PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 23, 2016

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

Happy Friday! REGISTRATION is now open for the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference, an annual gathering of NALP members who counsel law students and lawyers on public service careers. We look forward to seeing you in October.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Université de Montréal announces launch of research consortium exploring access to law and justice;
  • Baylor Law School seeks to close access to justice gap with Legal Mapmaker program;
  • University of Virginia School of Law’s VITA program honored by ABA;
  • Alabama governor awards $1.9 million in support of domestic violence victims;
  • Nebraska’s new Rural Law Opportunities Program hopes to bring more lawyers to rural areas;
  • New York oversight board announces civil legal services grants;
  • Nova Scotia’s #TalkJustice Project moves to phase 2;
  • Think tank releases report card on Canada’s justice system;
  • Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center celebrates 100 years of service;
  • Congresswoman introduces Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act;
  • ABA launches free online legal Q&A service to broaden access to justice;
  • A new public interest center to open at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 15, 2016 – “Université de Montréal proudly announces the launch of an important research consortium set up to explore access to law and to justice. ADAJ groups brought together 42 researchers as well as collaborators from 9 universities and 44 justice partners. ‘The object of this initiative is to engage a series of pilot projects aimed at redirecting the focus of the judicial system on the individual citizen and thereby transforming justice into a community project,’ states Pierre Noreau, scientific director of the project, researcher at the Public Law Research Centre (CRDP) and professor with the Faculty of Law at Université de Montréal. The twenty research thrusts being launched simultaneously extend to the majority of issues currently facing citizens and the judicial system, notably the ever increasing numbers of self-represented litigants, the obscure wording of contracts and laws, the development of mediation and conciliation practices, the development of alternative penal measures, the compensation of class members through class action litigation, paperless justice, and so on. The project website (adaj.ca) details each of these key thrusts. ‘Each thrust draws on a combination of researcher proficiency and justice player knowledge to ensure that the research conducted inures to the benefit of both the people and the justice system as an institution. The object is to seek out tangible solutions to the challenges encountered by individuals accountable under the law,’ Mr Noreau goes on to say. Backed by a $2.5 million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and another $1.4 million from various project partners, work by the ADAJ consortium will be spread out over a period of six years. ‘The initiative is the most comprehensive research exercise of its kind throughout the country,’ underscores Vincent Gautrais, director of the Public Law Research Centre. ‘We are of course delighted that it is being developed and spearheaded here in Québec. ADAJ represents a model for others to replicate. Indeed, the project provides proof that it is possible to build bridges between legal academics and practitioners. In this instance, the research will clearly focus on the public well-being.’ Originally developed within the framework of the Access to Justice Observatory, ADAJ helps foster the development of emerging professionals in the field of research about justice. ‘Over 150 students will assist project researchers,’ points up Jean-François Gaudreault-Desbiens, dean of the Faculty of Law at Université de Montréal. ‘ADAJ will serve as a veritable laboratory for research, training, action and change.'” (CNW)

September 15, 2016 – “Baylor Law School says 100 million Americans can’t afford legal services, while at the same time many new lawyers are unemployed despite the unmet need. Most of the cases with which the poor need help are related to what are called ‘basic human needs’ defined as being  related to shelter, food, safety, health or child custody. Stephen Rispoli, assistant dean of student affairs and pro bono programs at Baylor Law school noted the biggest problem facing new lawyers is the high cost of setting up a practice, thus keeping the very people who would be available to help the poor being unable to do so. Legal Mapmaker is a new Baylor Law School program designed to prepare young lawyers to open law firms. It provides a model business strategy with two goals: help lawyers succeed, and help the public find affordable legal services by showing lawyers how to provide legal services efficiently and with low overhead.” ” More than 30 young Texas lawyers attended the first Legal Mapmaker conference and learned from experts who spoke on a range of topics from business plans, staffing and financial management to client relations, technology and community involvement.” (myCenTX.com)

September 16, 2016 – “Students at the University of Virginia School of Law have been recognized by the American Bar Association with the 2016 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Award for leading University efforts to help taxpayers prepare their own returns. Each year, the Law School’s VITA program collaborates with other students on Grounds to help low- and moderate-income clients, who are a mix of community members, University employees and students.” “UVA’s VITA outreach helped about 800 clients on their 2015 tax returns —about 30 percent of the ABA’s local-coalition efforts, which are coordinated by the United Way Thomas Jefferson Area.” (University of Virginia School of Law News & Events)

September 16, 2016 – “Gov. Robert Bentley has awarded grants totaling $1.9 million in support of nonprofit groups that assist rape and abuse victims in south and central Alabama. The Montgomery Area Family Violence Program, commonly known as the Family Sunshine Center, is using $1.4 million in grant funds to aid domestic violence victims in Autauga, Butler, Chilton, Crenshaw, Dallas, Elmore, Lowndes, Montgomery, Perry and Wilcox counties. Lighthouse Counseling Center is using $290,000 in grants to continue its Standing Together Against Rape program for victims of sexual assault in Autauga, Butler, Crenshaw, Elmore, Lowndes, Montgomery, Perry, and Wilcox counties. Child Protect is using funds of $144,000 to continue providing services for child victims in Autauga, Elmore and Montgomery counties. With a $64,775 grant, Legal Services Alabama will continue offering legal assistance to domestic violence victims in nine counties.” (AlabamaNews.net)

