PSJD Public Interest News Digest – June 17, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Harvard clinical program receives grant from Milstein Foundation to launch Syrian Refugee Resettlement Project;
  • Tennessee Supreme Court selects firm to launch new pro bono initiative;
  • The Legal Services Corporation turns to law firms for assistance;
  • Attorney and entrepreneur seek to uberize legal services;
  • Virginia Access to Justice Commission launches self-help website;
  • Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law launches Food and Beverage Law Clinic;
  • Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii receives surplus funds from bank settlement;
  • Echoing Green announces 2016 Fellows;
  • USPTO to expand law school clinic certification program;
  • Ohio Attorney General announces grant for legal aid for seniors;
  • Equal Justice Works gets grant to help elder-abuse victims;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

June 10, 2016 – “The Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program has received a generous grant from the Howard and Abby Milstein Foundation to launch the Syrian Refugee Resettlement Project. The Obama Administration has committed to resettling at least 10,000 Syrian refugees in the current fiscal year. Due to bottlenecks in processing, the United States has fallen far short of its goal to date. Over the next six months, the Clinic will be working to gather and analyze information regarding current obstacles to efficient processing of Syrians destined for U.S. resettlement. The Clinic will compile a compendium of relevant laws and regulations related to refugee resettlement, document current practice, and make practical recommendations for improvements to those processes. The report will be broadly disseminated to both Congress and the Administration and will include specific recommendations for reform.” (Harvard Law Today)

June 10, 2016 – “As part of an initiative designed to improve access to legal services, the Tennessee Supreme Court has created a new way for attorneys to earn required CLE credit for doing pro bono work and the court has designated Nashville’s Bass Berry & Sims as the first firm in the state to offer the program. Over the past decade, the court has, through the creation of the Access to Justice Commission, searched for ways to increase access to legal services. The Commission petitioned the Court to create a new designation — ‘approved legal assistance organization’ — to expand the types of entities that may confer CLE credit for pro bono cases. Under previous CLE rules, attorneys were ineligible to receive CLE credits for pro bono cases unless the cases were referred to them by a legal aid organization receiving federal funding. The update enables those organizations approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court to offer the incentive directly. As part of an approved legal assistance organization, Bass attorneys will be able to receive one hour of CLE credit for each five hours of pro bono representation. The maximum CLE credit an attorney can earn annually through this program is three. Tennessee attorneys are required to earn 15 CLE credits annually.” “Ann Pruitt, executive director at Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, said several other law firms have completed the application and qualification process to become approved legal assistance organizations.”  (Nashville Post)

June 13, 2016 – “In the fall of 2014, for the first time in its 40-year history, the Legal Services Corporation turned to the nation’s largest law firms for financial support. The cash-strapped organization asked big firms to commit as much as $250,000 or more to support its mission of funding civil legal services programs for the poor.”  So far, the effort has yielded just over $2.5 million from law firm contributions.  Some firms have stepped up in a big way, contributing the goal amount of $250,000 or more to the effort.  “This first round of law firm donations are primarily funding a summer rural legal fellows program, in which 32 lawyers in 28 states will be helping the rural poor.  (Equal Justice Works is training the fellows and administering the program.) LSC is committed to funding the rural fellows program for at least five years, said [John Levi, a Sidley & Austin partner who chairs LSC’s board], who added that he’d like to raise enough money to put 50 lawyers in the field.”  The American Lawyer takes a look at who has contributed and how much.  There have been some great efforts so far, but it is clear from the article, that there is more work to be done.  (American Lawyer)

June 13, 2016 – “[U]p until now, the legal industry had remained relatively untouched by this newfound demand for digital automation. Partners Matthew Horn and Ryan Caltagirone are ready to change that. Founded in 2015, Legal Services Link has rapidly risen to become one of the industry’s most dynamic assets for consumers. It’s essentially an intuitive, online forum that enables businesses and individuals to instantly connect with the perfect attorney to suit their legal needs. Not only does Legal Services Link provide users with access to an all-encompassing, old-fashioned database with which to track down legal help — but it also allows them to post a concise summary of the precise job they’ve got in mind. In turn, multiple attorneys are then free to review the work and submit an application directly back to the user. Bottom line: rather than chase down dozens of attorneys, Legal Services Link ensures that the perfect person for the job comes directly to you. Better yet, the service is completely free for would-be clients. It’s also free for attorneys to join the forum — although they are required to pay a small annual fee in order to upgrade to a premium account and communicate directly with clients.” “As part of the Chicago-based 1871 incubator, Legal Services Link has taken off fast — and it’s already started to turn heads within the legal industry. In May, the fledgling start-up expanded its increasingly diverse pool of attorneys after launching a new partnership with the Military Spouse JD Network (MSJDN), a bar association for attorneys whose spouses are or were in the military. And as Legal Services Link continues its aggressive rate of expansion, Horn said he’s hopeful the legal industry will finally start to evolve along with it.” (Small Business Trends)

June 14, 2016 – “The Virginia Judicial System Court Self-Help Website provides neutral legal information as a public service on common topics of interest for self-represented litigants. Topics include traffic tickets, divorce, and landlord-tenant issues. The website features glossaries of legal terms used in the district and circuit courts and instructions for routine processes. The goal is to make the courts more accessible for all citizens, the court said in a news release. A project of the Virginia Access to Justice Commission, the website addresses various case types and organizes information from the state judicial system website and other sources into user friendly content areas. The site features responsive design that works on computers, smartphones, and tablets, the release said.” (Virginia Lawyers Weekly)

