PSJD Public Interest News Digest – August 4, 2017

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

Happy Friday! Can you believe it’s August already? As we move into the fall recruiting season, don’t forget about all the job search resources in the PSJD Resource Center.  And, as I yearn for cooler temperatures, my thoughts also turn to planning pro bono celebrations in October. If you are doing the same, check out the ABA’s Celebrate Pro Bono resources for all your planning needs.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Maryland Legal Aid creates subsidiary to expand statewide legal services;
  • Holland & Knight donates $100,000 to Miami Legal Services in honor of firm founder;
  • More students seeking public interest internships;
  • Mayor De Blasio, New York City Council reach deal limiting legal fund for immigrants facing deportation;
  • The International Trademark Association officially launches Pro Bono Clearinghouse;
  • North Carolina legal aid gets cut again;
  • Match site launches for progressive lawyers and non-profits;
  • Committee OKs plan to halt pro bono legal work by University of North Carolina School of Law Center for Civil Rights;
  • University of Georgia School of Law creates Veterans Legal Services Clinic;
  • Department of Education files response to ABA lawsuit regarding PSLF;
  • Montreal-based law firm EXEO launches free smart virtual assistant to help future immigrants;
  • Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants; and
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

July 26, 2017 – “Maryland Legal Aid is expanding its services with a new, wholly owned subsidiary. The Maryland Center for Legal Assistance — through a contract with the Administrative Office of the Courts — will run the District Court Self-Help Resource centers located in Baltimore, Glen Burnie, Upper Marlboro, Salisbury and the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center in Annapolis. Running of the self-help centers is the first service the MCLA will offer. Its work may also be expanded to offer more legal services, Maryland Legal Aid announced Wednesday. The help centers work on a range of civil legal matters including landlord-tenant disputes, consumer matters such as debt collection and credit card cases, child support and criminal record expungement to remove barriers to attain housing, employment, a license, and child custody. In 2016, the centers helped more than 55,000 self-represented litigants, Maryland Legal Aid said. ‘The new Maryland Center for Legal Assistance will serve as another dependable resource for Marylanders to receive high-quality legal help and to gain the knowledge and tools necessary to represent themselves in court,’ said MCLA Managing Director Sarah Coffey Frush in a statement. MCLA is a separate legal entity which does not receive funding from the Legal Services Corporation, unlike Maryland Legal Aid.” (The Daily Record)

July 27, 2017 – “Holland & Knight is honoring the 100th anniversary of the birth of founding partner Chesterfield Smith with a $100,000 gift to Legal Services of Greater Miami Inc. Smith, who was born July 28, 1917 and died in 2003, was a vocal advocate for pro bono legal services for the poor. The firm commits at least 3 percent of its billable hours to pro bono legal services each year.” (Daily Business Review)

July 31, 2017 – “While a summer job at a large firm is lucrative, a bumper crop of law students is taking low or no-paying public interest jobs instead, in part because it’s a way to gain hands-on legal experience. This year, the University of Georgia School of Law sharply increased the number of public interest fellowships it offered—from 22 to 36. That’s up from only eight or 10 summer stipends a couple of years ago, said Alexander Scherr, associate dean for clinical programs and experiential learning.” “UGA provided $68,000 in public interest fellowship funding this summer, a $15,000 increase from last year, Scherr said, thanks to a new initiative to raise contributions from alumni.” “Meanwhile, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society hosted 26 interns this summer, who came from all five Georgia law schools, plus Harvard, Yale, the University of Oregon and other schools nationally, said the group’s deputy director, Cathy Vandenberg. That’s up from 15 to 20 students it has hosted in the past, Vandenberg said.”  (Daily Report)

August 1, 2017 – “Mayor de Blasio and the [New York] City Council have struck a deal in a fight that had cut off legal help for immigrants facing deportation. The city’s $26 million will not go to pay for lawyers for immigrants convicted of 170 serious crimes — a restriction de Blasio had insisted on — but anonymous private donors have stepped in with $250,000 to aid those who can’t get the taxpayer money. The New York Immigrant Family Unity Project, which provides lawyers for immigrants fighting deportation, had been refusing new clients since June because of the dispute. Mayor de Blasio said people convicted of serious felonies should not get city assistance, but Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito objected to that rule and inserted language into the budget legislation passed by the Council to bar any such restrictions. Under the deal reached Monday, the Council agreed to rescind that condition. While de Blasio will get his way on the city cash, the private money will go directly to NYIFUP to continue defending those with serious convictions, as it has done in the past.” “With the money out of limbo, the program will now resume taking new clients as soon as possible, according to the Legal Aid Society.” (New York Daily News)

August 1, 2017 – “The International Trademark Association’s (INTA) Pro Bono Clearinghouse has officially opened to potential clients facing trademark issues in the US and Germany. The clearinghouse had a pilot soft start on 1 January. In its current form, the clearinghouse offers a host of practitioners in the US and Germany that can help with trademark issues. Eligible clients will be matched with an INTA attorney to help guide them. The intended clients are low-income individuals and directors of non-profit or charitable organizations with low operating budgets that have no other option or don’t have access to legal advice in trademarks.” (IPPro The Internet)

