PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 20, 2017

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

Happy Friday! It’s Inauguration Day here in DC. That means long lines, lots of traffic, and hopefully a renewed commitment to what truly makes America great right now. As the public interest community, we play a vital role. This week in the news are a number of initiatives designed to increase access to justice. That is a great place to start! But, there is also an indication of what cuts to government President Trump plans to make – and that news isn’t good.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • New program aims to increase pro bono service in southern Virginia;
  • Attorney General orders probe of Legal Aid Ontario;
  • Idaho legal aid launches new communication service;
  • Pilot project in Ottawa helping homeless overcome huge barrier — lost id;
  • ABA Center for Innovation accepting applications for inaugural fellowships;
  • Ontario justice partners launch new Steps to Justice website;
  • Trump team prepares dramatic government cuts;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 12, 2017 – “A new program is trying to increase the amount of lawyers across the state offering pro bono services. Virginia Legal Aid Society is putting together teams of local judges, lawyers, and members of the legal aid society to recruit lawyers to participate in Virginia Legal Aid’s Pro Bono volunteer program. Teams will also be formed in Farmville and Suffolk to recruit lawyers to service those areas. ‘Danville, Martinsville, Henry County these are all areas where we don’t have a lot of big firms with the resources to devote a lot of attention. We have a lot of solo practitioners,’ explained David Weilnau, a staff attorney in the VLAS’s Danville office. Specifically, VLAS hopes to, within two years, double the number of attorneys and cases in its pro bono volunteer program. The program is being funded by a $327,899 grant from Legal Services Corporation’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund. The new program will also allow Liberty University law students to do supervised pro bono work in Danville, Farmville, and Suffolk.” (WSLS)

January 14, 2017 – “The attorney general has ordered a third-party review of Legal Aid Ontario, after the agency announced last month that it was dramatically cutting back on services due to a $26-million deficit. Yasir Naqvi will be bringing in an external firm to review the arm’s-length government agency’s budget forecasting methodology, decision-making procedures related to budget management, and Legal Aid’s plan to balance its budget. The firm’s report must be delivered to Naqvi and John McCamus, chair of the Legal Aid board, by March 31, and will be made public ‘shortly after,’ Naqvi said in a statement.” “The agency’s president and CEO, David Field, told the Star in an interview in December that he would welcome an external audit, saying he was ‘very confident’ in Legal Aid’s financial situation. He reiterated that position to the Star in a statement Friday.” (

January 15, 2017 – “Need legal advice, but can’t afford a lawyer? Idaho Legal Aid Services can help with its new interactive communication system. Are you being evicted? Text the keyword ‘eviction’ to 208-718-1502 on your cellphone and within seconds Legal Aid will text back a link to its website containing eviction information.” “The new service focuses on basic information and doesn’t overwhelm a client with too much information. Even people who are familiar with the legal system can get overwhelmed and can use this messaging system for help.” “The information is written by Idaho attorneys and tailored for Idaho laws. The 13 topics available through the system are based on the most common areas ‘where self-representing people get stuck,’ said Steve Rapp, Idaho Legal Aid technology project developer in Boise. He expects the service to eventually expand into a more comprehensive and interactive tool. The service is free and there is no cellphone application to purchase or download.” (

January 17, 2017 – “A new pilot project is helping people from one of Ottawa’s most vulnerable populations replace lost or stolen identification — a process organizers say is simple for most, but ‘a big mountain to climb’ for those living on the street. Pro Bono Students Canada, the Ottawa Mission, Borden Ladner Gervais and Lawyers Feed the Hungry are working together on The ID Project, where volunteers help clients fill out forms twice a month. ‘I think a lot of us take it for granted that you would have identification,’ said Emily Cumbaa, a 28-year-old law student from the University of Ottawa. ‘It’s a huge barrier for people who are homeless or precariously housed.'” “The ID Project runs every third and fourth Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Ottawa Mission.” (CBC News)

January 18, 2017 – “The ABA Center for Innovation is accepting applications for its inaugural fellowship program. Open to both newly minted lawyers and mid-career professionals outside the law, the program seeks applications and proposals to create or develop projects to improve the legal industry. Those who wish to apply should have an idea that bridges the access-to-justice gap in the U.S.; utilizes technology to deal with a vital legal need; designs or builds a more effective way of delivering legal services; provides the public with easier access to legal information; reduces the backlog of cases in various courts throughout the country; creates tools that allow lawyers to better represent their clients; or helps pro se litigants represent themselves more effectively. The deadline for applicants is Jan. 31.” (ABA Journal)

January 18, 2017 – “Problems with landlords, unfair treatment at a job, and getting separated or divorced: these are some of the issues that Ontarians face every day. However, many cannot access the information they need to understand the legal implications of their problems and respond. Now they can go to Steps to Justice – a new website that empowers people in Ontario to understand and take action to deal with their legal problems. A first of its kind, Steps to Justice presents easy-to-understand, step-by-step information on common issues that people experience in family, housing, employment and other areas of law.” “Steps to Justice is led by Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO) and brings together key justice sector players such as the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General, the Superior Court of Justice and the Ontario Court of Justice, the Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario, Legal Aid Ontario, the Law Society of Upper Canada, and the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario.” “Numerous justice sector partners are collaborating on content development to ensure the information is accurate and practical; the website will be updated regularly based on their input. Justice sector and community organizations will also be able to embed or present this automatically-updated Steps to Justice content on their own websites to share with their users.” (Newswire

January 19, 2017 – “Donald Trump is ready to take an ax to government spending. Staffers for the Trump transition team have been meeting with career staff at the White House ahead of Friday’s presidential inauguration to outline their plans for shrinking the federal bureaucracy, The Hill has learned.” “The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition.” “The administration’s full budget, including appropriations language, supplementary materials and long-term analysis, is expected to be released toward the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, or by mid- to late April.” “The Heritage blueprint used as a basis for Trump’s proposed cuts calls for eliminating several programs that conservatives label corporate welfare programs. At the Department of Justice, the blueprint calls for eliminating the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Violence Against Women Grants and the Legal Services Corporation and for reducing funding for its Civil Rights and its Environment and Natural Resources divisions.”  (The Hill)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Kristen Sonday is the co-founder of Paladin, a platform dedicated to increasing pro bono engagement across the nation. Their goal is to make sure that lawyers are abiding by their professional responsibility and helping those with legal needs that have historically not been met. “I bonded with my co-founder, Felicity Conrad, in the summer of 2015 over a late night conversation about this access to justice gap,” explains Sonday. “She told me a story about her recent pro bono work to gain asylum for a Latin American client, and we brainstormed ways to utilize technology to solve the access problem.” In 2017, the Paladin team, is committed to moving the platform out of beta, rolling out nationwide and expanding both internationally and across industries. Click on the link for the rest of the interview. (Forbes)

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

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