PSJD Public Interest News Digest – September 30, 2016

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

Happy Friday! Can you believe October is right around the corner?  And with it comes the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference for NALP members and the Equal Justice Works Conference and Career Fair for employers, law students and law school professionals. Registration is now open for both events. Mini-Conference registration. Equal Justice Works registration.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • University of Maine School of Law Apps for Justice Project uses technology to bridge justice gap;
  • Campbell University Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law launches community legal clinic;
  • Maryland Judiciary opens third district court walk-in center;
  • Pennsylvania Innocence Project opens Pittsburgh office;
  • Law schools work on access to justice;
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness costs as first eligible class approaches forgiveness;
  • Joint working group of the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada release report and proposed national benchmarks for legal aid;
  • Texas A&M University School of Law receives grant for new tax clinic;
  • Mitchell Hamline School of Law rolls out “Wheels of Justice”;
  • Call to end articling alternative LPP;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

September 22, 2016 – “Most individuals and small businesses don’t have access to affordable legal assistance. The problem is not that we don’t have enough lawyers; rather, there is a gap between what lawyers must charge and what clients can pay. This gap and the resulting tension is not sustainable – either for society or for the legal profession.” “The mission of the University of Maine School of Law Apps for Justice Project is to model how technology can be used to bridge this gap. Launched early this year and funded with a grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, the Apps for Justice Project uses the powerful Neota Logic platform – the same platform that is used by multinational firms to routinize complex regulatory compliance issues – to develop and create practical, technology-based legal expert systems in the form of applications, or apps. These apps provide guidance, information and action plans that enable low- and moderate-income Mainers to effectively address their specific civil legal problems, either alone or with the help of affordable counsel. In designing these apps, we endeavored to mirror the problem-solving process lawyers follow: the application of abstract principles to specific cases, beginning with diagnosis, proceeding to inference, and then to treatment.” “The positive response our apps have received during our testing phase attests that designed well, legal expert systems can offer a new paradigm for both law practice and self-help assistance. Expert legal systems can offer business lawyers and those who represent individuals the opportunity for increased efficiencies, allowing the provision of legal services to a greater number of clients at a lower-cost, without sacrificing quality or attention.” (Portland Press Herald)

September 22, 2016 – “Campbell University’s law school will officially cut the ribbon of a new clinic in downtown Raleigh on Friday to give free legal help to disadvantaged residents. The school’s new Community Law Clinic is housed at the historic Horton-Beckham-Bretsch House. Eight Campbell law students, overseen by the clinic’s director, will work in the clinic, which will take referrals from area nonprofit agencies – Raleigh Rescue Mission, Urban Ministries of Wake County and StepUp Ministry. Campbell Law Dean Rich Leonard said the clinic should give students valuable practical experience while helping low-income residents who face legal hurdles. ‘I think it’s one of the most exciting initiatives the law school has ever undertaken,’ said Leonard, who won a grant for $150,000 from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation to launch the effort.” (The News & Observer)

September 23, 2016 – “On Friday, the Maryland Judiciary held a grand opening for a new walk-in center in Wicomico District Court. The center is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and is designed to help people who are representing themselves in civil legal matters. The center is staffed by attorneys who work for Maryland Legal Aid. While they do not provide representation, they can advise people, explain complicated court processes, or help with necessary paperwork.” “According to the Maryland Judiciary, this is the third District Court walk-in center in the state, with the other two in Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County. Chief Judge of the District Court of Maryland John Morrisey says these centers benefit all parties involved. ” (WBOC)

September 25, 2016 – “The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, headquartered in Philadelphia, has opened a Pittsburgh office, making it the first among such programs nationally to have multiple locations in a state. Just as the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, founded in 2009, is located at Temple University Beasley School of Law, its Pittsburgh office is located at Duquesne University School of Law. As in Philadelphia, the Pittsburgh office is operating a student clinic in which law students from Duquesne and the University of Pittsburgh law schools will earn college credit by examining vetted cases, seeking a way to prove actual innocence. The project does not accept cases in which incarcerated people claim they were put behind bars due to technical violations.” “The new office, housed in the law school’s Tribone Center for Clinical Legal Education, Uptown, is headed by Liz DeLosa, who manages all litigation case development and oversees all investigations.” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

September 26, 2016 – The National Law Journal examines what some law schools are doing to focus on access to justice. “We have arrived at a critical moment where our most fundamental legal ideals are threatened by a profound justice gap. Millions of people — evicted tenants, indigent defendants and immigrant mothers — find themselves buffeted by legal processes that do not assure a meaningful right to be heard, much less representation by competent counsel. Teaching the next generation of lawyers the values, knowledge and skills needed to deliver on the promise of access to justice is paramount. To do this, Fordham University School of Law and other leading law schools are placing the issue of access to justice at the center of legal education.” The article details these great initiatives. (National Law Journal)(subscription required)

September 26, 2016 – As the time for the first eligible class to seek loan forgiveness approaches, CNBC summarizes the current state of the program and the costs and considerations to taxpayers. The article is a decent summary if you’re new to the issue. (CNBC)

