PSJD Public Interest News Digest – November 6, 2015

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Harvard Law School digitizing US case law and offering it free;
  • Wisconsin law firm launches student loan defense practice;
  • Central New York now has one place the poor can go for civil legal services;
  • Legal Aid of Western Missouri receives grant for pro bono partnerships;
  • Ohio Supreme Court subcommittee says assigned counsel system isn’t broken;
  • Roger Williams University School of Law and Providence law firm open veterans appeals clinic;
  • University of Georgia School of Law to open nation’s first child sexual abuse victim clinic;
  • Rocket Lawyer and Bay Area Legal Aid partners on pilot project;
  • LSC awards Technology Innovation Grants;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 29, 2015 – “Harvard Law School has announced that, with the support of Ravel Law, a legal research and analytics platform, it is digitizing its entire collection of U.S. case law, one of the largest collections of legal materials in the world, and that it will make the collection available online, for free, to anyone with an Internet connection. The ‘Free the Law‘ initiative will provide open, wide-ranging access to American case law for the first time in United States history. ‘Driving this effort is a shared belief that the law should be free and open to all,’ said Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow. ‘Using technology to create broad access to legal information will help create a more transparent and more just legal system.'” “Said Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans: ‘This is a great development. Making legal materials and analytical tools available for free will be of great value to non-profit legal aid lawyers in providing essential legal services to low-income people.'” (Harvard Law Today)

October 29, 2015 – “As economists cast wary eyes on the national burden of student loan debt, Horizons Law Group has launched a new, unique practice for student loan defense, led by an experienced bankruptcy attorney. Laurie A. Bigsby, a Pewaukee [Wisconsin] resident, has more than two decades’ experience representing clients in personal finance matters, including Chapter 7 and 13 bankruptcy cases, and administration of probate cases. Her student loan solutions practice centers on a cutting-edge area of law with $1.2 trillion in student loan debt hanging over the nation’s economy. Eerily similar to the mortgage meltdown, digging into these cases often uncovers illegal harassment of borrowers, missing or forged documents, and loans sold off into securitized trusts.” “‘My sole focus is that clients are treated fairly, and allowed due process to seek a resolution,’ she said.” I suspect we will see more of these types of dedicated practices.  (Lake Country Now)

October 29, 2015 –  Here is an excellent collaboration to bring services to those who desperately need them, and don’t always know where to look. “A new one-stop destination will officially open today to serve those basic needs of Central New York’s poor — and vulnerable — population. The George H. Lowe Center for Justice is located on the third floor of Financial Plaza, 221 S. Warren St. in downtown Syracuse. It’s within walking distance of the bus station, the Civic Center and other destinations critical to poor people. The center brings three little-known legal service providers under one roof: Legal Services of Central New York, Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York and the Volunteer Lawyers Project. All three were in separate offices downtown. What’s the difference between the three? To someone in need of legal help, it doesn’t matter. By bringing them into one location, a client will be sent to the appropriate lawyer, regardless of what name they work under. The separate entities are required by law because they are funded with a patchwork of 80 to 90 grants for different purposes: evictions, divorces, etc. But the differences are now masked, with the groups sharing office space and expertise.” (Syracuse.com)

October 30, 2015 – “Legal Aid of Western Missouri received a 24-month grant worth $257,441 that it will use to create pro bono partnerships with large law firms to help improve neighborhoods in Kansas City’s urban core. The Adopt-a-Neighborhood project seeks to hire attorneys from respected, private law firms to serve as general counsel for needy neighborhoods that have major and often unseen legal needs. Issues range from lack of access to healthy food to blighted properties that never get fixed. Pro bono opportunities may include the simple negotiation of documents and contracts for small community nonprofits, litigating clear title and abandoned property issues, assisting with negotiations to bring a grocery store to a neighborhood, or converting an abandoned warehouse into a community center.”  (Kansas City Business Journal)

October 30, 2015 – “The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday released a report by a subcommittee that found no evidence of abuse in the way judges assign lawyers for poor defendants. The report caps Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty’s years-long and vocal push to restrict judges’ ability to pick private defense attorneys to represent poor defendants who don’t get a public defender. While small changes to state rules should be made to encourage judges to spread cases to more attorneys, “individual courts should remain free to adopt appointment systems,” the court’s Advisory Committee on Case Management Subcommittee on Court Appointments wrote in the 22-page report. The committee submitted the findings to the Ohio Supreme Court, which will consider whether the recommendations should be written into the state rules governing the assigned counsel process.” “The subcommittee rejected the notion that allowing judges to pick defense counsel breeds corruption, saying it found ‘no readily apparent evidence of abuse in the current system.'” The subcommittee recommended changing Ohio’s rules to encourage judges to spread their appointments among the widest possible list of qualified defense attorneys. That process would allow young attorneys to get on the list and begin working more quickly, and would make complaints of favoritism more difficult.” (Cleveland.com)

