PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 9, 2016

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

Happy Friday! A lot of funding news this week, and some interesting observations on pro bono and legal technology and their continued potential to increase access to justice.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New York City Office of Civil Justice report – more NYC residents facing eviction have access to legal help;
  • Clients getting faster access to legal aid in Manitoba;
  • California governor vetoes bill requiring pro bono service before admittance to the bar;
  • Central New York legal aid receives federal funding for domestic abuse support programs;
  • Using retired lawyers to bridge the justice gap;
  • The Canadian Bar Association in British Columbia lobbies to add law graduates to loan forgiveness program;
  • How AI will transform the delivery of legal services;
  • New funding scheme for public interest litigation;
  • Big Law associates raise funds for legal aid in new funding scheme;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

August 31, 2016 – “If you are a low-income tenant facing eviction, it may be easier than ever to get a lawyer these days, according to a report released by the city Tuesday. Mayor Bill de Blasio touted the findings by the Office of Civil Justice (OCJ), which show that now 27 percent of tenants in housing court for eviction proceedings have legal representation – up from just 1 percent in 2013. ‘As we face one of the most serious affordable housing crises in our city’s history, we have made an unprecedented commitment to provide legal assistance for low-income New Yorkers, and we are beginning to see the results of these efforts,’ said de Blasio. The first annual report from the newly-established office investigates the legal needs of low-income New Yorkers, and the effect of providing free and low-cost legal services to meet those needs, particularly when it comes to tenants facing evictions, harassment, and other housing-related problems. Since taking office, the mayor has invested more than $100 million annually in civil legal services, and as a result, evictions have fallen 24 percent in the last two years, according to the report.” (Fort Greene Focus)

August 31, 2016 – “Justice Minister Heather Stefanson is speeding up access to Legal Aid Manitoba. The change announced Wednesday will help lower-income Manitobans, Stefanson said. ‘Access to justice for all Manitobans is a cornerstone of our legal system and this change will help improve the process for individuals who require legal aid,’ Stefanson said. ‘Technology has made it possible for this process to move more quickly.’ To connect a new client with a lawyer, Legal Aid Manitoba uses an electronic application system that securely shares the individual’s application, court documents and any other relevant materials. Lawyers previously had 30 days to decide whether to accept the case; the province is cutting that period to 14. This change was made following consultations with Legal Aid Manitoba’s advisory committee, which includes representatives from the Criminal Defence Lawyers’ Association, the Legal Aid Lawyers’ Association, the Family Law Bar and the Manitoba Bar Association.” (Winnipeg Free Press)

August 31, 2016 – “The California Legislature passed a bill that would have required California’s up-and-coming lawyers to do pro bono work before gaining admittance to the State Bar. Gov. Jerry Brown, a lawyer, on Monday vetoed the bill. In a message accompanying his veto of Senate Bill 1257, Brown said that while he supports law students and lawyers providing pro bono legal services, ‘I don’t believe a state mandate can be justified.’ ‘Law students in California are now contending with skyrocketing costs – often more than $200,000 for tuition and room and board – and many struggle to find employment once they are admitted to the Bar,’ Brown wrote. ‘In this context, I believe it would be unfair to burden students with the requirements set forth in this bill.’ Senate Bill 1257, by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego, would have required applicants for membership in the State Bar to have completed at least 50 hours of supervised pro bono legal service. Instead, Brown wrote, the state should focus on lowering the cost of legal education. ‘By doing so, we could actually expand the opportunity to serve the public interest,’ he said.” (The Sacramento Bee)

September 2, 2016 – “The Legal Aid Society of Mid-York is receiving $600,000 in federal funding for domestic abuse support programs in central New York. The funding was allocated through the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and is authorized through the Legal Assistance for Victims Grant Program. ‘This critical federal funding through the Department of Justice will help facilitate a wide range of programs to better assist domestic violence survivors,’ said [Senator Kirsten] Gillibrand. ‘Domestic violence is a serious problem and we need to work towards creating a safe environment for individuals and families. By increasing accessibility to legal services for survivors we can help provide the support and resources they need to be protected and put their lives back together.’ The Utica-based legal aid organization will use the money to provide legal representation, supportive services and outreach to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The group serves 12 counties in central New York.” (WIBX)