September 18, 2016 – “A new program involving three Nebraska colleges and the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln aims to increase the number of lawyers in rural areas. The Rural Law Opportunities Program, or RLOP, guarantees chosen high school students from rural Nebraska — basically anywhere outside Lincoln, Omaha and its suburbs — entrance into law school. In return, it’s hoped that when graduating from law school, the new lawyers will practice in a rural area.” “Wayne State, Chadron State College and Nebraska-Kearney each will select five high school seniors every year, beginning with the class of 2017. Once selected, students are guaranteed a spot in the Nebraska law school if they maintain good grades in college, complete their undergraduate requirements and score well on the Law School Admission Test, or LSAT. [Nebraska College of Law interim dean Richard] Moberly said that 17-20 graduates — about 15 percent — in each of the past three Nebraska law school graduating classes have gone to practice in rural Nebraska. He hopes that RLOP will send an additional 10 new lawyers into those areas.” (Sioux City Journal)

September 19, 2016 – “The state Interest on Lawyer Account (IOLA) Fund and 83 civil legal services providers will divide a record $100 million that is being allocated through the Judiciary’s 2016-17 state budget. State court administrators announced Monday that state grants were approved by a state oversight board. The money was contained in the $1.89 billion Judiciary portion of the 2016-17 state budget approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature earlier this year.” “Court administrators said that the largest amounts of aid will be available in areas of the state with the most residents whose incomes are 200 percent or less of the poverty level. The individual grants range from the $9.8 million awarded to both Legal Services NYC and the Legal Aid Society of New York City to the $20,000 for the Advocates for Children of New York.” (New York Law Journal)(subscription required)

September 19, 2016 – “Nova Scotia’s #TalkJustice project is gathering more stories and evidence to feed into a software program that should help identify issues with the justice system in the province. The Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society initiative will use SenseMaker to take stories from citizens about their experiences with the justice system and seek connections between them. It will also provide a look at what the average justice system experience looks like for a person in a particular community, which they hope will help identify problem areas. ‘We want this information to feed into the system ongoing all the time. Hopefully by the fourth phase we’ll have a system in place where that feedback can be entering the justice system ongoing,’ said LaMeia Reddick, a community connector for the barristers’ society’s project. The next step will be looking for ways to challenge the justice system to improve access.” (CBC News)

September 21, 2016 – “The Macdonald-Laurier Institute grades provinces and territories in five categories: public safety, victims support, efficiency, fairness and access to justice, and costs and resources. University of British Columbia law professor Benjamin Perrin is one of the report’s authors. With Canada’s justice system costing roughly $11 billion a year, he felt it was time to look at the numbers. The report card is based on comparable information, much of it from Statistics Canada. And while Perrin and co-author Richard Audas did not seek to explain or justify why some provinces performed better than others, they did highlight how the territories face challenges of isolation, geography and higher costs. Overall, Yukon scored lowest, followed by Manitoba, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.” The full report is available here. (CBC News)

September 22, 2016 – “When the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center opened in San Francisco a century ago, it was the first group west of the Mississippi to provide free legal services to low-income clients. Today it assists 3,000 people a year through free clinics around California, litigates in state and federal courts and advocates for government policies that protect civil and employment rights. President Joan Graff took a break from preparing for Thursday’s 100th anniversary gala to speak with The Recorder about why issues from unemployment to immigration to disability rights all fall under LAS-ELC’s umbrella and what lies ahead for her organization.” Congratulations, and here is to 100 more years!  (The Recorder)

September 22, 2016 – “U.S. Congresswoman Joyce Beatty (OH-03) recently introduced the Homeless Veterans Legal Services Act, H.R. 6046, legislation to allow the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to partner with public and private entities to increase legal services for homeless and at-risk of homelessness veterans. Congressman Steve Stivers (OH-15) and Congressman Pat Tiberi (OH-12) are the lead cosponsors of H.R. 6046.” The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs and is awaiting further consideration. (US House of Representatives News)

September 22, 2016 – “The American Bar Association has rolled out a new web program, ABAFreeLegalAnswers.org, to give income-eligible users the ability to pose civil legal questions to volunteer attorneys. The new service, a virtual legal advice clinic, is now available in eight states — Connecticut, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming — with plans to have service available in the majority of states by the end of this year. Geared to expand legal services for low-income communities, users of the service will have to meet income eligibility guidelines applicable to each state. While expanding access to legal services, the ABA Free Legal Answers program also expands pro bono opportunities for attorneys in a convenient way to match their schedules.” Nationally, attorneys can volunteer their services to existing and future participating state programs by clicking here. (ABA)

September 22, 2016 – “A new center at The Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law will house the growing array of public interest offerings at the school, enhancing Northwestern’s strong commitment to a public service ethic. Northwestern Law’s Public Interest Center will ensure strategic leadership of important public interest activities under a single umbrella. Its formation is made possible in part through the $100 million donation made by J.B. and M.K. Pritzker in 2015. ‘In tandem with the exceptional work of our Bluhm Legal Clinic and our public interest journals, we already have in place the key features befitting a premier public interest program,’ said Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern Law. Among the center’s features are financial support for students doing public interest work during and after law school; a robust menu of course offerings, including a law and social policy concentration; career programming and counseling; a wide range of pro bono and public service opportunities; and passionate student organization participation and leadership. The Law School is committed to promoting the advancement of social justice and preparing students for public interest careers and pro bono work.” (Northwestern News)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Blank Rome LLP Associate Joseph J. Patry was selected as the recipient of the “Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award” by the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, in recognition of his legal representation of tenants in the Housing Conditions Calendar in the D.C. Superior Court. Mr. Patry will be presented with the award on Thursday, September 29, 2016, at the Generous Associates Campaign and Pro Bono Volunteer Celebration. (Blank Rome LLP)

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

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