Archive for News and Developments

Penn, Northwestern and UCLA Law Schools Boost Scholarship and Loan Repayment Assistance Programs

Earlier this week, NALP‘s student debt expert Heather Jarvis  led a webinar for public interest employers on recruiting and retaining the best legal talent in spite of their student loan debt. During the webinar, Jarvis explained the ins-and-outs of loan repayment options and forgiveness provisions. These programs are beacons of hope for all public interest law students with small salaries and looming debt, and they provide great relief in the struggle to finance a public interest law career.

For this reason, the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Northwestern University School of Law, and the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law all deserve a round of applause for recently boosting their loan repayment assistance (LRAP) and scholarship programs.

The National Law Journal reports that Penn has overhauled its LRAP to cover all student loan debt for alumni earning less than $80,000 a year. Northwestern increased spending on its LRAP and scholarships by 25%, and also cut down on its enrollment. And UCLA received a $1 million donation for student scholarships.

More from the National Law Journal article:

“The pressures created by high student debt discourage many graduates from law schools and other professional schools from pursuing vital careers and accepting job opportunities in public service,” said Penn dean Michael Fitts.

According to NALP, formerly the National Association for Law Placement, the median entry-level salary for a legal services attorney is just shy of $43,000, while new public defenders and prosecutors can expect to earn about $50,000 a year. New public-interest lawyers tend to earn between $45,000 and $47,000, NALP said. By contrast, the median starting salary at at law firms of 50 attorneys or less is about $80,000.

In addition to making its loan repayment program more generous, Penn is launching a unique program dubbed the Reward for Sustained Service. After three years working at a public-interest or government law job, Penn alumni earning $80,000 or less are eligible for an additional payment that they can apply to principal loan debt, living costs and other expenses. The amount is determined on a sliding scale based on salary and years of service, but participants can receive as much as $22,800 between the third and tenth years of their careers, said Tory Messina, associate director for public interest and government counseling. She did not know of any similar programs elsewhere.

“I’m really proud of the program,” Messina said. “It really expands the amount of loan repayment that’s available to our graduates.”

Participation in the school’s loan-forgiveness program has doubled since 2010, Messina said.

Click here for the full article.

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This Week in Supreme Court Headlines: Voting Rights, Criminal Procedure, and More

by Ashley Matthews
West view of  the Supreme Court Building

Today marks the last day of the Supreme Court’s February sitting. With a docket dominated by civil rights issues, many are stating that this term could be even more significant than its predecessor. Here’s a rundown on a few cases affecting those in the public interest legal community:

Voting Rights

Earlier today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments about the Voting Rights Act – in particular, the preservation of Section 5, requiring all or part of 16 states to receive permission from the Department of Justice or a court before changing voting requirements or redrawing districts. Politico reported that while liberal justices argued “vigorously” in favor of  of preservation, conservative justices were “highly skeptical” and “sometimes downright hostile” to this notion. They also reported that Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy and Alito seemed likely to strike down the disputed Section 5. The Los Angeles Times noted that Justice Breyer “called racial discrimination in voting ‘an old disease’ that is still not fully cured,” while Justice Alito “called the law ‘a perpetuation of a racial entitlement’” and “not the kind of question you can leave to Congress.”

Consumer Protection and Corporate Immunity

The Supreme Court also heard arguments today concerning whether the Federal Arbitration Act allows courts to invalidate arbitration agreements on the grounds that the federal substantive law of arbitrability doesn’t permit class arbitration of a federal claim. A Mother Jones article argues that this case could potentially give big corporations “free reign to write contracts that prevent consumers from ever holding them accountable for fraud, antitrust violations, or any other abuses of consumer and worker protection laws now on the books.” Read more about this stance here. You can also check out yesterday’s argument preview on the SCOTUSblog.

