this understanding, especially after living and working as a domestic violence advocate in East Los Angeles.  There, I had an understanding of the community that was much deeper than my connections to my new home in Boston.    For me, it meant seeking to understand the community in which you wanted to work and not just look to be understood. It meant building personal relationships and partnering with communities.  It meant applying humility to advocacy and listening to what a community asks of you (if anything) rather than speaking to what you think a community needs.

I had to challenge my faulty assumptions that ample advocacy opportunities existed in my New Boston home. After working in Los Angeles, I thought that I was working on the forefront of issues facing immigrant teens and undocumented people. After hearing Bryan speak, I knew I needed to listen a little more closely. I knew that my job was to seek understanding of my new greater community, rather than to expect it to first understand (and embrace) me. And as I scratched the surface, I found equivalent concerns and need in Boston as existed in Los Angeles, especially concerning immigrant juveniles.

Since then, the stories I have encountered engaging in clinics and community work have since jolted me out of my first year slump:

A foster youth nearing 18 wants leave the confines of juvenile detention and enter a supportive home placement.  A teenager must decide whether to live with a guardian— a stranger to him—or reconcile with his abusive father in order to obtain a visa and subsequent green card. A young man flees his home country for the U.S., where he has no friends or family, in order to escape threats against his life.  An undocumented young woman survives rape in the U.S. and has the opportunity to obtain legal status and reunite with her family—but still needs to emotionally heal from her trauma in order to talk about her immigration case. An undocumented teen parent fights for more time with her son but fears entering family court because of her legal status.

As I engaged more with clinics and community work in Boston, scenarios like these made apparent to me the pressing need for holistic legal services to tackle the very adult concerns facing immigrant youth.  The youth I served must make very adult decisions while at a developmentally critical stage in life. Immigration concerns, such as being in removal proceedings, navigating life without legal status, or fearing the deportation of a loved one, only exacerbate their trauma.  Language barriers also prevent young people from accessing the help they need or effectively advocating for themselves. Many immigrant youth experience trauma from exposure to violence in the U.S. and their home countries or from unstable family situations or intimate partner relationships.  Youth also are vulnerable to sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation.

The challenges that many young people face—I quickly realized— required advocates willing to connect youth to supportive services, versed in immigration law, and informed about other civil legal systems.  Most importantly, systems-involved youth with immigration issues need advocates to foster a trusting relationship and provide client-centered services that educate and empower youth.

One of the ways that I was able to address young people’s need for holistic services was by  partnering  with Professor Mary Holper (Director of the Boston College Immigration Clinic) and Francine Sherman (Director of the Juvenile Rights Advocacy Project) to develop an immigration and juvenile hybrid clinic.  The goal of this clinic, in part, was to provide holistic advocacy for systems-involved youth with immigration issues.

My goal for the clinic, developed with the mentorship of Professors Holper and Sherman, was to intensively work with young clients to 1) identify their ‘big picture’ goals; 2) counsel youth on their legal options and strategize with them the approach they wanted to take to solve their legal issues or achieve their goals; 3) empower youth by making them stakeholders invested in their case; 4) empower them through education on their legal options; and 5) connect youth with supportive services and collaborate with social workers as needed. Most frequently, the young person and I would navigate their immigration issues along with the family and juvenile court systems.  The hybrid clinic has continued this year, hosting two students representing young people in immigration and juvenile cases. My work in the clinic demonstrated the tremendous need for immigration reform, especially for young people. I also had the chance to engage in similar work during my summer internships and other volunteer work which confirmed this.

Taking a youth-centered and holistic approach to advocacy is also my way of growing proximate to the community.  It streamlines complicated processes, like family court, foster care, and delinquency proceedings, when one advocate understands the interplay between these systems. Moreover, working with service providers to ensure access to supportive resources stabilizes a young person’s life in order to successfully pursue legal forms of relief.

My experience has taught me the undeniable importance of legal status for systems-involved youth. Obtaining a work permit or Lawful Permanent Residency creates life-altering (and positive) changes in the life of a vulnerable young person.  Suddenly a young person can work and have access to income to support themselves of their families. A young person facing intimate partner violence might no longer fear calling the police during an incident of violence. College becomes a feasible goal because financial aid is available. A parenting teen can more confidently enter family court to request child custody or child support thereby creating a better life for the teen’s child. The options for youth to obtain legal status must continue to reach every young person.  Solving immigration needs, along with a holistic approach to youth advocacy, is one positive step in the direction of creating stable lives for systems involved youth navigating their complex lives.  It is being proximate to the realities facing this community.


Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: “A Few Steps to a Fulfilling Journey in Pro Bono Work”

Help WantedAlexander Gamez, 2014-2015 Merit Distinction Honoree
(Photo courtesy of Southwestern Law School)

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2014-15 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction honorees will be guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. (This year’s Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, Alex Dutton, will publish his blog next week when he receives his award.) Today, we’re featuring Merit Distinction honoree and Southwestern Law School student Alexander Gamez, an advocate for undocumented immigrant children who recruited an unprecedented number of students to volunteer for the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and without whom Esperanza believes it “would not have been able to respond to the surge of demand for legal screenings for unaccompanied children.”

How a Few Steps Can Lead to a Fulfilling Journey in Pro Bono Work
Alexander Gamez, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Merit Distinction Honoree, 2014-2015 (Southwestern Law School)–

Attorneys and law students alike put in an obscene number of work hours week in-week out. The legal profession’s insatiable demand can make us frantic, cold, and exhausted, with little or no time for anything else once we are done with our work. With this in mind, many of us ask, how is it possible for me to get involved in pro bono work? Empathetic individuals who desire to do pro bono work may often find themselves conflicted when confronted with the task of striking a balance between their work and pro bono work. But have no fear! To ease this anxiety I propose the following six simple steps that have allowed me to find a healthy balance between my school/work obligations and pro bono opportunities.

Step 1. Realize & Prioritize. Pro bono work does not take up as much time as you would think. This of course varies with the sort of volunteer work you do, but in my experience volunteering may take one to three hours at a time. To put it in perspective, there are 168 hours in a week. Taking three hours out of a week once every few weeks or even once a month will not have much of an impact on your time. It will, however, have a tremendous impact on a client/applicant in need. Thus, I feel it is necessary to accept that volunteering does not have to be immensely time consuming and to make those occasional few hours of volunteering a priority. Are you extremely busy? I suggest being more productive during the times you set aside to do your work, i.e., stay away from social media. I also find it helpful to reward myself if I am able to accomplish the tasks I have set within a block of time, i.e., I get to watch a show on Netflix or have ice cream if I finish my work before 10:30.

Step 2. Volunteer with Friends. Probably the most difficult part of getting involved in pro bono work is actually signing up. In Los Angeles, there are plenty of nonprofits and a huge population of individuals that are in dire need of assistance so the issue isn’t really finding opportunities, it’s actually committing to them. It’s easy to say you’re going to sign up for a volunteer opportunity but once you take that bold step and confirm with an organization you’re going to volunteer, it’s almost as if there is no turning back because a no show may put your reputation in jeopardy.

When I began considering doing public interest work, this initial step was certainly the most difficult thing for me because of the angst I had relating to my other obligations with school. But, I found that by signing up with friends who have similar obligations, the volunteering process seemed effortless. Not only did we make a commitment to the organization, but we also made unspoken commitments to each other that we would not back out. If they could do it I could do it. By volunteering with friends you will reduce the anxiety of going into this alone and will also bring in more people to do pro bono work. Everybody wins!

Step 3. Lose the Ego. Okay, so I’m signed up, I have attended the training, and I am on my way to volunteer. Once this realization hits, anxiety pours over me. Doubts begin to surface: do I even have time to volunteer? Did I prepare enough beforehand? Should I look at the training material again? Is my Spanish up to par? Will I be able to help the client? Do I know where I’m going?

Although I have these thoughts because I want to ensure I do a good job for the applicant/client, I have come to find they are egoistic. Here I am on the verge of an anxiety attack but I never took a step back to think about the applicant/client’s concerns. In the context of interviewing unaccompanied minors facing the possibility of deportation, many of these individuals’ ages range from 6 to 18 years old. They’re children. Not only are they children but in most cases they’re thousands of miles away from their families, have been subjected to unimaginable circumstances such as sexual assault, trafficking, and near death experiences.

Like most other law students, I have lived a life of comfort compared to the person I am assisting.  When this realization hits, ego goes right out the window and I gain composure. In this context it is integral that volunteers convey strength and compassion to the youths. This will instill confidence and trust in the person you are assisting which will result in them providing you with the necessary information to obtain their legal relief.