September 28, 2016 – “In 2014, a joint working group of the Canadian Bar Association and the Association of Legal Aid Plans of Canada (ALAP) collaborated to formulate and propose national legal aid benchmarks for Canada. After much consultation and discussion, we have now completed that work. The national benchmarks are guiding principles to achieve the shared goal of a national, integrated system of public legal assistance focused on improving access to justice and meeting the needs of disadvantaged people across Canada. These 6 national legal aid benchmarks, under headings of an overall vision, scope of services, priorities for service, spectrum of service, quality of service and an integrated service delivery sector, capture current evidence about legal aid and define pathways for the future, are intended to provide a foundation for national indicators with common data measurement. To explain these concepts further, the CBA has authored a separate report further elaborating on the rationale and potential of national benchmarks for Canada.” (Canadian Bar Association)

September 28, 2016 – “Today, the American Immigration Council released Access to Counsel in Immigration Court by Ingrid Eagly and Steven Shafer. The authors conducted the first national study of access to counsel in immigration courts and analyzed 1.2 million individual removal cases in immigration court between fiscal years 2007 and 2012. They found that access to legal counsel was uneven across geographic locations and nationalities. They also found that having a lawyer results in better outcomes for immigrants and that represented immigrants were more likely to be released from detention, more likely to apply for relief, and to obtain the relief they sought. These important findings highlight some of the disparities in the immigration court system. Whether or not immigrants obtain a lawyer varies widely depending on whether they are detained, where their court proceeding takes place, and what nationality they are. These inequalities and barriers to obtaining legal counsel need to be addressed because having an attorney is also strongly associated with positive outcomes. Overall, the study found that only two percent of those who applied for relief from deportation succeeded without an attorney.” (American Immigration Council)

September 29, 2016 – “The School of Law has received a grant from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to start a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. The grant is part of the Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC) program, administered by the Office of the Taxpayer Advocate at the IRS to make the services of these clinics more widely available, particularly in underserved areas. This will help the school assist low income taxpayers on tax controversies, which include audits, assessments, collections and disputes before the IRS and U.S. Tax Court. The clinic also gives students an opportunity to work directly on federal tax controversy cases by receiving provisional admission to represent taxpayers before the IRS.” (Texas A&M Today)

September 29, 2016 – “Mitchell Hamline School of Law on Thursday unveiled its latest public service initiative, the Mobile Law Network, which will dispatch students across Minnesota in a revamped R.V. to perform pro bono legal services for those in need.” (Law.com) (subscription required)

September 29, 2016 – “The controversy over a pilot project to address a shortage of articling positions has been reignited with an Ontario law society committee’s call to end the program because it has been stigmatized by law school graduates and some in the legal profession. The Law Society of Upper Canada’s Law Practice Program (LLP) began in 2014 as a response to the increasing number of new graduates who were not able to find positions articling – the supervised, 10-month apprenticeship with a law firm that is required to become a lawyer. Students in the LPP spend four months in a ‘virtual’ law office where they take on a variety of cases, and then participate in a four-month work placement.” “While the report says the quality of the program is not in question, ‘there is a perception among candidates and some Articling Principals that the LPP is viewed as second-tier transitional experiential training with stigma attached to those who complete it.’ (Articling principals are the lawyers who supervise articling students.)” Some supporters of the program see the LPP as a path to the bar for minority candidates and/or those who disproportionately seek public interest positions and call for its continuation. A vote on this and other proposals will take place in early November. (The Globe and Mail)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

The Wyoming State Bar award recipients.

John B. “Jack” Speight, an attorney from Cheyenne, received the 2016 Community Service Award for his volunteer work as the Director of the Wyoming Lawyer Assistance Program since its inception in 2014. He also has been a generous donor to the WyLAP Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides grants to lawyers in need of assistance but unable to afford it.

Angie Dorsch, executive director of Equal Justice Wyoming, received the Bar’s Champion of Justice for Legal Services Award. As director of Equal Justice Wyoming since 2012, Dorsch has helped grow statewide legal services and pro bono work in Wyoming. She also works with the Wyoming Access to Justice Commission and the Equal Justice Wyoming Foundation.

Billie Ruth Edwards, an attorney from Cheyenne who died in January, posthumously received one of three Pro Bono Awards for legal services provided to indigent clients. He accepted five pro bono cases through Equal Justice Wyoming in 2015. Edwards also volunteered at monthly advice clinics, offering free legal advice and, to help ensure access to the legal system, would also provide full volunteer representation after meeting with clients at an advice clinic.

The Cheyenne law firm of Woodhouse Roden Nethercott also received one of the 2016 Pro Bono Awards for legal services provided to indigent clients. The firm regularly sponsors and participates in monthly Equal Justice Wyoming/Wyoming State Bar law clinics, and its attorneys are frequent volunteers for clinic nights in Laramie County. The volunteer attorneys also have taken on cases of clients they meet through those clinics, and pro bono work is a significant part of the firm’s culture according to the bar. (Wyoming News)

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

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