PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 19, 2016

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

Happy Friday!  It is with great pleasure that we welcome the 2016-2017 PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.  She comes to us from Syracuse University College of Law.  We’re so excited to work with her!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New ABA President Linda Klein announces Veterans Legal Services Initiative;
  • Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services requests budget supplement;
  • U.K. legal chatbot expanding to help the homeless;
  • ABA announces creation of Center of Innovation to increase access to justice;
  • DC Bar Foundation awards $950,000 in grants for foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment;
  • Free online site will answer legal questions in Mississippi;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 10, 2016 – “ABA President Linda Klein has announced an effort to provide legal representation and resources for veterans. Klein says in a video that she became aware of the needs of veterans when members of her law firm volunteered at a homeless shelter. She learned that over half the needs of homeless veterans are legal. The ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative launched by Klein will be led by a 20-member volunteer commission, according to a press release. The commission is expected to:

• Build a comprehensive website that informs veterans of legal issues and directs them to appropriate resources.

• Encourage law schools and bar associations to promote legal-services incubators that could help veterans while providing training to new and underemployed lawyers.

• Promote partnerships between doctors and lawyers to help solve veterans’ legal problems.

• Extend the National Pro Bono Celebration Week in late October to include Veteran’s Day, and sponsor additional volunteer efforts around Memorial Day.” (ABA Journal)

August 14, 2016 – “The Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services is asking for a supplemental appropriation in January of over $2.8 million. John Pelletier, executive director of the commission, says lawmakers rejected an attempt earlier this year to get additional money requested in the two-year budget, but not approved. ‘For ’16 they gave us the amount to increase the hourly rate, but they zeroed out the cost increase, saying that is the second year of the biennium,’ he says. Pelletier says the increased need in the commission budget is driven by a number of factors. He says there are more cases being brought against the poor who can’t afford to pay for their own attorney, and the complexity of cases is increasing. He said lawmakers did fund an hourly increase for lawyers from $55 an hour to $60 an hour.” (Maine Public Broadcasting)

August 15, 2016 – Another legal tech update: “The DoNotPay chat bot, created by 19-year-old Joshua Browder from London, gained international attention in recent months for helping citizens overturn more than 160,000 parking tickets in the U.K. Now, the world’s first robot lawyer is expanding its range and offering legal aid to people who are facing homelessness due to evictions. The bot will ask users a series of questions, including why they are facing eviction, and then respond with a document with legal advice to support the user. Its services are currently supporting users in the United Kingdom with plans to offer support to the U.S.” (Forbes)

August 15, 2016 – “The American Bar Association announced today the creation of the Center for Innovation, a venture designed to advance the ABA’s efforts to improve the delivery of legal services to the public through innovative programs and initiatives. The center will drive innovation in the justice system and the legal profession by serving as a resource for ABA members, maintaining an inventory of the ABA’s innovation efforts and the efforts of the domestic and international legal services community, and operating a program of innovative fellowships to work with other professionals, such as technologists, entrepreneurs and design professionals, to create models that improve the justice system.” (ABA News)

August 16, 2016 – “The DC Bar Foundation (DCBF) awarded $950,000 in grants to five two-year projects focused on foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment. Lawyers funded by these grants will provide free civil legal assistance to DC residents living in poverty and who are facing situations including foreclosures, wrongful evictions, poor housing conditions, and expiring housing subsidies.” Follow the link for a complete list of grantees and details about their projects. (DC Bar Foundation)

August 18, 2016 – “Free legal advice to Mississippians who can’t afford an attorney goes online later this month, its sponsors say. ‘It’s a way to bring information to the public with answers to civil legal matters,’ said Tiffany Graves, executive director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, which is partnering with the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project to offer the service. The online service, will provide information about common legal problems, such as divorce, child custody, housing, landlord-tenant disputes, land issues, trust and estate matters, will and probate matters, wage and employment issues, bankruptcy, and consumer disputes, Graves said.” (The Meridian Star)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Thomas F. Garrett retired this week from the top post of the Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, where he had been the executive director since the Law Line formed in 1996. His last day on the job was Monday. In that post, Garrett managed a staff of attorneys who provide free consultation, advice, intake, referral and education for low-income Vermonters primarily through the Vermont Law Help hotline. The hotline, a joint project of Vermont Legal Aid and Law Line, is funded in part by the Legal Services Corp. Garrett also oversaw the Vermont Volunteer Lawyers Project, a cooperative effort of the Vermont Bar Association and Law Line. It is the only organized pro-bono legal services project in the state. Through Garrett’s efforts, Law Line received and implemented several technology innovation grants from the Legal Services Corp. Congratulations on your retirement and thank you for your service! (Times Argus)

Music Bonus!  Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Delisa Morris.

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