Step 5. Reflect & Repeat. It is by taking part in pro bono work that one comes to appreciate humanity and becomes determined that more must be done to ensure that humanity persists. After I complete my pro bono assignments I am humbled, distressed, and yet gratified because, despite the troubles my pro bono clients/applicants have endured, troubles which I will never fully understand, they still have the courage to share their stories and share laughs and tears with complete strangers like myself in the hopes that I will help them find some sort of legal reprieve. I just imagine what the client would do had our services not been there. They would not stand a chance. Knowing that I was there to let them know that someone is willing to listen to their story, show them they are not insignificant, and that they are human beings brings me hope. This is what drives me to come back and volunteer again.

Step 6. Surround Yourself with a Support Group. The ability to participate in pro bono work becomes even more realistic if you’re surrounded by an amazing support group. I have been tremendously fortunate to have professors that have motivated, encouraged and found ways for me to get involved with pro bono work. Moreover, I have an amazing fiancée who also supports me every step of the way and has also done pro bono work alongside me and on her own. Lastly, I have friends inside and outside of law school who have been incredibly understanding when my law related activities have kept me away. This group’s support was and continues to be a vital force in my pro bono work.

By following these six steps my law school pro bono experience been tremendously satisfying. If you’ve ever had any qualms about finding a balance between school/work obligations and taking advantage of pro bono opportunities I hope these six steps will quash those concerns and lead you on a fulfilling journey in pro bono work.


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 20, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  We continue featuring spring break pro bono trips. If you’d like to be featured, send us the information.  We are very excited about all the great work being done!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Ontario’s ethnocultural legal clinics to get increased funding;
  • Louisiana to implement new rule allowing CLE credit for pro bono work;
  • New York public defender settlement final;
  • DOJ files Statement of Interest in Georgia juvenile justice suit;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 13, 2015 – “Legal clinics that focus on serving the GTA’s growing immigrant communities will get a slice of the province’s $4.2 million new funding, but the bulk of the money will go to mainstream neighbourhood clinics.  After years of stagnant funding to assist vulnerable groups with unique language and cultural needs, the so-called ethnocultural legal clinics are expected to receive a $86,000 raise in annual operational funding. Legal Aid Ontario is to announce the funding on Friday.  ‘This is a provincial investment that will significantly improve the legal aid services in Ontario,’ said Nye Thomas, the LAO’s director general in policy and strategic research. ‘The funding will effectively address the concerns raised previously by the ethnolinguistic clinics.’”  (The Star)

March 13, 2015 – “The Louisiana Supreme Court announced this week it is implementing a rule some say provides lawyers with an incentive to do legal work for needy clients for free.   The state’s high court this week issued an order about the rule, which goes into effect May 1, that says every lawyer who performs pro bono work can earn up to three hours of Continuing Legal Education credit a year.”  “Five hours of pro bono work, the rule says, can count as one hour of CLE credit. Emily Ziober, the chairwoman of the Baton Rouge Bar Association’s pro bono committee, said the new rule encourages those who already perform pro bono work by offering them a reward. And it incentivizes lawyers who don’t do pro bono work to start.”  (The Times-Picayune)

March 18, 2015 – “A settlement between five New York counties and the state over the handling of public defender services was finalized Monday in state Supreme Court, and state officials are now on the clock to enact major changes.  Under the agreement, the state will adopt major reforms in Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties, which were chosen because their public defense systems are run differently and have diverse communities of different sizes.”  “The settlement of the case, Hurrell-Harring vs. New York, requires the counties to hire a sufficient number of lawyers, investigators and support staff to ensure that criminal defendants who cannot afford attorneys receive legal representation and mandate that every qualifying criminal defendant will be guaranteed a lawyer at the first court appearance. The state must also spend $4 million over the next two years to increase attorney communications with lower-income criminal defendants and to advertise its services, as well as increase training.”  (Register-Star)