September 2, 2016 – “As the headline to a special report in The American Lawyer this week observes, ‘Baby Boomers are Retiring and Law Firms Aren’t Ready.‘ When we combine the vast numbers of law firm attorneys who are approaching career transition with the enormous systemic unmet legal needs of the poor and disadvantaged, we are in a unique position to leverage these experienced lawyers. If even a small fraction of the retired, semi-retired, and transitioning baby-boom lawyers would engage in some form of meaningful pro bono work, they could have a sizeable impact on economic and social justice. Creating the infrastructure to support and sustain these new roles, however, is a significant and sensitive undertaking.” The American Lawyer examines efforts to bring retired lawyers to pro bono work. (The American Lawyer)

September 6, 2016 – “The Canadian Bar Association’s B.C. branch (CBABC) wants the provincial government to add lawyers with student debt to StudentAid BC’s loan forgiveness program. Michael Welsh, who was appointed bar president on August 15, said rural citizens, including small-business owners in remote communities, are suffering due to increasing attrition within the legal profession. Welsh noted that many rural lawyers are baby boomers and have reached the age of retirement” with no new lawyers coming in to replace them. “A CBABC letter to Premier Christy Clark lobbying to add lawyers to the loan forgiveness program noted that, because the average starting salary for a lawyer usually ranges between $25,000 and $45,000, working in a rural setting or trying to set up a practice is not cost-effective. The letter asks the provincial government to provide an annual 20% debt write-off rate over a five-year minimum – the same amount offered through the loan forgiveness program – to recent law school graduates willing to practice in rural communities.” (Business Vancouver)

September 6, 2016 – Forbes has an interesting if brief look at where legal technology has taken us so far in the delivery of legal services and predicts artificial intelligence will transform legal delivery and have a positive impact on access to justice. (Forbes)

September 7, 2016 – As the idea of “third party litigation funding” seems to be growing, here is a novel funding idea for public interest litigation from Australia. The Public Interest Advocacy Center “is joining with public litigation funders from around the world to establish a new funding scheme that will support PIAC’s public interest litigation. The scheme, which commenced this week, will allow PIAC’s public interest cases to go ahead in circumstances where the risk of an ‘adverse costs order’ would discourage clients from proceeding with their case.  Under the Adverse Costs Order Guarantee Fund, clients will be indemnified so that they can proceed with their cases without having to risk their assets or income. ‘This is a great development for public interest litigation,’ said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor. ‘Adverse costs orders are a powerful disincentive for clients weighing up whether or not to proceed with litigation. We hope that this scheme will grow to support PIAC’s public interest litigation into the future, facilitating test cases that otherwise could not proceed.’ PIAC is especially grateful to Woodford Litigation Funding Limited, which is the first partner in the ACO Guarantee Fund.” (PIAC News)

September 7, 2016 – “Using a fresh fundraising approach to support legal services for the poor, a group of Big Law associates announced on Wednesday its first grants to four legal services groups. The Associates Committee, which was launched last year by third-year Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom associate Corey Laplante, said the four will receive a total of $200,000 raised from 200 associates. Two groups are each getting $75,000 grants: the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights in New Orleans and the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services in San Antonio. Two other organizations are receiving $25,000 apiece: the Innocence Project in New York City and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. In its first year, the Associates Committee limited its recruitment of associates to the five cities with the biggest lawyer populations: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. Moving forward, the group will be recruiting associates from six other cities: Boston, Philadelphia, Houston, Dallas, Austin and Miami. Associates must contribute $1,000 to be a member. Laplante, who works in Skadden’s Los Angeles office, said in an interview Wednesday that the committee got 84 grant applications. Instead of asking for lots of paperwork, the committee told applicants to submit a 60-second video shot on a smartphone describing how they would use the funds. The Associates Committee’s board selected 15 finalists, and then the entire membership voted for the four winners. The finalists submitted financial statements and other materials, but the videos were the centerpiece of the selection process.” (American Lawyer)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is proud to present the 2016 Pro Bono Award to John Ting, co-founder and partner of Ting and Tran Law Firm in Dallas, Texas. The NAPABA Pro Bono Award recognizes attorneys for outstanding achievements in pro bono service that: 1) involved impact litigation to advance or protect civil rights, and 2) provided direct legal services to individuals in the furtherance of the administration of justice. In addition to being an accomplished and highly respected attorney, entrepreneur, and mentor in the legal community, John’s tireless efforts and unparalleled service on pro bono legal matters — in conjunction with his service to the community — exemplify the qualities and spirit of the award. (NAPABA)

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

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