PSJD Public Interest News Digest – October 14, 2016

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

Happy Friday! It’s October, and we’re looking forward to welcoming Deborah Vagins, Chief of Staff and Principal Attorney Advisor for the Office of Commissioner Charlotte Burrows at the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as the keynote speaker of the 2016 NALP/PSJD Public Service Mini-Conference. NALP member public interest career counselors, pro bono program managers, and other public-service career professionals from the law school and employer communities – join us for some great programming. Register now!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma launches state-wide expungement project;
  • Six Alaska tribal health facilities to add legal aid;
  • Legal Services, Part 2: technology’s part in closing the justice gap;
  • DLA Piper’s Krantz Fellowship recipients spend a year doing pro bono;
  • Squire Patton Boggs Public Interest Fellowship goes abroad;
  • Six million in federal grants awarded to Michigan criminal justice agencies;
  • University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s law school launches business law clinic;
  • Northeast New Jersey Legal Services received $460,000 grant to aid domestic violence survivors;
  • Virginia State Bar won’t back pro bono reporting;
  • Behind the redesigned USAJobs.gov;
  • New Mexico public defenders office files a notice of unavailability of lawyers to represent adult criminal defendants;
  • A look at legal tech and access to justice in Canada;
  • Ensure eligibility for Public Service Loan Forgiveness;
  • Ontario celebrates inaugural Access to Justice Week;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

October 6, 2016 – “Numbers used to describe Oklahomans who are or have been incarcerated are staggering. As of 2014, the National Institute of Corrections reported that the state has an estimated 79 percent higher rate of adults in prison per 100,000 people than the national average. In addition, one in 12 Oklahomans are estimated to have a felony conviction on his or her record. Due to this, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma (LASO) ‘has observed that many Oklahomans with criminal records have trouble finding or maintaining a job, experience difficultly obtaining housing, and find their records to be a barrier to accessing education.’ In an effort to combat this trend, LASO has partnered with Pro Bono Net, with funding from Legal Services Corporation, to create an online program targeted at helping people expunge their criminal records and have a smoother transition to a normal way of life.” “The program partners with pro bono attorneys who can connect with people eligible for the program through a secured online portal. Those using it will be able to prepare legal documents and converse with the attorneys and give them easier access to starting the process of expungement, especially for Oklahomans living in rural areas.” (Stillwater News Press)

October 6, 2016 – “Hospitals typically are not in the business of providing legal aid to patients, but several tribal health facilities in Alaska are going to start doing just that. The pilot project is being funded through a multi-state grant that’s placing AmeriCorps volunteers in tribal facilities in six states. Nicole Nelson is executive director of the nonprofit Alaska Legal Services, which serves low income and disadvantaged people. She said the new partnerships with tribal health organizations will help Alaskans enjoy the same rights and privileges as other Americans.” “Nelson said Alaska Legal Services has fewer than 30 attorneys statewide so the addition of six AmeriCorps members is a significant expansion. She said it will help address unmet needs, and take legal services to where the people are.” (KNBA)

October 7, 2016 – In this Legaltech news article, author Ian Lopez recaps the discussion regarding legal tech and access to justice that took place at Thomson Reuters’ annual Law Firm Leaders Forum, titled, ‘The Future of Legal Services in the United States: The ABA Issues a Clarion Call for Change.’ “Judy Perry Martinez, chair of the American Bar Association’s presidential commission on the future of legal services, the organization behind the report, suggested that lawyers need to begin working with technologists and engineers on new solutions for persisting legal problems. She said that the ABA group behind the report currently has a governing council that includes a founder of the MIT Innovation Lab and an angel investor.” (Legaltech news)(subscription required)

October 7, 2016 – “Jennifer Eldridge, a first year associate in DLA Piper’s Chicago office, has big aspirations for the next 12 months: She hopes to assist domestic violence victims, file asylum paperwork for refugees, and help some past offenders clear their juvenile criminal records. It’s a bit different than the standard associate workload because Eldridge is one of two recipients of DLA Piper’s Krantz Fellowship, which gives her an entire year to only work on pro bono projects. ‘I’m really looking to get some litigation experience,’ said Olga Slobodyanyuk, the other recipient of the fellowship. ‘You get to run your own discovery, potentially go to trial, talk to opposing counsel, have your own practice going. That’s a great experience.’ With around 4,000 lawyers and 90 offices around the world, DLA Piper is taking advantage of its vast resources and allowing two associates to spend a year working on pro bono projects. There’s no contract that requires the associates to stay at the firm at the end of the year, but DLA Piper believes the investment will help groom the associates and claims it’s the only firm offering associates a full year of pro bono work at the same salary. Overall, it placed 28th on The American Lawyer’s 2016 national pro bono ranking, with its lawyers clocking an average of 73.3 hours per week — the firm has said the average for associates is actually higher. It’s not alone in its pro bono efforts: other firms including Arnold & Porter, Paul Hastings and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, offer programs that allow summer associates to split their time between firm and public interest. Hogan Lovells offers first-year associates four-month pro bono rotations, and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom offers externships with the Legal Aid Society’s Community Law Office and Lawyers Alliance for New York. DLA Piper founded its fellowship in 2011, which it named after retired DLA Piper partner Sheldon Krantz, a former director of New Perimeter, a nonprofit firm affiliate that develops pro bono projects in under-served regions around the world.” (Bloomberg Law)

October 7, 2016 – “A foundation funded by Squire Patton Boggs is broadening its scope by providing fellowships to students at law schools in Qatar and Belgium. For more than a decade, the nonprofit, now called the Squire Patton Boggs Foundation, has funded fellowships for American law school students who wish to do public interest work in the summer. This fall the firm’s Brussels office will establish a similar fellowship at the College D’Europe in Bruges. The firm will also fund a fellowship for a Russian student doing graduate work in human rights law at the George Washington University Law School. “We are exploring fellowships with other of the firms European office locations,” said the foundation’s president, John Oberdorfer, a retired partner at legacy firm Patton Boggs. ‘The hope is to be able to expand in that direction.'” (The American Lawyer)