Constitutionality of Government Eavesdropping

Yesterday, the Supreme Court turned back a challenge brought by a group of human rights organizations and journalists against a 2008 federal law that broadened the government’s power to eavesdrop on international phone calls and emails. The New York Times reported that the decision was made by a 5-to-4 vote divided along ideological lines, and noted that the Supreme Court may never rule on the law’s constitutionality. The ACLU isn’t too happy about this – click the link to read Democracy Now’s transcript from an interview with the ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case before the Supreme Court.

Warrantless DNA Collection

On Tuesday, the Court heard arguments from a Maryland case debating whether the 4th Amendment allows the state to collect DNA samples from people who have been arrested but not convicted of a crime. ABC News reports that the Court seems divided on the issue. The case stems from the 2009 arrest of Alonzo King on assault charges. After swabbing his cheek for DNA, the federal database came back with a hit on a 2003 rape of a 53-year-old woman. King was convicted and sentenced to life, but the case was overturned on the grounds that the DNA collection violated his 4th Amendment rights. The Washington Examiner reports that Justice Alito called the case “the most important criminal procedure case that we’ve heard in decades,” and noted that justices on both ends of the ideological spectrum had difficulty understanding how a DNA swab was any different from rummaging through someone’s house without a warrant. A ruling is expected before the summer recess.

For more continuing coverage on the Supreme Court, visit the SCOTUSblog.

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After 7 years, court overturns Chicago mom’s wrongful conviction and orders her release

In May 2005, Nicole Harris’ life changed forever. The 23-year-old recent college graduate had just moved back to Chicago when she was convicted in the asphyxiation death of her 4-year-old son Jaquari Dancy. After a 27-hour interrogation, Harris gave a false confession. She was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Harris always maintained that her son’s death was an accident, but her 5-year-old son Diante was barred from testifying that his little brother wrapped the cord around his neck while pretending to be Spider-Man. Now, 7 years later, appellate judges have ordered her release from prison after overturning her conviction based on “undisputably false” details in her confessions and the erroneous decision to block her youngest son’s testimony.

From the Chicago Tribune:

“This really is extraordinary, and it bespeaks (the justices’) continued concern with the injustice here,” said Alison Flaum, an attorney with Northwestern University’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, which along with the law firm Jenner & Block, represents Harris. “They clearly felt that Nicole has suffered enough.”

Prosecutors have argued in part that Diante gave conflicting statements to authorities, including that he was asleep when Jaquari died. The Illinois attorney general’s office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case, a spokeswoman said.

The federal appeals court also issued the state an extension to decide whether to retry Harris, a decision that will be made by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.

“We are still in the process of thoroughly reviewing the case,” a spokeswoman for the state’s attorney said Thursday.

The order releasing Harris from prison lists a number of conditions, including that she must report to a probation officer. There are no restrictions placed on contact with her surviving son, who wrote a letter to the court on her behalf.

Click here for more information on wrongful convictions from the Innocence Project, complete with information on false confessions and admissions.

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A Public Interest News Bulletin & A (sorta) Farewell

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, folks.  As many of you know I’m leaving NALP to take a position directing the ABA’s Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives.  I’m excited to join the ABA and to focus squarely on ATJ work, but there is much I will miss about NALP, PSJD, and the community I’ve worked in for the past seven-plus years.

I joke sometimes that this weekly blog post’s readership consists of four people.  I’m just being modest, of course.  The readership is nearly double that.  Well, in fact it’s a little larger, but I’m not setting any Web-traffic records either.  Numbers aside, what I see when I look at my email distribution list for this weekly post is a group of people who operate in every corner of the public interest legal world: law school administrators and clinicians, law students, nonprofit and government lawyers, legal-aid executive directors, law firm pro bono counsel, bar association officials, and so on and forth.  I’ve worked with a remarkably diverse, talented group of individuals.  I’m grateful for that.

What will become of the Public Interest News Bulletin? It will enter into a brief, late-winter hibernation.  But a few weeks from now NALP will return to publishing the bulletin here on the PSJD Blog.  Keep any eye out for it.  In the meantime, if you want to read a newsletter focused on the larger legal industry then check out my boss’s weekly offering here (updated every Friday).  I’ve learned a lot from Jim’s observations on the business of law and his aggregation of the week’s important stories – despite the inexplicable lack of a Super Music Bonus.

