PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 16, 2016

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

Happy Friday!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Low bono, online practice comes to Canada;
  • Seattle consulting firm offering pro bono services to nonprofits promoting tolerance and understanding;
  • Family law foundation awards grants to Michigan nonprofits;
  • Twelve legal tech startups selected to participate in the first-ever Startup Alley at ABA’s TECHSHOW conference;
  • ABA Legal Technology Resource Center releases fourth annual ABA TECHREPORT;
  • Ontario provides grant to Innocence Canada;
  • Legal Services of Northern Virginia launches VA Law Help 2 Go;
  • Chicago’s City Council approves $1.3 million legal fund for immigrants;
  • New Victoria Legal Aid Office opens in Shepparton;
  • Attorneys petition Indiana Supreme Court to write public defender rules;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 9, 2016 – “A lawyer from Brooks, Alberta, is trying out a unique business model — offering her services online for a fraction of the cost, part of a growing movement of do-it-yourself legal representation. Sarah Bisbee says she got tired of turning away people who couldn’t afford her $300-an-hour fee.” “Bisbee realized most of the hourly fee was going to overhead costs so she decided to launch something she has never seen in Canada — an online law practice. Besides finding a developer who shared her vision for the website, Bisbee had to make sure her approach met the Law Society of Alberta’s rules. Now, she offers potential clients a $79 online consultation and from there, clients can choose what kind of help they want from a lawyer, if any. Bisbee provides consultation, prepares documents, and even coaches people on how to fight their case in court, all by phone and email. She says the approach drops the cost to clients up to 75 per cent.” (CBC News)

December 9, 2016 – “Seattle-based consulting firm The Ostara Group is seeking applications from emerging nonprofits promoting tolerance and understanding to be awarded 25 hours of pro-bono support in fundraising and organizational strategy. ‘The rise of hate-motivated speech and attacks has been dramatic in the wake of the presidential election,’ according to the firm’s news release. “According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there were nearly 900 hate incidents reported across the country in the 10 days following the election.” The grant is open to anyone in Washington wanting to start a nonprofit or to existing nonprofits with budgets that were less than $300,000 in the most recently completed year. Submissions will be accepted until 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 31, with decisions announced by March 31. More information and an application can be found at” (Capitol Hill Times)

December 9, 2016 – “Two local nonprofits have received grants from a national family law foundation. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) Foundation awarded $5,000 each to the Children’s Assessment Center in Grand Rapids and Legal Assistance Center in Grand Rapids. The AAML Foundation awards grants each fall to nonprofits involved in issues pertinent to family law. This is the first time the national foundation has selected Michigan nonprofits as recipients.” (Grand Rapids Business Journal)

December 12, 2016 – “A competition has been underway to select 12 legal technology startups to participate in the first-ever Startup Alley at the American Bar Association’s TECHSHOW conference in March. For the first time ever this year, ABA TECHSHOW is reserving a portion of its exhibition hall to showcase 12 innovative legal startups. In addition, on TECHSHOW’s opening night, the 12 startups will face off in a bracketed pitch competition judged by TECHSHOW attendees to pick the most innovative startup. This is a cooperative effort of ABA TECHSHOW, Above the Law, Evolve Law and, spearheaded by the chair of this year’s TECHSHOW planning board, Adriana Linares.” One of the 12 winners “helps law firms, companies and law schools manage their pro bono with streamlined sourcing, tracking and outcome reporting on a modern, tech-forward platform.” Check out the full list of winners and their innovative ideas. (Above the Law)

December 13, 2016 – “The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center has released the fourth annual ABA TECHREPORT, a comprehensive publication exploring how attorneys are using technology in their practices. ABA TECHREPORT examines data from the LTRC’s new six-volume 2016 Legal Technology Survey Report to highlight key trends — and the practical takeaways — for today’s lawyers.” (ABA News)

December 13, 2016 – “Ontario is helping to provide access to justice for people who may have been wrongfully convicted of a crime and cannot afford legal representation. Over the next three years, the province is providing Innocence Canada with $275,000 annually to help them sustain operations. The Law Society of Upper Canada is providing an additional $25,000 annually ― a total of $900,000 over three years. The non-profit organization is dedicated to identifying and advocating for individuals who may have been convicted of a crime they did not commit and to preventing wrongful convictions through legal education and reform. Improving access to justice is part of the government’s plan to keep communities safe and help people in their everyday lives.” (Ontario Newsroom)

December 14, 2016 – “Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV) is proud to announce the launch today of VA Law Help 2 Go, a program that will enable those who use smartphones and other mobile devices to access brief informational videos about common civil legal issues in Virginia. The program was spearheaded by LSNV in partnership with the Virginia Legal Aid Society and Blue Ridge Legal Services and funded by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Technology Innovative Initiative Grant program. This technology initiative advances LSC’s goal of enabling users to access important legal information when and where it’s convenient for them.” (Business Wire)

December 14, 2016 – “Chicago’s City Council has approved a $1.3 million fund to help immigrants with legal services, including those facing deportation. There was widespread support for the fund, which will use money set aside from a little-used property tax relief program. Three aldermen voted against it Wednesday. Aldermen in support say the fund is a response to the election of Donald Trump, who has promised to taken an aggressive approach to immigration, including deporting millions. Two Chicago groups will help the city run the fund for immigrant legal services, including initial screenings. Experts estimate 150,000 Chicago area residents don’t have permanent legal status. Mayor Rahm Emanuel told the Council Wednesday that Chicago needs to stand by people who are fearful. He’s also seeking private donations for the fund.” (Washington Times)

December 15, 2016 – “Victorians in the state’s north will have improved access to legal support after the Andrews Labor Government  unveiled a new Victoria Legal Aid office in Shepparton. Attorney-General Martin Pakula officially opened the new office which has modern, custom-designed spaces with an open-plan layout, discreet well being areas, and two conference rooms for private consultations with clients. The office accommodates 11 staff, including seven lawyers and four support staff with specialist skills in criminal and family law, including family violence and child protection matters.” (Premier of Victoria)

December 15, 2016 – “Two Indianapolis attorneys are determined to change the way public defense operates in Indiana — and now they’re taking their fight to the Indiana Supreme Court. Mike Sutherlin and David W. Frank filed a petition to the court on Thursday, to compel the court to address issues plaguing the state’s public defender system. They say the system is woefully underfunded, and the Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial is routinely violated in Indiana. The 16-page document, filed on behalf of Allen, Johnson and Vigo county residents Jauston Huerta, Calvin Wilson and Kenneth Alford, requests that the court author a series of rules, procedures and standards which would ensure, at a minimum, constitutional representation under the Sixth Amendment to individuals who rely upon the public defender system. The three men, the petition states, all received inadequate representation from their assigned public defenders when they were moved through the criminal court system. They are also plaintiffs in separate lawsuits against their respective counties.” “The petition comes after the Sixth Amendment Center, a public defense advocacy firm in Boston, issued a 212-page report in October 2016, that shows how some of Indiana’s biggest public defense problems stem from how the system is funded.” (Indy Star)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Thirty-seven attorneys were recognized for their volunteer service on December 9, at the Kona Courthouse (Keakealani Building) in Kealakekua. This group of volunteer attorneys provided free legal information to more than 500 West Hawaii residents who visited the Self-Help Desk at the Kona Courthouse in 2016. The number of people who sought and received services at the Kona Self-Help Desk increased by more than 200 from 2015 to 2016. Congratulations and thank you for all your assistance. (Hawaii 24/7)

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

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