PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 11, 2015

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

Happy Friday and welcome to September! My favorite season has started – football season.  It’s also service project season.  Fantastic work out there folks. Keep those updates coming!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • ABA launches its first social media lobbying campaign to save Public Service Loan Forgiveness;
  • New pro bono rule in New York allows remote supervision;
  • ABA’s Blog the New Normal guest columnist posits current access to justice initiatives are ineffective;
  • Free legal clinics to be held for low-income families in Kentucky;
  • North Carolina consortium receives $2.6 million grant for health care navigation;
  • Nest and New Mexico Legal Aid form legal partnership;
  • First Arkansas transgender clinic assists more than 2 dozen;
  • For criminal justice reform, look to civil legal aid;
  • The Law Clinic at Valparaiso University Law School is accepting new clients;
  • National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers report – Judges have too much control in federal public defense system;
  • New Orleans judge calls hearing to discuss public defender funding;
  • Boston University Law School and MIT create legal clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 27, 2015 – “For the first time, the ABA is incorporating social media into a major advocacy initiative as it seeks to protect the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness program from possible elimination by Congress.” “In developing a strategy to preserve the PSLF program, Thomas M. Susman, director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office, and other members of the GAO working on the issue determined that the usual methods of trying to get the attention of federal legislators wouldn’t be enough. They decided that the loan forgiveness issue would be a good fit for a social media campaign, especially since the issue is crucial to so many recent law school graduates. ‘This isn’t replacing our retail lobbying, but it is supplementing it,’ says Susman. ‘It’s an effort to step up a notch our ability to cut through the noise level on Capitol Hill.'”  (ABA Journal)

September 2, 2015 – “The New York Court of Appeals has broadened the rule requiring 50 hours of pro bono service for those seeking admission to the bar, allowing for remote supervision of pro bono work.” “On Friday, the Court of Appeals announced it had amended the rule, effective Sept. 16, eliminating the requirement that supervising attorneys be admitted in the same jurisdiction where the pro bono work is being performed. Bar groups and law school officials sent the court a letter in June, noting several scenarios that would be excluded under the initial rule. The letter said the global practice of law now may involve teams of lawyers worldwide using shared secured documents and video conferencing. ‘Close physical proximity is no longer the mark of supervision in law firms or law schools,’ said the letter from the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, the New York City Bar Association’s Committee on Pro Bono and Legal Services and law school officials from Columbia, New York University and Fordham. Margaret Wood, court attorney for professional matters at the Court of Appeals, said several applicants also contacted the court with questions about whether their pro bono work would count toward the rule, since their supervising attorneys were in other jurisdictions. The change ‘will allow for more opportunities for pro bono work,’ Wood said.” Here is a link to the Court’s Order. (New York Law Journal)

September 2, 2015 –  Guest blogger Dan Lear says the problem with current access to justice initiatives is that “[e]xpanding legal services access beyond the poorest and most disadvantaged is a significant challenge. Attempts to bring similar types of services and resources to large numbers of people—from infrastructure to transportation to medical care—have been tremendously expensive and time-consuming. Doing the same for legal services will certainly be a unique challenge.” He suggests part of the solution is changing the focus of the conversation. “One good initial, but admittedly small, step for legal services is semantics. Specifically, instead of talking about an ‘access to justice’ gap let’s switch the rhetoric and consider the ‘access to legal services’ gap instead.” He goes on to point out “[m]odest-means clients are also different than the access-to-justice clients. For one, while they may not be able to afford traditional full representation legal services but they can pay something. Further, many modest means clients are middle-income individuals, so they’re more likely better educated with better access to technology or other resources that would help them self-educate, receive unbundled legal services delivered partially or fully though technology or online, or navigate the legal system with only limited guidance from an attorney.” “There are pervasive legal access issues throughout the economy—from pro se litigants, to entrepreneurs who need business help, to families without wills or simple estate plans. This access gap is a significant problem for the legal profession and it won’t be solved overnight. It might not even be solved in our lifetime. But greater precision in how we talk about access challenges is an easy first step in the right direction.”  What do you think? (The New Normal)

September 3, 2015 – “A $30,000 grant from the Kentucky Bar Foundation will help low-income families get legal advice regarding family court. Those who qualify can talk one-on-one with local lawyers, for free, on issues regarding divorce, child custody and other family [matters] at an upcoming domestic relations clinic. Advanced registration is required to attend the clinic, because only those who are eligible can attend. You must be at or below the poverty line and have children to qualify.” (WPSD Local 6)

September 3, 2015 -“A group of 14 health care, social service and legal aid organizations has received more than $2.6 million in federal funding to help North Carolina residents sign up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. Officials with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday that the N.C. Navigator Consortium will receive the grant to help consumers sign up during the open enrollment period for 2015-2016. Legal Aid of North Carolina will administer the grant. Officials say the grant will fund about 250 navigators who will help consumers determine which plan works best for them, apply for financial help and complete their enrollment.” (WNCT)