Separate from that, in early March I will begin publishing a weekly access-to-justice news digest on a new platform.  If you would like to receive this digest, please email me at sgrumm[at]hotmail.com.  I’ll add you to the distribution.

I don’t think of myself as a sappy person.  But my NALP departure has me thinking all the way back to my arrival in the public interest world.  It came when I served for a year, just after college, as a Jesuit Volunteer in the Northwest Justice Project’s Yakima office.  One of my enduring memories is of reading a quote which was framed and nestled in the bookcase of the first legal aid lawyer I met – Don Kinney.  Here’s the quote, penned by Bonaro Overstreet:

You say the little efforts that I make
will do no good: they never will prevail
to tip the hovering scale
where justice hangs in balance.

I don’t think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debate
in favor of my right to choose which side
shall feel the stubborn ounces of my weight.

That quote’s appeared in some form or fashion in every office I’ve occupied since that experience in 1999.  It’s pegged to a corkboard next to me right now.  And it will follow me to Chicago, where I look forward to placing my stubborn ounces on the scales of (access to) justice.   Thanks for reading this blog post for the past few years.  Let’s stay in touch.

Okay, the week’s news in very, very short:

  • $800K in class action residuals going to Legal Aid of W. Missouri;
  • a new social justice center at Temple Law (hey, I went to school there!);
  • debate continues on how to fix the Show Me State’s public defense system;
  • New York Law School offers scholarships to government employees;
  • recap of recently passed ABA resolutions impacting ATJ;
  • pay Montana public defenders more;
  • California county bows to pressure and starts assigning defenders at felony arraignments;
  • corporate pro bono in Canada;
  • find more funding for Wisconsin’s public defense program;
  • a Georgia county’s public defense program closes;
  • the “business case for pro bono” is made outside the legal arena;
  • some changes in providing legal aid to low-income seniors in N. California;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