June 14, 2016 – “Pace University’s Elisabeth Haub School of Law announced today that it has received a generous grant of $400,000 from alumnus Rob Sands, and from Constellation Brands, where Mr. Sands is CEO and President. The gift will sponsor a two-year pilot of a new Food and Beverage Law Clinic that will provide transactional legal services to farmers, community and grassroots groups, and mission-oriented food and beverage entrepreneurs. The Clinic is part of a broader collaboration between Pace Law and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to expand the capacity of the legal community to provide direct services to individuals and organizations seeking to build a more sustainable and healthy regional food system. In order to implement innovative practices, farmers, food entrepreneurs, micro brewers and distillers, and other activists must navigate a complicated legal landscape governing everything from labeling to estate planning.” (PR Newswire)

June 14, 2016 – “Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii received $107,000 from the Perkin & Faria law firm after the settlement of a $2 million class action against American Savings Bank over the bank’s overdraft fees, firm partner Brandee Faria told Pacific Business News on Tuesday. The lawsuit was among a group of cases filed by Perkin & Faria in 2011 against American Savings Bank, Central Pacific Bank and Bank of Hawaii. The suits alleged that the banks used improper methods of calculating overdraft fees on debit card and ATM transactions.” “Surplus settlement funds accumulate when class members in a case are, for various reasons, unable to collect them. According to Hawaii’s cy pres rule, certain charitable organizations in Hawaii receive these funds, legal service organizations among them. Most of the money will go to support Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii’s core services, including its biweekly legal clinics.” (Pacific Business News)

June 14, 2016 – “Echoing Green, a global organization that supports social entrepreneurs, today announced its 2016 Fellowship class. These 33 exceptional innovators will develop social enterprises that address some of the world’s most intractable challenges around economic development, racial and gender equity, food security, and the environment. Each Fellow will become part of a global network of leaders identified by Echoing Green as dramatic, scalable, and important to the progress of the world. Fellows will access a community of funders, investors, and entrepreneurs across issue areas, geographies, and disciplines. Seed funding of up to $90,000 will also be available to them for two years to support the growth of their organizations. For nearly 30 years, Echoing Green has provided a launch pad for projects with a purpose. It serves as an early and important investor in the growing field of social entrepreneurship. This year, the organization reviewed 2,077 applications from 120 countries, which represent meaningful trends from the front lines of social change. This year’s Fellows are split almost evenly between for-profit (43 percent) and nonprofit organizations (39 percent). An additional 14 percent have a hybrid model, and 4 percent are not yet decided.” (Globe Newswire)

June 15, 2016 – “The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) announced that it opened the current Law School Clinic Certification Program (Program) to admit additional schools to commence participation in the Program. This Program allows law students to practice patent and/or trademark law before the USPTO under the guidance of a law school faculty clinic supervisor. Submissions from interested law school clinical programs will be accepted on a rolling basis until June 30, 2017. Applications from interested law school clinics will be examined for admission into the Program as they are received.
Students in both the patent and trademark portions of the Program can expect to draft and file applications and respond to Office Actions. Each law school clinical program must meet and maintain the requirements for USPTO certification in order for law school clinic students to practice before the USPTO. The Program began in 2008 with 6 schools selected to allow students to practice before the USPTO in patents and/or trademarks. The Program expanded in 2010, 2012 and 2014.  Currently 42 law school clinics participate in the Program, 17 clinics participate in both the patent and trademark portions of the Program, 19 clinics participate only in the trademark portion of the Program, and 6 clinics participate only in the patent portion of the Program. Details on the Program expansion and application materials are available here.” (USPTO News & Updates)

June 15, 2016 – “In recognition of Elder Abuse Awareness Day, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has announced a $738,000 grant to support a statewide project of Pro Seniors and Ohio’s legal aids to provide free legal assistance to older Ohioans. The funding will support a telephone-based legal hotline and direct civil legal guidance and assistance to Ohioans age 60 and older. Pro Seniors, as the lead organization and coordinator, will receive referrals from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. In partnership with Ohio’s legal aids, they will provide legal assistance to seniors, their family members, and individuals concerned about the health, financial stability, safety, and security of seniors.” (The Van Wert Independent)

June 15, 2016 – “Equal Justice Works has received a $1.4 million grant as a part of the Elder Justice AmeriCorps initiative, the nonprofit organization announced Tuesday. In response to growing awareness of elder abuse, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Corporation for National and Community Service announced the creation of the Elder Justice AmeriCorps grant program in September 2015 to provide elder abuse victims with legal aid and support services. The $1.4 million grant, awarded over the next two years, will help Equal Justice Works connect 150 AmeriCorps members—25 practicing lawyers and 125 law students—and some 300 pro bono volunteers to a network of partner organizations that focus on elder abuse. Under the supervision and training of these organizations, volunteers will provide legal assistance to about 8,000 low-income adults.” (American Lawyer)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Roger Benson, 83, may be retired but he hasn’t stopped working. As a volunteer for Prairie State Legal Services, the former associate judge handled 20 divorce cases last year. He’s lead the charge on 165 cases in his 15-year tenure, according to pro bono coordinator Nancy Hinton. Benson’s volunteer legal work has earned him the Illinois State Bar Association’s John C. McAndrews Pro Bono Service Award. Congratulations, and thank you!! (Daily Journal)

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

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