November 2, 2015 – “Law students at Roger Williams University will get federal appeals court experience, and veterans who have been denied disability benefits will get free lawyers for their appeals in a collaboration announced Monday at the Federal Courthouse on Exchange Street. Rhode Island’s only law school and the Providence-based law firm of Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick on Monday announced they will together operate the Veterans Disability Appeals Field Clinic. Students will staff the clinic in the law firm’s office at One Turks Head Place in Providence. Chisholm, Chisholm & Kilpatrick has been operating a similar clinic in Boston with Harvard University law students. A news release announcing the program said lawyers at the firm will guide RWU law students as the students review records and identify evidence, draft memos, discuss the appeal in conferences, potentially negotiate ways to settle the appeal, participate in mock arguments and, at times, argue the appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The veterans appeals court is based in Washington, but its judges sometimes take the court on the road to hear cases in other cities. At Monday’s ceremony, Dean Michael J. Yelnosky said the program is the law school’s first clinic for appellate work.” (Providence Journal)

November 2, 2015 – “The University of Georgia School of Law will be the first in the nation to have an experiential learning opportunity dedicated solely to the assistance of victims of child sexual abuse. The Wilbanks Child Endangerment and Sexual Exploitation Clinic will open January 2016. Initial funding for the clinic has been donated by Georgia Law alumnus Marlan B. Wilbanks, who received his Juris Doctor in 1986. It is expected that many of the clinic’s first clients will be those now eligible to bring civil charges against their abusers as a result of the passage of House Bill 17, the “Hidden Predator Act,” by the Georgia legislature.” “A nationwide search was launched last week to identify a director for the new clinic.” (UGA Today)

November 3, 2015 – “In furtherance of its mission to increase access to affordable legal assistance, Rocket Lawyer is teaming up with Bay Area Legal Aid (BayLegal). Through this pilot project, Rocket Lawyer will train BayLegal’s attorneys on its platform. Together, Rocket Lawyer and BayLegal will explore creative solutions to aid low-income clients solve their legal problems. The pilot project leverages Rocket Lawyer’s technology and resources so that BayLegal can help more clients. ‘Rocket Lawyer’s technology platform is the perfect complement to the wonderful work done by legal aid organizations across this country,’ said Alon Rotem, Rocket Lawyer general counsel who helped to launch the pilot. ‘Our passion to make the law simple and affordable for everyone makes us kindred spirits with organizations like Bay Area Legal Aid, and we are proud to partner with them to expand access to justice to indigent clients in our local community.’ ‘Bay Area Legal Aid is thrilled to partner with Rocket Lawyer to creatively transform legal services for our client community,’ said Alex Gulotta, executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid. ‘Civil legal aid ensures fairness in the justice system, and every year legal aid nonprofits are only able to serve a fraction of the need. By harnessing the power of Rocket Lawyer’s platform, our partnership has the potential to amplify the number of clients we can help.'” (Market Wired)

November 5, 2015 – “The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced today that 30 organizations nationwide will receive Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) funding in 2015. The grants will support a variety of initiatives, including developing a website with special resources for seniors and domestic violence victims; creating a hotline for family and housing law advice that can be accessed by text message; and implementing a videoconferencing system to conduct remote client interviews and provide informational videos.” Get the full list of grantees and their projects here.  (Legal Services Corporation)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  Trent Cameron and Jennifer Shaw – Illinois attorneys

Shortly after graduating from SIUC, Trent Cameron began helping an elderly man pay his bills and access public benefits to which he was entitled. The man also needed help searching for a house and other day-to-day tasks.

Shortly after starting her law career, Jennifer Shaw began representing domestic violence victims. That was around 1996. “I thought, if I can find a job and just do orders of protection that helps people who are victims of domestic violence, that would be the greatest thing,” Shaw said to a room filled with mostly lawyers and judges on Tuesday at the annual Celebrate Pro Bono Luncheon.

Cameron and Shaw, both of Edwardsville, Illinois, were given the Rising Young Star Award, and the Pro Bono Service Award, respectively, by the Third Judicial Circuit. In all, more than a hundred lawyers, mediators and volunteers were recognized for taking time out of their practices to volunteer to help low-income people. Cameron, while also handling his own cases, last year volunteered more than 10 hours a week to do research, draft pleadings, and argue cases in court for the Land of Lincoln Foundation. Shaw has completed 15 long-term cases for Land of Lincoln in the past decade. Today she is managing partner at the Shaw Law Group in Edwardsville.

The need for lawyers to volunteer is great, said Michael Bergmann, who directs the Public Interest Law Initiative. Illinois has only 420 full-time legal aid attorneys but at any one time only 150 of them are available to serve low-income people, he said. “Put another way, that is one attorney available for every 6,415 low income people,” said Bergmann. “Contrast that with one private attorney for every 429 people in the general population above poverty level.”  Congratulations and keep up the good work!

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

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