PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 10, 2017

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

Happy Friday! This week was a big news week for new projects. And with the release of the revised immigration executive order, a lot of pro bono news. If your school is doing a spring break project (doesn’t have to be immigration), let us know.  We’d like to celebrate your efforts.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Tennessee legal aid society receives grant for foreclosure prevention, community redevelopment;
  • Western Michigan University Cooley Law School receives grants for elder law clinic;
  • ABA Center for Innovation will hold design event to create app for hate crime victims;
  • Employer certification process under PSLF;
  • Mexico opens immigrant defense centers in US consulates;
  • University of New Mexico School of Law program that helps overturn wrongful convictions facing defunding;
  • Facebook Chatbot, ‘DoNotPay,’ provides legal aid for refugees;
  • Judge’s report urges Ontario to let paralegals appear in family court;
  • Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP and Goldman Sachs launch pro bono Immigration Clinic;
  • USC Gould School of Law establishes first named clinical law professorship;
  • Southern Poverty Law Center launches immigration pro bono project;
  • Legal Services Corporation launches data collection for 2017 Justice Gap Study;
  • Concerts for Indigent Defense;
  • Charles Koch Foundation gives $2.2m to the University of Pennsylvania Law School for criminal justice system research;
  • ACLU files suit over Missouri indigent defense;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 2, 2017 – “Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, which is Tennessee’s largest nonprofit law firm and has an office in Oak Ridge, has received a two-year grant from the Tennessee Bar Foundation to increase foreclosure prevention and community redevelopment legal assistance.” “With these funds, Legal Aid Society is hiring a new attorney and a new paralegal to provide legal assistance in its Murfreesboro and Tullahoma service areas and expand its foreclosure and consumer work in its Oak Ridge, Gallatin, and Nashville service areas.” (Oak Ridge Today)

March 3, 2017 – “A local school has been awarded funds by three organizations to prevent the financial exploitation of senior citizens. Western Michigan University Cooley Law School said this winter its Sixty Plus Inc. Elderlaw Clinic was awarded $53,950 total for its programs for seniors in Ingham County and the surrounding area. The clinic received $33,000 from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Aging and Adult Services Agency PREVNT Initiative. The Capital Region Community Foundation awarded $10,950, and the Lansing Area Community Trust granted $10,000 toward the initiative.” (Grand Rapids Business Journal)

March 3, 2017 – “The ABA Center for Innovation will hold a design event in Boston to produce an app that assists victims of hate crimes. ‘Legal Design Sprint: Responding to Hate Crimes Through Technology’ will be held at Suffolk University Law School on March 20 and is sponsored by the Center for Innovation and Suffolk Law, along with CuroLegal and Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab. The all-day event will bring together participants in the legal, technology and design spheres with the goal of creating a mobile app that will allow users to determine whether they are victims of a hate crime and provide them with resources and information to report it. According to Center for Innovation director Janet Jackson, the project was the brainchild of Nicole Bradick, chief strategy officer at CuroLegal. It is being funded by a $25,000 grant from Cisco.” (ABA Journal)

March 3, 2017 – Here is a good basic article on employer certification for Public Service Loan Forgiveness and a summary of the ABA lawsuit from our friends at Equal Justice Works. (Huffington Post)

March 5, 2017 – “Mexico on Saturday formally began operating centers for the defense of Mexican immigrants in its 50 consulates and embassies in the United States. The centers ‘are specifically designed to provide consular assistance as well as legal representation to all Mexican migrants who require support in America,’ the Mexican Foreign Ministry said in a statement. ‘This significant progress in terms of protection answers to the instruction of the president of the republic to strengthen support for our nationals in that country.'” “The ministry’s statement adds that ‘through these (centers), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs provides an exclusive space for Mexicans in need of consular assistance to receive information, guidance and direct legal advice, with the support of a strong network of local allies, including lawyers and organizations specialized in the defense of the rights of the migrants.'” (CNN)