  • 2.14.13 – from a press release: “Legal Aid of Western Missouri has received nearly $800,000 in additional funding to help provide services to low-income families in the state.  The funds are residual proceeds from a class action lawsuit settled in 2011 titled Allen & Lande v. UMB Bank. The court-approved settlement was secured by plaintiffs’ attorneys from the law firms of Tycko & Zavareei LLP, Stueve Siegel Hanson LLP and Gray, Ritter & Graham, P.C. The Court’s order approving the settlement provided that settlement checks not presented by individual class members for payment within one year would be distributed to Legal Aid to carry out its charitable mission.”
  • 2.14.13 - good things from my alma mater.  "The Temple University Beasley School of Law will use a $1.5 million donation to launch a center for social justice.The gift is from plaintiffs attorney Stephen Sheller and his wife, Sandra Sheller, an art and family therapist.  The Stephen and Sandra Sheller Center for Social Justice is slated to open in the spring. It will work with city agencies and nonprofit organizations that focus on social justice throughout the Philadelphia region in areas including civil liberties, consumer protection, the environment and disability rights." (Short article from the National Law Journal.)
  • 2.12.13 - "Police, firefighters and other public workers in New York City now have the chance to land a free ride at New York Law School.
    Administrators have announced the Public Service Scholarship Program, which will pay full tuition to three public servants next fall and half-tuition scholarship to 12 more...  The scholarships are open to public workers at the city, state, or federal levels, and recipients may attend either full time or part time. Recipients will be selected based on their [LSAT] scores, their undergraduate grade-point averages and a 'dedicated commitment to community service'."  (Story from the National Law Journal.)
  • 2.11.13 - recently passed ABA House of Delegates resolutions pertaining to indigent defense and civil legal aid issues:
    • from the ABA Journal: "Resolution 104A urges Congress to create and fund an independent, federally funded Center for Indigent Defense Services to help governments carry out their constitutional obligation to provide effective assistance to indigent defendants.... "  Resolution 104C urges state lawmakers to pass laws that would prohibit firing a chief public defender or other indigent-services leader who limits acceptance of new clients in a good-faith effort to ensure competent representation."
    • again, from the ABA Journal: "Resolution 10A approved by the ABA House of Delegates on Monday urges federal lawmakers to assure adequate funding for federal courts and the Legal Services Corp."
  • 2.11.13 - from the Treasure State: "[P]ublic defenders are paid far less than other state-employed attorney and county attorneys. The office has high turnover and high caseloads.  Turnover in the public defenders’ office has been more than 40 percent annually. According to testimony last week at a legislative hearing, public defenders routinely get 600 cases in their first year out of law school....  The appropriations subcommittee got the full picture of the importance of public defenders. We call on all lawmakers, especially those from Yellowstone County, the busiest defenders’ office in the state, to study this problem and help remedy it in the upcoming budget."  (Editorial from the Billings Gazette.)
  • 2.11.13 - "Public defense attorneys are now staffing felony arraignment courtrooms in Contra Costa County, where the prior absence of such attorneys spurred a federal class action lawsuit.  Contra Costa County's former practice -- not uncommon in cash-strapped and rural counties in the nation -- was to assign defense attorneys to indigent criminal defendants after their initial court appearance. That meant that people who couldn't afford bail would sit in jail for up to two weeks before a public attorney would appear at their side in court. Public Defender Robin Lipetzky said that the office had been fighting for money to have deputy public defenders appear at arraignments long before a local attorney in December filed suit in U.S. District Court in Oakland to force the issue. The lawsuit seeks damages for allegedly violating defendants' Sixth Amendment right to counsel."  (Full story from the Mercury News.)
  • 2.11.13 -  corporate pro bono in Great White North.  The executive director of Pro Bono Law Alberta offers insight as to how and why corporate counsel to get involved in pro bono work.   (Full piece in Canadian Lawyer.)
  • 2.10.13 - bolstering Badger State support for indigent defense: "The budget for the state public defender’s office is $83.4 million for fiscal 2013.  And that isn’t enough to keep up with demand.  For instance, the state has fallen behind in its payments to private attorneys who are hired to help handle cases at $40 per hour for in-court work. That rate doesn’t meet industry standard and doesn’t come close to the cost of running a law firm...  In addition, assistant state public defenders have been passed over for a system of pay raises that has been implemented for assistant district attorneys in our state.  The investments required to pay the bills on time and to treat staff equitably are relatively modest. But those moves are the right approach to support a system that is crucial to a fair trial and vital to living up to our constitutional requirements."  (Full editorial in the Lacrosse Tribune.)
  • 2.10.13 - "In a few months the Dougherty County Public Defenders' Office will close as a cost saving measure.  Starting July 1st Dougherty County will no longer have public defenders on their payroll. It's been decided that two already vacated public defender positions and two administrative jobs will go away....  Dougherty County's Public Defenders' Office has already begun the transition by hiring several contract workers. Officials say the next step is to talk with county leaders to find out how much money will be allotted for more contract positions."  (Story from FOX 31 in Southwest Georgia.)
  • 2.8.13 - this Q&A piece in the Huffington Post explores how Capitol One has incorporated pro bono into its culture, and highlights this accomplishment in the legal arena: "[L]ast year, a pro bono team of 15 volunteers from across Capital One's IT, Legal, Communications, Supply Chain Management, Business Systems Analysis, and Brand teams partnered with the Virginia Legal community to create a technology solution, called JusticeServer, which matches low-income clients to volunteer attorneys offering pro bono legal services. The new tool came at a critical team for Legal Aid in Central Virginia, which had lost half their staff attorneys, while demand for their services increased by nearly 60 percent."
  • 2.8.13 - "A North Coast nonprofit is expanding its legal offerings to focus on seniors in Lake and Mendocino counties.  Legal Services of Northern California began offering the new services at the start of the year in order to fill the void left by the closure of the Lakeport-based Senior Law Project.The Senior Law Project, which had provided free legal services to seniors in Lake and Mendocino counties, closed after 30 years...."  (Story from the Lake County News.)