March 18, 2015 – “The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a Statement of Interest in a suit against the state and the Cordele Judicial Circuit, which claims some children in the circuit’s four south Georgia counties aren’t receiving adequate representations in juvenile court.  The 20-page statement doesn’t weigh in on the merits of the suit’s claims. Rather, it outlines the kind of defense juveniles are entitled to under the law. The letter concludes that if the allegations of inadequate representation are true, then the court should hold that ‘juveniles’ constitutional rights are being violated.'”  (WABE)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Boston University School of Law.  Fifty-two BU Law students are spending their spring breaks providing assistance to low-income clients involving legal issues ranging from asylum to housing. Groups of one to six students are traveling to 12 different cities across the US, while a dozen students are staying local to serve in the Boston community, as part of BU Law’s Pro Bono Spring Break Service Trips.  Under the supervision of BU Law faculty, staff, or alumni, the students will work at 20 different nonprofit organizations to advocate for the legal rights of economically disadvantaged individuals. They will gain valuable experience working with real clients, learning about their host organizations, and conducting legal research. And by the end of the week, they will have had the chance to make a tangible impact on the communities they are serving.  What a great opportunity to give back!  (BU School of Law)

Super Music Bonus!   


Meet the Jolly Good Fellows – The Washington Council of Lawyers is sponsoring a panel of current and former postgraduate fellows.

Public interest jobs are competitive, especially right out of law school. A great way to get started is with a fellowship — a position that allows recent law school graduates to practice with nonprofit organizations, the government, educational institutions, and sometimes even law firms.

If you’d like to learn more about public interest fellowships — from fellows themselves — then we invite you to attend Meet the Jolly Good Fellows. At this event, you’ll get to talk to current and former fellows about applying for postgraduate public interest fellowships, the benefits and challenges of being a fellow, and the ways in which a fellowship can jump start your public-interest career. 

Meet the Jolly Good Fellows takes place on Tuesday, March 24, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at Kirkland & Ellis (655 15th Street, NW). To learn more and register, click here:

We’ll have current and former fellows from organizations such as Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, National Women’s Law Center, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and more. Public-interest coordinators from several area law schools will also be on hand to answer questions. (Complete list of participating fellows.)

This business-casual event is free for our members, and $5 for non-members, with a one-year Washington Council of Lawyers membership included in the price of admission. 


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 13, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  We continue featuring spring break pro bono trips.  If you’d like to be featured, send us the information.  We are very excited about all the great work being done!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Texas Indigent Defense Commission honors law school/counties;
  • Public Service Venture fund awards two seed grants;
  • Pro Bono legal program awarded Toledo (Ohio) SOUP funds;
  • Government plans overhaul of USAJobs;
  • Louisiana hackathon promotes access to lawyers;
  • New British Columbia online tribunal could resolve some legal matters;
  • DC Bar Foundation awards $3.8 mil to fund civil legal services for the poor;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 6, 2015 – “The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) honored the Texas Tech University School of Law, along with Lubbock and Dickens counties, for their work in improving indigent defense throughout the state.  Specifically, the School of Law and Dickens County were presented the Gideon Award for their work in creating the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office (CRPDO). That office provides indigent defense representation to more than 16 rural counties on the South Plains that is more cost effective for communities that have a lack of access to local attorneys who will accept court appointments.”  (Everything Lubbock)

March 6, 2015 – “Two recent Harvard Law School graduates, Shannon Erwin ’10 and Alana Greer ’11, have been selected as recipients of grants from the Public Service Venture Fund, a unique program that awards up to $1 million each year to help graduating Harvard Law students and recent graduates obtain their ideal jobs in public service.  The Public Service Venture Fund, a first-of-its kind program at a law school, was launched in 2012 to invite law students and recent alumni to identify unmet legal needs and develop new initiatives to meet them.”  (Harvard Law Today)

March 9, 2015 – A group of female attorneys who volunteer their time with Sisters in Law (a new initiative at Mom’s House) providing legal advocacy and mentorship to young moms walked away March 8 with the most money raised yet at a Toledo SOUP event.  “Founded 21 years ago, Mom’s House is a Toledo nonprofit that assists mothers aged 13-24 while they raise their children. There are currently 13 mothers enrolled in the program — full capacity — with more on the waiting list, said Executive Director Christina Rodriquez.  Sisters in Law was established a few months ago by Toledo attorney Gretchen DeBacker after her friend Rodriquez called on her several times to help mothers in the program with legal issues.”    (Toledo Free Press)

March 9, 2015 – “Federal officials on Monday announced plans to reshape government hiring and employee engagement efforts — including an overhaul of the troubled job announcement site USAJOBS — saying the changes were ‘a long time coming.'”  “OPM is referring to the initiative as “REDI” (recruitment, engagement, diversity and inclusion), and it includes new programs as well as ongoing efforts.”   The first changes are expected in May, after which “OPM will roll out new developments to the website every 12 weeks. A final overhaul of the website, which could include an entirely new design or changes to the current one, will become public in early 2016.”   (Government Executive)