September 4, 2015 – “After years of limited access to legal representation for their residents, The Nest domestic violence shelter is entering into a new partnership with New Mexico Legal Aid. The organization, that gives assistance in civil legal cases to people who otherwise are not able to afford a private attorney, has new funding that will allow an attorney from their Roswell field office to visit Lincoln County and Mescalero residents at the shelter on a consistent basis. ‘We have used New Mexico Legal Aid in the past, but with fewer attorneys and the nearest field office being in Roswell, there was either a very long wait for representation or transportation problems,’ Nest Executive Director Coleen Widell said. Widell went on to explain survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking encounter a variety of legal problems for which they require assistance, including Orders of Protection, child custody issues, child support, divorce or separation, landlord tenant problems, credit repair and access to benefits. Not only residents at The Nest will benefit from the new partnership. ‘In addition, survivors who do not want or need to come into shelter for safety or services can still meet with a NMLA attorney here,’ Widell said. ‘HEAL will coordinate the screening and referral of everyone in Lincoln County, regardless of whether they are current clients at The Nest, to ensure they meet criteria for free legal services.’ The program in Lincoln County will begin Oct. 1.” (Ruidoso News)

September 4, 2015 – “Earlier this summer, 27 people converged on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s William H. Bowen School of Law to meet with attorneys at Arkansas’s first transgender legal clinic. In the end, 11 attorneys wrote up 43 notarized documents ready to file, including 25 name changes and 10 gender changes. Human Rights Campaign Arkansas was a primary supporter of these clinics and is co-sponsoring additional clinics planned in Arkansas as well. In addition Transgender Equality Coalition (ArTEC), the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and VOCALS worked together to create the clinic, which provided free legal advice and fee waivers. ArTEC has also pledged to continue assisting those who attended the clinic, should they encounter any difficulties when filing their documents in their respective counties.” (Human Rights Campaign)

September 5, 2015 – Our colleague David Udell, Executive Director of the National Center for Access to Justice at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, has an opinion piece this week linking the benefits of utilizing civil legal aid in combating the cycle of criminal justice abuses, particularly in the areas of fees. “Millions of evictions and foreclosures, domestic violence cases and accusations of neglect, debt collections and denials of benefits, civil asset forfeitures, civil court fees, suspensions of driver’s licenses and more churn through local courtrooms. When neglected, the problems fester, and lives go awry. The result is a spinning cycle of poverty and correctional control as hunger, isolation, stress and violence inevitably draw people into the system and burden our society.”  Check out his thoughts.  (Aljazeera America)

September 5, 2015 – “The Law Clinic at Valparaiso University Law School, which provides free legal representation to individuals with limited income, is accepting new cases. The Law Clinic represents low-income residents of the region in matters such as debt collection defense, consumer issues, landlord/tenant disputes, guardianships, adoptions and tax concerns involving the Internal Revenue Service. Potential clients must meet income eligibility guidelines, officials said. The Law Clinic’s legal services are provided by Valparaiso University law students, who receive firsthand legal experience by representing financially disadvantaged clients. Students work under the supervision of law school faculty.” (

September 9, 2015 – “A tough new report has concluded that the federal government’s system for defending poor people needs to change. The nearly two-year study by the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said judges who are supposed to be neutral arbiters too often put their fingers on the scales. The report said defense lawyers for the poor who work in the federal court system need more resources to do their jobs. That means money, not just for themselves, but to pay for experts and investigators. In an adversary system, lawyers for poor defendants say they need to operate on equal footing with prosecutors. But the study, the first of its kind in more than 20 years, found the source of most concern rests with judges who exercise too much control over the process. In many cases, judges cut fees without explanation. And there’s no way to appeal. ‘It’s just not a good situation to have the judge that you’re appearing before have that much control over your practice, over ultimately how you represent your client,’ said Gerry Morris, a longtime defense attorney in Texas and president of NACDL. The new report doesn’t offer a clear solution to the independence problem. But Morris pointed out that the chief administrative body of the U.S. courts has launched its own study of the system for representing poor defendants.” (NPR)

September 10, 2015 – “A New Orleans judge has ordered the parish’s chief public defender Derwyn Bunton to appear in court Friday (Sept. 11), to explain whether his office can meet the constitutional mandate of providing legal representation to poor people charged with crimes. Criminal District Court Judge Arthur Hunter called for the hearing on his own motion on Wednesday, after reading an op-ed piece in The Washington Post by New Orleans public defender Tina Peng. She opines on the fiscal crisis faced by her employer that hurts the office’s ability to provide an adequate criminal defense to indigent people. ‘I asked Derwyn to provide an answer to a simple question: Whether his office can provide constitutionally effective assistance of counsel to indigent defendants,’ Hunter said Thursday morning.” (The Times-Picayune)

September 10, 2015 – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University School of Law “have partnered to launch a new clinic in which law students offer legal help to MIT and other Boston University students launching start ups or technology projects. As part of the new Entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property Clinic, law students will spend Fridays on the MIT campus, advising student entrepreneurs on everything from how to set up and finance their fledgling ventures to negotiating contracts and registering trademarks and copyrights. The clinic will also help the student entrepreneurs evaluate any regulatory matters their ideas or startups might encounter. ‘The students get the chance to put the doctrine they’ve learned in the classroom into practice, and they get a better idea of how clients look at the world,’ said Boston University law dean Maureen O’Rourke. ‘They learn client counseling skills and negotiation skills.'”  (National Law Journal)(free subscription required)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  

“At 8:46 a.m. on a clear Tuesday morning, an American Airlines Boeing 767 loaded with 20,000 gallons of jet fuel crashes into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.”  This was the first of three incidents that would have a profound change on America and the world. Please take a moment to remember all those who sacrificed on this day and since in an effort to respond to this attack.  (

Super Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.

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