Super Music Bonus!  Long-distance drives are one of my true loves, and I've logged thousands of miles throughout the country.  I'm about to hop in a moving van and drive to Chicago.  (Driving a U-haul truck through Ohio and Indiana may not prove the most relaxing excursion, but you get my larger point.)  In a country of such size and geographic diversity, an American does herself a huge disservice by not taking the ground-level tour.

In 1995 the band Son Volt released the album "Trace."  The band's songwriter, Jay Farrar, was living in St. Louis.  Two bandmates were living in Minneapolis.  Farrar's girlfriend was living New Orleans.   As a result the album's writing and recording took place up and down the Mississippi River.  Trace has been referred to as a love poem to America's mighty river.  And the lyrics reflect that.  The album's opener is "Windfall."  It's a song about healthy restlessness, and the feeling of liberation that comes with movement.  (It's also the song that taught me that Country & Western music can be cool.)  So here's "Windfall."  Cheers.

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Public Interest News Bulletin – February 8, 2013

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, ladies and gents.  Washington, DC has been touched only by a bit of rain today, but a few hundred miles north of here folks are preparing for a large snowfall.  A winter storm is a bittersweet pill: great for some, terrible for others.  As I wrote after Sandy hit the Northeast, storms of this size remind us that we are as much subject to nature as masters of it.  If you are affected by the storm I hope you get through it just swell.

On to this week’s public interest and access-to-justice news, through which we’ll explore Montana public defender salaries, a faith-based ATJ project, and the relationship – if any – between pro bono work and kittens.  The week in very, very short:

  • Montana public defense program looking to shore up salaries and attorney retention;
  • NYSBA, focusing on civil and criminal legal aid funding, gets behind New York judiciary’s proposed budget.
  • progress(?) in a Pennsylvania lawsuit about the alleged inadequacy of a county public defense program;
  • a faith-based ATJ innovation in the Volunteer State;
  • could/should compulsory law student pro bono be implemented in the UK?;
  • government hiring, which had been growing, grows no longer;
  • expanding conversation, and action, on pro bono and ATJ;
  • the growth of corporate pro bono;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