March 10, 2015 – “The Louisiana State Bar Association is partnering with the American Bar Association to host a hackathon to promote access to justice during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.  The event will attract entrepreneurs, coders and developers who will compete to create the best hacks to improve access to the civil justice system for Louisiana residents who cannot afford lawyers.  The hackathon will be held at Loyola University College of Law on March 21 and 22.”  (New Orleans City Business)

March 10, 2015 – “Bitter fights between condo owners and their strata corporations over fees, parking stalls, pets and other matters could soon be forced into arbitration rather than through the courts.  Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said new legislation Tuesday would make it mandatory for strata property disputes, as well as small claims lawsuits worth less than $10,000, to go through a new government civil resolution tribunal website.”  “The new civil tribunal’s website should go online later this year, said Anton. People can access it, file complaints and update their case material from a computer at any time of day.  Currently, a strata dispute that can’t be resolved through arbitration ends up either in small claims court or B.C. Supreme Court — depending on the matter — where legal fees can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.  The new tribunal’s goal is for people to proceed through the Internet resolution process within 60 days, at a cost of around $200, said Shannon Salter, chairwoman of the Civil Resolution Tribunal.” (The Vancouver Sun)

March 11, 2015 – “The DC Bar Foundation today announced the FY15 recipients of the Access to Justice (ATJ) Grant Program, which awards grants to nonprofit legal services organizations that provide direct civil legal services to low-income DC residents. A total of $3,865,000 was awarded to 24 projects, of which five are new projects.  Funded by a grant from the District of Columbia Office of Victim Services (OVS), the ATJ Grant Program funds projects in three categories: (a) underserved areas; (b) housing-related matters; and (c) a shared legal services interpreter bank. The Foundation awarded 19 grants in the underserved areas category, totaling $2,555,000; four grants in the housing-related matters category, totaling $1,040,000; and one grant to the shared legal services interpreter bank, totaling $270,000.”  (DC Bar Foundation)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law tackles 5 specialized areas of pro bono representation this week during their Alternative Spring Break 2015.  Students will work on pro se divorce, advanced directives, civil rights restoration, DACA, and LGBT Equality legislation.  Read more about their great work!!

Super Music Bonus!   I’m trying to encourage Spring with a little Vivaldi.


Job’o’th’Week (Internship) — Master Every. Fellowship. Ever.

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that we at PSJD are big fans of post-graduate fellowships. These choice entry-level positions are ideal ways to begin your public interest law career–for some of them you even get to write your own job description!

Thing is, it can be a challenge to identify the fellowships that fit your interests, plan for each one’s (sometimes quite involved) application process, and research how best to meet the nuanced expectations of the different organizations you’ll need to impress to become a post-graduate fellow. That’s why we do everything we can to help prospective fellows by publishing the PSJD Comprehensive Fellowship Guide.

What does this have to do with this week’s juicy internship? Creating this fellowship resource is a lot of research, and every year we hire a law or graduate student to take on this daunting task. This is a paid position, here in DC, that will require someone to do extensive research and outreach to various fellowship organizations to update the Guide for 2015-2016.

So if you’re interested in a post-graduate fellowship, consider getting a headstart by mastering the field and building your network this summer as the PSJD Publications Coordinator. We’re looking for current law students with the ability to work independently, a high level of attention to detail and accuracy, (preferably) some knowledge of HTML, and a few other choice characteristics.

If this sounds like you, check out the full post on PSJD. (Application deadline: April 3rd, 2015)


Mid-Week Mashup: Grading the US’ Justice Infrastructure

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow (’14-’15)

Bridge Collapse

Like its transportation infrastructure, America’s judicial infrastructure is showing signs of collapse. (Photo: Mike Wills–CC License)

Whenever I get a chance, I try to keep abreast of legal news to see whether there aren’t any tidbits I should be passing along to PSJD’s jobseeking and career-developing audience. This week, I got my first chance in a long while. Luckily, a few of the stories that caught my eye boarded the same train of thought, giving me an opportunity to ask them to file out in an orderly fashion for you. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

Just last week, a New York Times editorial tried to make sense of the Supreme Court’s (predicted) schizophrenic response to the two most ideologically-charged cases on its docket (Obamacare and same-sex marriage) by drawing a distinction between the US’ historical track-records expanding “civil rights” versus providing “broad-based prosperity”:

“The broad point is that the country continues to follow its basic historical arc on civil rights: They expand…The progress is uneven—and hard-won, as the surviving Selma marchers know well—but it is undeniable. Economic matters are different… broad-based prosperity is more complicated…It depends on a series of choices that society makes, on education, tax policy and, yes, health care policy.”