October 7, 2016 – “Criminal justice agencies across Michigan will receive more than $6 million in federal grants to strengthen anti-drug and crime fighting efforts, Gov. Rick Snyder announced today. Funding comes from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant (Byrne JAG) Program and the Residential Substance Abuse Treatment for State Prisoners (RSAT) Program. Grants include $2.32 million to multijurisdictional task forces that investigate drug crimes and other categories of crime in regions of the state.” (mLive)

October 7, 2016 – “The University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s law school has received a $1 million grant to create the state’s first business innovation clinic. The grant from the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office was announced Friday for UALR’s William H. Bowen School of Law. The new clinic will focus on providing business law advice and services to small businesses, nonprofit organizations and others. Law students, under the supervision of a business law attorney, will work with entrepreneurs to launch and build their businesses, negotiate contracts and protect ideas and innovations. The clinic will also offer educational programs.” (THV11)

October 10, 2016 – “A Hackensack-based not-for-profit law firm has been awarded nearly half a million dollars to help provide legal services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assaults in Hudson County. Northeast New Jersey Legal Services received the $460,000 grant from the Department of Justice to fund its ‘Hudson Legal Assistance for Victims Project,’ a program targeted to help victims — particularly recent immigrants — obtain free legal services in domestic or sexual assault cases. John H. Fitzgerald, executive director of the firm, said in a statement the three-year grant will help victims who already face a number of legal costs, including restraining orders, to protect them from their attacker.” (nj.com)

October 10, 2016 – ” A proposal to require lawyers to report their pro bono contributions each year will go to the Supreme Court of Virginia without the blessing of the Virginia State Bar. Members of the VSB Council voted 29-25 Friday not to endorse mandatory reporting of pro bono hours and donations.” (Virginia Lawyers Weekly)(subscription required)

October 11, 2016 – In a follow up to last week’s articles criticizing federal hiring, here’s a good review of the changes to USAJobs launched in August and where OPM hopes to take the system with the upcoming October changes. “The Office of Personnel Management delivered perhaps the most sweeping update to its USAJobs.gov federal employment website in August since first moving the hiring process online about 20 years ago. While the website in the last two decades has seen scattered progress as the digitized hub for government hiring — one which many have bemoaned as largely ineffective and too complicated — OPM now has its sights set on transforming USAJobs ‘from a job board to a career portal,’ Michelle Earley, the site’s program manager, told FedScoop.” (FedScoop)

October 11, 2016 – “Felony cases have spiked amid a struggling economy in the oil patch of Southeastern New Mexico, and now the Hobbs Public Defender says it won’t accept any more clients because it does not have the resources to adequately represent them. The decision to deny public representation to criminal defendants in Hobbs may just be the beginning of a trend in courthouses where strained budgets have become a way of life because of the state’s budget crisis. Other areas of the state could face the same problem of not having the means to provide lawyers to indigent defendants, said Ben Baur, New Mexico’s chief public defender. ‘What we’re saying right now is that ethically we cannot represent people on new cases,’ he said Monday. ‘Right now we’re struggling to handle the ones we have.’ The Hobbs News-Sun reported that the public defender’s office in Hobbs has filed a notice of unavailability of lawyers to represent adult criminal defendants appearing in Magistrate Court. Baur on Monday told The New Mexican he made the decision from Santa Fe ‘because of the high caseloads and the lack of staff to handle the increased caseloads in Hobbs right now.'” (CorrectionsOne.com)

October 11, 2016 – There is a vibrant discussion going on in Canada about the role legal technology could and should play in closing the access to justice gap.  Here is a look at access and legal tech that posits that perhaps taken as a whole, it appears we’ve made more progress than we actually have. “While increasing efficiency has the potential to reduce costs, there are a number of arguments to suggest that this will not have a real impact on access to justice.” (Slaw)

October 12, 2016 – U.S. News & World Reports contributor Betsy Mayotte for Student Loan Ranger wrote a good article you can share with your alumni about to seek loan forgiveness and those just starting with qualifying employers. (U.S. News & World Report)

October 13, 2016 – “Five exceptional events will mark Ontario’s inaugural Access to Justice Week (A2J), which will be held in Toronto from October 17-21, 2016. This week will include a range of engagement and learning opportunities for the public, legal professionals, community workers, students and other access to justice advocates — including remarks from The Honourable Yasir Naqvi, Attorney General of Ontario. Organized by TAG, The Action Group on Access to Justice, along with the Law Society of Upper Canada and other partners, the week will feature key access to justice issues including technology, child welfare and public legal information.” (CNW)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Casa Cornelia, a nonprofit that provides free legal services for immigration cases, has named Jae Park as its attorney of the year. Park, a litigator for the global law firm Dentons, spends most of his professional hours handling business-related disputes. For the past 10 years, he has also volunteered his time to take on cases for Casa Cornelia’s clients, work he said is especially meaningful to him because he is also an immigrant. His family moved to the United States from Korea when he was 12. ‘I know how challenging it is to move to another country where you don’t know anyone, you don’t know the language, you don’t know the system and have to adjust to that,’ Park said. ‘Being able to help these refugees who have come with nothing in their pockets and risk their lives to save their lives, I really connected with that feeling.’ Casa Cornelia has been part of San Diego’s immigration law community for more than 20 years. It started by dealing with asylum cases and today represents three main groups of immigrants: asylum seekers, immigrants who have been victims of serious crimes and children. The organization also works to educate the community about immigration law and policies. (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

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

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