  • 2.6.13 – “Public attorneys tasked with defending high-profile criminal cases are among the lowest paid in state government, prompting many of them to take jobs as staff attorneys in state agencies and elsewhere, the Office of the Public Defender told lawmakers Wednesday.  Turnover in a year can exceed 40 percent due to pay inequity, agency officials said in arguing that a budget increase is needed to boost pay and add more attorneys to reduce the caseload. Lawyers right out of college are routinely handling 600 cases in their first year….  The public defender’s office is asking for about $5 million in each of the next two years to hire around 37 more staffers, on top of the 209 it has right now, and to increase pay closer to market standards.  A law school graduate…currently receives a starting salary of $43,000, the agency said.”  (Full story from the Billings Gazette.)
  • For a little bit of context, according to NALP’s 2012 Public Sector & Public Interest Attorney Salary Report the national median starting salary for defenders was $50,500.  Read the report’s accompanying press release for more data on defender and other public-interest salaries.
  • 2.6.13 – “New York State Bar Association President Seymour W. James, Jr. today urged state lawmakers to adequately fund the state Judiciary and provide that ‘all people, including the weak, poor and unpopular as well as those who rely on the courts to resolve their business and commercial disputes,’ have access to the courts.  ‘The effective operation of the court system is crucial to maintaining an orderly society,’ James said in testimony submitted to the fiscal committees of the state Legislature.  James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City) endorsed Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s no-growth budget plan for the Unified Court System.”  (Read the full NYSBA announcement, which includes details on how the proposed budget would handle short- and long-term legal aid funding.)
    • Oh, hey, as I’m putting finishing touches on the Bulletin I see this National Law Journal op-ed from Seymour James (who besides being NYSBA president is also the Legal Aid Society’s head criminal defense lawyer: “Just six weeks ago, Congress took last-minute action to avert automatic across-the-board federal budget cuts that would have significantly harmed the federal court system and legal assistance programs for the poor.  With the new March 1 deadline, the federal judiciary and the Legal Services Corp. (LSC) continue to find themselves in dangerous fiscal waters. Their day-to-day operations are threatened by cuts that will devastate the ability of businesses to resolve their disputes, for the middle class to be heard on civil rights and bankruptcy cases, and for our most vulnerable citizens to secure access to justice.  That is why the New York State Bar Association will be proposing a resolution at the upcoming American Bar Association midyear meeting on Monday, February 11, that urges the ABA, the national voice of the profession, to speak out and condemn these cuts.”
  • 2.6.13 – from the Keystone State: “A judge has scheduled a conference next month to discuss the failed attempt to settle a lawsuit alleging gross underfunding of the Luzerne County Public Defender’s Office.”  The ACLU of Pennsylvania filed the suit in state court on behalf of the county defender and other plaintiffs.  (Full story from the Citizens Voice.)
  • 2.5.13 – “In an effort to reach more people in need of information about legal services, the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission has formed a faith-based initiative to engage lawyers within their place of worship.  The Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance (TFJA) is a program developed by the Access to Justice Commission to support and encourage faith-based groups in Tennessee who commit to providing legal resources to their congregations and communities….  It is one of the first programs of its kind in the country created to align needs seen at the local church level with possible legal resources that are nearby, perhaps even within the same congregation.”  (Full story from The Chattanoogan.)
  • 2.4.13 – compulsory law-student pro bono, a la New York State, in the UK?  A piece in The Guardian notes that there is presently no momentum to make this change in legal education, and that there is no infrastructure in place that could support such a program.  Nevertheless, with huge legal aid cuts coming down the pike this spring, “…there is a new call for more law students in the UK to attend pro bono clinics and an increase in partnerships between pro bono organisations and law schools.”
  • 2.4.13 – Government hiring on all levels, which had been growing in the recent past, grows no more.  “Federal agencies shed 5,000 jobs in January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.  On the whole, government, including the state and local sectors, lost 9,000 jobs during the month. Further losses may be on the horizon, with budget sequestration that would cut tens of billions of dollars from agency budgets looming at the end of February. Several federal agencies already have implemented hiring freezes in anticipation the sequester could go into effect.”   (Story from Government Executive.)
  • 2.1.13 – Chicago Volunteer Legal Services director Meg Benson chimes in on how to turn pro bono talk into action: “Pro bono, as a concept, is stronger than ever. Pro bono, as a solution, is also stronger than ever. Pro bono, in practice, continues to limp along.  Why this disconnect? No one in the legal community, either local or national, dares to suggest that pro bono is not awesome. That’s like suggesting that kittens are not adorable. The problem is that, while most people agree that kittens are adorable, many would not have one in their home. Pro bono is like an adorable kitten — we love it, but not in our professional homes.”  Benson goes on to explore two possible reasons why there isn’t more pro bono engagement: 1) many attorneys are not personally touched by access-to-justice issues, and 2) “[m]ost attorneys have not been invited to participate in the access to justice crisis discussions…. At a minimum, we need to invite solo practitioners and attorneys from small and midsize firms to help formulate effective pro bono policies and strategies. This also means involving attorneys from diverse practices such as divorce, real estate, commercial and business, probate, etc.”.  (Read the full piece in the Chicago Lawyer.)
    • On a personal note I do not find kittens to be cute.  They grow up to be cats.  Cats are cunning, untrustworthy creatures.  I’ve met Meg a few times and have a lot of respect for her, but this conflation of kittens and pro bono threatens to shatter my entire pro bono worldview.  Very troubling.
  • 1.30.13 – a blog post from the Pro Bono Institute reminds us of the growing role that corporate counsel play in delivering pro bono services, and that the Association of Corporate Counsel has been leading the charge to promote more pro bono from in-house counsel.