Making this jurisprudential move, the Times is in powerful company: As Judge Posner has put it, “the Constitution is a charter of negative rather than positive liberties.” He draws support for this conclusion from the US Supreme Court, who Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein have accused of “assum[ing] its validity without serious examination or even argument.” But this move should be interrogated, and it must be discarded, and another tidbit of news I encountered in today’s surfing demonstrates exactly why:

This Tuesday, Above the Law gave law school hopefuls a stark assessment of their future as public criminal lawyers: Louisiana has been laying off its public defenders to make up for a $5.4 million shortfall in their budget. An ABA study recently concluded that Missouri PDs spend so little time on their cases that the state’s system violates indigent defendants’ constitutional right to counsel—yet the Missouri Governor has withheld new funding for the PD budget, even after the state legislature overrode his veto. (Note: Last October, New York settled a lawsuit alleging a similar unconstitutional defunding of its own PD system.) In Massachusetts, a study last year found that some prosecutors make less money than courthouse janitors.  Massachusetts, like Missouri, doesn’t seem able to raise the funds to resolve its problems. ATL’s assessment?

“If you’re thinking of becoming a PD but aren’t sure, consider carefully. Embarking on a career as a PD is uncertain: it can be tough to get the job but easy to lose it, and the workload is high while the pay is low. The job might not be for you.”

The crisis currently facing America’s public lawyers (prosecutors and public defenders alike) illustrates perfectly the argument Holmes and Sunstein set out to make in the first chapter of their book, “The Cost of Rights:”

“Individuals enjoy rights, in a legal as opposed to a moral sense, only if the wrongs they suffer are fairly and predictably redressed by their government…To the extent that rights enforcement depends upon judicial vigilance, rights cost, at a minimum, whatever it costs to recruit, train, supply, pay and (in turn) monitor the judicial custodians of our basic rights…This machinery is expensive to operate, and the taxpayer must defray the costs. That is one of the senses in which even apparently negative rights are, in actuality, state-provided benefits.”

In other words, it’s hard to argue (as the New York Times just did) that the United States has followed  a “basic historical arc” of expanding civil rights when individuals’ ability to protect those rights is tied to its “more complicated” history of policy choices about how to spend the profits our economy produces. And when we don’t provide enough money to hire all the lawyers the public criminal law machinery needs at rates that will allow them to take care with their clients and pride in their work, it isn’t just a crisis for “us” as lawyers or “us” as career development professionals—it’s an existential threat to our society.  As Holmes and Sunstein note, “rights cost, at a minimum, whatever it costs to recruit, train, supply, pay and (in turn) monitor the judicial custodians of our basic rights.” In addition to competent judges, these custodians include both prosecutors (who are charged with ensuring that the state acts responsibly when it decides to attempt to take away individuals’ freedoms) and defenders (who are charged with ensuring that the state builds an adequate case when it does so).

One final shoutout to recent news:  Last week’s episode of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” tackled our increasingly urgent infrastructure crisis:

“We’re currently doing a terrible job of maintaining all of our infrastructure… At this point, we aren’t just flirting with disaster. We’re rounding third base and asking if disaster has any condoms. And the crazy thing is, ask any politician from either side and they’ll tell you that infrastructure is incredibly important. Everyone agrees on this. In fact, at a recent hearing, both business and labor in the form of the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO turned out to support infrastructure spending…”

Yet there’s no funding, and Oliver couldn’t get any answers from John Boehner’s office when he tried to ask for the Speaker’s plan for this issue. He ended his segment with a tongue-in-cheek appeal to Hollywood to help make infrastructure maintenance sexy. But unlike properly functioning roads and bridges, we already have many, many Hollywood blockbusters that make a properly functioning justice system sexy, featuring offices staffed by prosecutors and defenders with adequate time and resources to pursue justice for their clients.

…so when it comes to judicial infrastructure, what’s our excuse?