August 1, 2017 – “Poor people who need help fighting a landlord or keeping government benefits can get an attorney for free through North Carolina legal aid programs, but new state budget cuts mean fewer may have that option.” “For years, the three leading legal aid groups have received state funds to represent people in civil matters in part through budget earmarks and a small portion of the fees from court filings and criminal cases. Legal aid funds already had been cut by more than half since 2008 to $2.7 million during the last fiscal year. This year the reduction looks deeper and permanent, and the reasons for the cuts remain unclear. The state budget approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly last month over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto eliminated the practice of setting aside $1.50 from each filing fee and repealed the law distributing funds for general legal services. Of the $1.1 million that remains, most will go to help represent domestic violence victims for protective orders or child custody matters. Although the legal aid groups also get funds from other sources, their leaders said in interviews the new state cuts could mean nearly 35 attorneys and staff ultimately will be laid off, resulting in several thousand potential clients unable to get help each year.” (US News & World Reports)

August 1, 2017 – “President Donald Trump has inspired a new online dating service—between lawyers seeking pro-bono work and opposition non-profits in need of help. We the Action, launching Friday, will be an online portal to connect lawyers with legal work waiting to be done, from reviewing leases and contracts to filing Social Security claims to potentially heading to court in immigration cases. Non-profits will be able to post the services they need, and search through online profiles created by attorneys detailing expertise and availability. Several connections have been made already by the 501(c)(4), funded and incubated by the California-based Emerson Collective, the organization founded and led by Laurene Powell Jobs.” “Eleven larger organizations are forming the backbone of support and outreach: Access Democracy, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, Equality New York, the International Refugee Assistance Program, the Latin American Coalition, Let America Vote, NARAL Pro Choice America, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaiian Islands and Voto Latino.” (Politico)

August 2, 2017 – “A center founded at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to help the poor and disenfranchised moved one step closer to losing its ability to file lawsuits on Tuesday. A committee of the UNC Board of Governors voted 5-1, with one abstention, to strip the UNC Center for Civil Rights of its ability to sue on behalf of clients or provide legal counsel. Ban proponents say the center’s courtroom work strays from the university’s education mission, but supporters of the center say students gain valuable experience through working on cases and that the ban would effectively defang the center.” “The Board of Governors likely will consider the ban at its Sept. 8 meeting.” (WRAL)

August 2, 2017 – “The University of Georgia School of Law is establishing a Veterans Legal Services Clinic funded by a lead gift from renowned trial attorney and alumnus James E. “Jim” Butler Jr. in memory of his father, Lt. Cmdr. James E. Butler Sr., who was a fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy. Butler Sr. was also the grandfather of James E. “Jeb” Butler III, a 2008 graduate of the law school. The new clinic will provide veterans in Georgia with legal assistance they might not otherwise have access to or be able to afford, with particular regard to denied or deferred claims before the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It also includes an educational scholarship component.” (University of Georgia News)

August 2, 2017 – “In court documents filed late Monday, the federal agency reaffirmed earlier statements that borrowers could not rely on FedLoan Servicing, the company overseeing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, to accurately say whether they qualify for debt relief. The department’s position signals that there are no guarantees of loan forgiveness for people who have received assurances from the servicing company, a troubling realization for the hundreds of thousands of people participating in the program.” “‘Though the department’s contractor has made occasional errors in individual notifications to borrowers, it has corrected those errors,’ Education Department attorneys wrote in Monday’s filing. ‘Moreover, it has provided borrowers … ample opportunities to seek reconsideration of its decisions.’ The attorneys said the final decision on forgiveness is, and has always been, in the hands of the Education Department. That means borrowers will know for sure that their loans will be forgiven only after they have completed the 10 years of payments.” (The Washington Post)

August 2, 2017 – “EXEO, a Montreal-based law firm specialized in immigration and international mobility, launches IVA (Immigration Virtual Assistant) a free, AI-powered virtual assistant to assist close to 180,000 people looking to immigrate to Canada each month. As one of Canada’s pioneering legal technology initiatives geared to the general public, IVA is the first tool to cover more than 25 permanent and temporary Canadian immigration categories.” “Accessible via Facebook Messenger, IVA uses a Q&A format to provide users with information regarding the possibilities that are open to them. IVA covers more than 25 immigration program categories, from work permit applications to student visas to permanent residence programs. IVA’s content is vetted by lawyers and researchers who track changes to the Canadian regulations. Updates are done in real time, using adaptive programming. This Canadian initiative is the result of more than 1,000 hours of research and programming, as well as the work of a multidisciplinary team of lawyers, researchers, copywriters, programmers, graphic designers, artificial intelligence specialists and web designers.” (Markets Insider)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants!

Wiley Rein LLP obtained a lifesaving ruling in a compelling pro bono immigration case, securing asylum for a teenage refugee who had fled to the United States to escape gang-related criminal activity, violence, and homelessness in his native Honduras. Read more about the case, and this win at the link. Congratulations to the team! (Wiley Rein News & Insights)

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

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