Music!  This week’s song, from Canadian songwriter A.C. Newman, is called “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer.”  The song’s first lines are “Like a hitman, or like a dancer – all muscle.”  I’ve always thought this a clever, artful way to express the idea of two things having exact likeness of form but unlikeness of purpose.  I also love the line in the refrain, “You’re gonna change sides, but you wanted to wait,” which speaks to me about the moral push and pull we feel when forced to choose between what’s right and what’s popular, and how we sometimes cling to the hope that what’s right will become popular.   Enjoy this nearly note-perfect, in-studio performance of “Like a Hitman, Like a Dancer.”

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Public Interest News Bulletin – February 1, 2013

Happy Friday, ladies and gents.  This week’s bulletin brings you two weeks of news (read: your author dropped the ball last week).  A legal education update before that.  This New York Times story suggests that law schools will face smaller student bodies and decreased revenue in the near future.  A National Law Journal piece focuses on the recent enrollment decline.

On to the public interest and access to justice news.  In very, very brief:

  • the poor job market in civil legal aid;
  • profiles of pro bono champions;
  • $1 million in Sandy relief funding to LSC;
  • Massachusetts lawyers march for more legal aid funding;
  • family law pro bono in the Bay Area;
  • controversy over Nebraska’s indigent defense system;
  • ditto, Washington State;
  • pro bono’s growth in Charm City;
  • indigent defense hits the silver screen;
  • a recap of two events promoting technology as an ATJ tool;
  • the work of Iowa Legal Aid
  • MN practice rule change could result in more in-house pro bono;
  • New York’s top jurist is intrigued by proposal to allow bar exam after 2 years of law school.

The summaries:

  • I just wrote about recently collected data on the civil legal aid job market:  “As has been well documented, the Great Recession led to a great diminution in the funding that supports the civil legal aid community. Federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has been slashed. Interest on lawyers trust account (IOLTA) funding, which supports LSC-funded providers and legal aid providers that don’t receive LSC funds, has bottomed out.  Foremost on the minds of all legal aid stakeholders is the impact that this funding shortage will have on clients, of whom there are recently many more— also a consequence of the recession. One facet of the legal aid funding crisis is the limitation that providers suffer in hiring and retaining attorneys to serve clients. Data compiled separately by LSC and NALP in 2012 shows that strains on funding are drastically limiting the legal aid community’s hiring capacity.”  Here’s the full piece, which reviews the new data,  in the February edition of NALP’s Bulletin.
  • Speaking of February editions, the cover story of this month’s ABA Journal is entitled “Working for free: Lawyers incorporating pro bono into their lives talk about its rewards, challenges.”  The piece notes the increasing sophistication of pro bono programs in law firms, and profiles a handful of lawyers who maintain pro bono practices.  “Once perceived and defined as ‘charity work’ governed solely by personal conscience, pro bono has evolved into a professional responsibility and a powerful force inside the practice of law.”
  • 1.29.13 – an announcement from LSC: “The Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Bill (H.R. 152), which passed the U.S. Senate last night on a 62-36 vote, includes $1 million for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) to provide assistance to low-income people in areas significantly affected by the super storm.  The House passed an identical version of the bill on January 15th.  President Obama is expected to sign the bill this week.”
  • 1.28.13 – “Lawyers are planning an event to urge Massachusetts lawmakers to increase state funding for civil legal aid for children and adults living in poverty.  ‘Walk to the Hill,’ scheduled for Wednesday, is sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, the Boston Bar Association, the Massachusetts Bar Association and other bar associations throughout the state.”  (Short report from the AP.)
  • 1.25.13 – a battle over how county-generated funds are used by Nebraska’s state indigent defense program.  “Omaha Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh has renewed his quest to let Douglas County quit contributing to a state commission that defends indigent people in criminal matters.  That’s because Douglas County rarely uses the commission, most often opting instead for private, court-appointed lawyers to augment its county public defender’s office….  ‘We (in Douglas County) have our own defense bar we retain for indigent defense when our public defender has conflicts,’ Lautenbaugh said. ‘We don’t need the commission, and shouldn’t have to fund such a large portion of it.’  The commission, which has six lawyers and two administrative staffers, has an annual budget of some $1.1 million — all paid for by a $3 surcharge on all state court cases. Douglas County sends some $385,000 to the commission each year, or 35 percent of the commission’s budget.”  (Story from the Lincoln Journal Star.)
  • 1.25.13 – from Washington State: “The state Attorney General’s office is trying to put the brakes on a legal settlement that would give public defenders access to the same state pension benefits as prosecutors and other court employees. In a letter earlier this month to attorneys for the plaintiff and King County, AG senior counsel Anne Hall said the settlement appears to violate state law and could be “catastrophic” for the pension plan’s financial health.  Meanwhile, public disclosure documents recently obtained offer new–and some say, troubling–information about a related plan to make public defenders county employees.”  (Story from a Seattle Weekly blog.)
  • 1.23.12 – the director/producer of “Gideon’s Army”, a new documentary focusing on public defenders and the country’s indigent defense framework, talks about her film in a New York Times video piece.
  • 1.20.13 – a local paper highlights the work of Iowa Legal Aid, which has staff of 50 attorneys and coordinates the work of 2,500 volunteer attorneys [who provide] more than $2 million worth of pro bono service each year.”   (Story from the Times-Republican.)
  • 1.18.13 – “A proposal to allow students to take the New York Bar Exam after two years of law school has piqued the interest of the state’s top judge.  Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman stopped short of formally endorsing the idea when it was taken out for a public airing on January 18 at New York University School of Law. But he told the more than 100 gathered legal educators, practitioners and judges that the concept deserves serious study.”  (Story from the National Law Journal.)

