PSJD Public Interest News Digest – April 22, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Thank you all for such an amazing Annual Education Conference. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and are revved up and ready to go for another great year!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New fellowships help University of California law students launch public interest careers;
  • Texas restores grant money to juvenile indigent defense program;
  • Federal government to relieve permanently disabled of all federal student loan debt;
  • Pro Bono Institute names new President and CEO;
  • Microsoft partners with Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net to create access to justice portal;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

April 13, 2016 – “The University of California has launched a new, first-of-its-kind systemwide fellowship program to support UC law students and graduates committed to practicing law in service to the public, UC President Janet Napolitano announced today (April 13). The University of California President’s Public Service Law Fellowships will award $4.5 million annually to promising students at UC’s four law schools. The funding will make postgraduate work and summer positions more accessible for students who want to pursue public interest legal careers but might otherwise – out of financial need – seek private sector jobs.” “The fellowship program is an ambitious new effort – it will provide for approximately 425 summer fellowships and 60 postgraduate fellowships for students at the law schools at UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA and UC Irvine. The postgraduate fellowships provide $45,000 for graduates entering public service, plus an additional $2,500 to help defray bar-related costs. The summer fellowships provide each fellow between $4,000 to $4,500 to subsidize summer public interest law jobs. The fellowship funds will be distributed proportionately based on the number of law students enrolled at each law school each year. The law schools will manage the application process and select fellowship recipients. In addition, the fellowship program provides funding to enable UC law students to participate in the UC Washington Program – a vital UC program that gives students real-world public service experience in the nation’s capital. The fellowship program will culminate each year in a national conference on public service law that would rotate among each of the UC law schools. The conference will showcase important legal scholarship and practice and contribute to the national conversation on public interest law.” (University of California Press Room)

April 13, 2016 – “The state has decided to restore several thousands of dollars in grant money. It was withheld from Hidalgo County’s Juvenile Indigent Program. The Texas Indigent Defense Commission announced its decision at a meeting on South Padre Island Wednesday. Last year, the commission withdrew more than $600,000 it awarded the county for 2016. The decision was based on a non-compliance issue. The commission cited an uneven distribution of attorneys appointed to juvenile cases. Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia said he is pleased with the decision. He said the money is needed to help the county meet its legal obligations to pay lawyers to defend indigent defendants.” (KRGV)

April 13, 2016 – “The Obama administration is directing several federal agencies, including the Department of Education and the Social Security Administration, to forgive $7.7 billion of student loans to around 400,000 people with permanent disabilities. Following last year’s White House-announced Student Aid Bill of Rights, designed to reorient how student loans were repaid, President Obama announced on Tuesday a directive to fully forgive the federal student loan debt owed by those with permanent disabilities, or PD. Federal law already offers student loan debt relief to Americans with a severe disability, but since 2012, the administration’s effort at getting more to take advantage of the debt relief opportunity has had lackluster results, according to The Washington Post. ‘Too many eligible borrowers were falling through the cracks, unaware they were eligible for relief,’ Education Under Secretary Ted Mitchell said in a statement. ‘Americans with disabilities have a right to student loan relief. And we need to make it easier, not harder, for them to receive the benefits they are due.'” (RT)

April 15, 2016 – “The Board of Directors of Pro Bono Institute (PBI) is pleased to announce that Eve Runyon, Director of Corporate Pro Bono (CPBO), has been named the organization’s new President and CEO. Runyon succeeds Esther Lardent, who founded PBI and held the roles of President and CEO for 19 years before stepping down for health reasons in 2015. Runyon joined PBI in 2005 to lead CPBO, PBI’s partnership project with the Association of Corporate Counsel. Under Runyon’s leadership, CPBO designed and implemented innovative initiatives to expand the commitment to pro bono across in-house law departments, including the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® initiative, the only industry-wide standard for in-house pro bono, which enables legal departments to identify, benchmark, and communicate their support for pro bono service. Currently, there are 145 Corporate Pro Bono Challenge® signatories.” (CSRwire)

April 19, 2016 – “Microsoft joined with the LSC and Pro Bono Net in announcing the development of a prototype access to justice ‘portal.’ Microsoft will provide funding of at least $1 million and project management expertise to build out this project. Drawing on state-of-the-art cloud and Internet technologies, this portal will enable people to navigate the court system and legal aid resources, learn about their legal rights and prepare and file critical court documents in a way that is accessible, comprehensive and easy to navigate. The ultimate goal is to help people every step of the way toward addressing their legal problem. This first-of-its-kind system will be accessible from any device, standards-compliant and connected to legal aid organizations through open software interfaces. Once the prototype is developed, we will post it in open source form to GitHub, one of the leading sites for open-source software development projects. That way, others can build upon it or build other, comparable systems. Over time, we hope that every state will develop a portal solution to provide a modern, efficient way for everyone to access the court system and legal aid resources. With recent advances in machine learning, we can even imagine that within the not-too-distant future systems such as these could enable people to speak naturally and receive help in a comfortable “chat” format tailored to their specific needs. LSC developed the vision for this portal over the past few years, working with leaders from across the access to justice community. The National Center for State Courts recently began fleshing out the technical requirements for such a portal. Pro Bono Net, a national non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the access-to-justice gap through technology and collaboration, has agreed to help convene local partners and provide service design expertise to execute the pilot. We couldn’t be happier to start working with all three of these organizations to implement LSC’s vision of access to justice for all.” (Microsoft Blog)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Hunton & Williams LLP devotes significant time each year in serving the community. During the firm’s last seven fiscal years, 100 percent of the firm’s full-time lawyers in the United States volunteered for pro bono projects. This represents more than 4 percent of the firm’s gross billable hours and commemorates 21 continuous years of meeting or exceeding the Pro Bono Institute’s Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge of donating at least 3 percent of the firm’s annual billable hours to pro bono service. At the end of the firm’s fiscal year on March 31, the firm had donated more than 40,000 pro bono hours to the community.

Hunton & Williams is proud of its community service and leadership among law firms in the United States, where the firm’s tradition of pro bono service is well recognized. The firm maintains two neighborhood offices — in Richmond and Charlottesville, Virginia — solely dedicated to pro bono services for low-income individuals, and a full-time-staffed Pro Bono Fellows program. (Hunton & Williams News & Events)

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

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