March 6, 2017 – “A UNM School of Law program that works to overturn wrongful convictions could be losing its funding soon. Since 2009, the New Mexico Innocence and Justice Project (NMIJP) has helped UNM law students investigate claims of innocence in legal cases after the accused has already been convicted.” “But now the program is losing funding, and needs a savior of its own. Grant funds, approximately $200,000 per year, are relied upon to keep NMIJP afloat by providing a means for pursuing investigative and operational costs, including the ability to test DNA, Gordon Rahn, NMIJP project director and research professor, said. However, that grant expires this May, and the funding stream may be discontinued. ‘Due to the state’s budget crisis and its impact on UNM and the Law School, there are no funds available through the law school’s budget for us,’ he said. ‘Without funding from other sources, it is likely the program cannot continue beyond the end date of the grant.'” (Daily Lobo)

March 6, 2017 – “A chatbot which helped people to appeal parking fines is now providing refugees in the US, Canada and the UK with free legal aid. The chatbot, created by 20-year-old Stanford student Joshua Browder, is called DoNotPay, and was originally used to help people in London and New York with legal matters such as appealing parking tickets and receiving compensation for late flights. After the success of the app, lawyers and non-profit organisations approached Browder with the idea of extending the technology to help refugees seek asylum. DoNotPay asks users questions in plain English to assess their eligibility for asylum. The chatbot can also record a user’s details, provides instructions on how to submit applications, and has the ability to automatically fill in immigration applications for the relevant country. In a statement to Mashable, Browder stated his hope that DoNotPay will ‘allow anyone to have a right to safety, regardless of the ability to afford a lawyer.’ DoNotPay uses Facebook Messenger, which does not use automatic end-to-end encryption. Browder stated that he chose to use the the messaging platform as it was ‘the most accessible platform and the most appropriate to launch with.’ Browder also states that data from any interaction with the chatbot is deleted from his servers after ten minutes, and it is also possible to erase the data from Facebook Messenger. DoNotPay can be reached through a search on Facebook, and represents the many possible uses of chatbots.” (Neowin)

March 6, 2017 – “In what could prove to be a huge shakeup of the family court system in Ontario, the former chief justice of the provincial court is recommending that paralegals be allowed to provide some family law services unsupervised, including appearing in court. The recommendations from former Ontario court chief justice Annemarie Bonkalo in a report released Monday were hailed by paralegals and condemned by lawyers, leaving the provincial government and the legal regulator to work out how to implement what are clearly divisive ideas.” “At the same time, the judge dismissed the idea of more funding for family lawyers through Legal Aid Ontario, although she said it was ‘proposed repeatedly’ throughout consultations for her report. ‘Recommendations like expanding legal aid to cover existing gaps are not practicable,’ she said. ‘Moreover, I do not agree that the solution to any crisis in access to legal services lies solely with (legal aid) or the government.’ The report, commissioned by the Ministry of the Attorney General and the law society, comes as the family court system is facing a crisis. According to the province, over 57 per cent of people did not have a lawyer in family court in 2014-15, or about 21,000 people. Ontario Attorney General Yasir Naqvi said in a statement Monday that the government and the law society will work on an ‘action plan’ to address the recommendations by fall 2017. The government is also seeking public feedback on the recommendations until May 15.” (The Star)

March 6, 2017 – “Cadwalader is collaborating with Goldman Sachs on the launch of a pro bono Immigration Clinic. The joint effort brings together Cadwalader and Goldman Sachs attorneys and staff to provide eligible undocumented immigrants with the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. ‘We’re excited about establishing this important program with a valued and long-standing client like Goldman Sachs,’ said Cadwalader’s Managing Partner Pat Quinn. ‘We are committed to working with like-minded clients on pro bono initiatives that provide communities in need with access to legal assistance and representation.'” (Cadwalader News)

March 6, 2017 – “USC Gould School of Law is establishing its first named clinical law professorship at USC with a generous $1.5 million gift from longtime supporter Audrey M. Irmas, whose philanthropic commitment to women and children is well-known throughout California. Professor Niels Frenzen, founding director of the USC Gould Immigration Clinic, will be installed as the first Sydney M. and Audrey M. Irmas Endowed Clinical Professor. The gift will expand the Immigration Clinic’s work and student participation in advocacy and representation of immigration clients. ‘Audrey Irmas has been a steadfast supporter of USC and the Gould School of Law for many decades,’ said Dean Andrew Guzman. ‘We are deeply grateful to have such a committed member of the Trojan Family supporting a critical need for our clinics at the law school.'” (USC Gould News)

March 7, 2017 – “The Southern Poverty Law Center today announced a new project that will enlist and train lawyers to provide free legal representation to immigrants who have been detained in the Southeast and are facing deportation proceedings. When fully implemented, it will be the largest detention center-based deportation defense project in the country.” “The Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) will begin at the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, in collaboration with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Immigration Council, the Innovation Law Lab and the American Immigration Representation Project. It will then be expanded to other detention centers throughout the Southeast.” Attorneys can sign up for SIFI here. (Southern Poverty Law Center)

March 7, 2017 – “With support from two funders, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Kresge Foundation, LSC is conducting a national report that documents the ‘justice gap’ – the difference between the need for civil legal services and the resources available to meet that need. LSC is updating its 2005 and 2009 justice gap studies. As with LSC’s two prior justice gap studies, LSC is asking grantees to collect data about individuals who come to their offices with a legal problem that they are unable to serve or unable to fully serve. The data collection will last for six weeks – from Monday, March 6, 2017 to Friday, April 14, 2017. Grantees should submit their completed data collection matrix by email to by the close of business on Friday, April 28, 2017.” (LSC News)

March 8, 2017 – “Concerts for Indigent Defense is musicians and their communities standing together in support of the Constitutional right of all Americans to be represented by a lawyer when accused of a crime – even if one is too poor to hire one. Concerts for Indigent Defense are not fundraisers; they are awareness-raisers, about a cherished Constitutional right that is badly neglected every day across America. New Orleans will kick off this annual effort on Saturday, March 18, 2017, to celebrate the 54th anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, which established the fundamental constitutional right to counsel. This year’s featured Concert for Indigent Defense will be simulcast across the country on at 5p.m. central time. Musicians, national legal organizations, and a range of supporters have already pledged their support for the nationwide effort, which will be presented in 2018 as a follow-up to Concerts for Indigent Defense: New Orleans.” (Concerts for Indigent Defense)

March 8, 2017 – “The foundation of libertarian Charles Koch has given a grant of up to $2.2 million to the University of Pennsylvania Law School for research on ways to improve fairness in the criminal justice system. The funding, from the Charles Koch Foundation, will go to the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the law school. The center focuses on whether the rights of disadvantaged populations are adequately protected when they interact with the criminal justice system.” (

March 9, 2017 – “A new lawsuit alleges the state of Missouri routinely violates the rights of people who need public defenders because of those attorneys’ large caseloads. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday alleging that public defenders cannot pay enough attention to their clients, who have been charged with crimes ranging from stealing to murder. That, the ACLU claims, violates the state and federal constitutions. ‘Every year in Missouri, tens of thousands of people are pushed through the system without having an attorney who has the time and resources to be able to provide them a defense,’ ACLU of Missouri legal director Tony Rothert said. ‘The American Bar Association puts out standards on how long should be spend on a criminal defense case, and the public defender system fails to meet that standards 97 percent of the time. It’s not just a case here and there.'” (St. Louis Public Radio)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:

Exelon announced today that its legal department has been honored by Pro Bono Institute (PBI) with the 2017 Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award in recognition of its efforts and leadership to provide legal assistance to those who could otherwise not afford it. The Laurie D. Zelon Pro Bono Award is presented annually to an organization that has provided exemplary pro bono service and leadership and reflects Exelon’s commitment to giving back in the communities where its people work and live. Fortune recently named Exelon to its 2017 list of the World’s Most Admired Companies, which, in part, recognized the company for social responsibility efforts such as those praised by PBI. In 2016, Exelon employees served more than 170,000 hours of community service, and Exelon companies and the Exelon Foundation donated more than $46 million to nonprofits – the largest amount ever. (Yahoo Finance)

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

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