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Public Interest News Bulletin – January 18, 2013

By: Steve Grumm

Happy Friday, folks, from a windy but otherwise beautiful Washington, DC.  I hope your week is wrapping up well.  Ever felt the solo-driver’s frustration at not being able to use the carpool lane?  Ever experienced Bay Area traffic?  Ever wondered for what purposes a corporation is a person?  Mix ‘em all together and you get this: “Jonathan Frieman…failed to convince a Marin County Superior Court jurist Monday after he argued that he was not alone when a California Highway Patrol officer pulled him over…while driving in the carpool lane.  Instead, Frieman admitted that he had reached onto the passenger’s seat and handed the officer papers of incorporation connected to his family’s charity foundation.  By Frieman’s estimation, if corporations are indeed persons as was first established in the 1886 Supreme Court case Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., and he offered evidence that a corporation was traveling inside his vehicle – riding shotgun, of course – then two people were in his car.”  Brilliant!

It’s perhaps fitting that Mr. Frieman bears a close resemblance to the highly eccentric Detective John Munch, a character from the old crime drama Homicide: Life on the Street.  For those of you too young to remember Homicide, it was a gritty, critically acclaimed show based on a book by David Simon, who went on to create HBO’s even grittier, even more acclaimed The Wire.  For those of you too young to remember The Wire, well you are indeed too young.

Moving ever closer to topical relevance, it’s noteworthy that officials in New York State are looking at the importance of law school’s third year.  From the National Law Journal:  “Legal educators and top New York state court officials will gather on January 18 to discuss whether to allow candidates to sit for the New York state bar examination after just two years in law school. The idea was floated by Samuel Estreicher, a professor at New York University School of Law, who believes skyrocketing law school tuition and diminishing job prospects for new lawyers have created a climate favorable to reform.”  Here’s a New York Times op-ed co-authored by Professor Estreicher, making the case for change.

One more preliminary: we hosted a webinar this week for law students, focused on drafting the best cover letters and resumes for the summer public interest job search.  The webinar’s archived here.  Critics rave: “The most riveting one-hour spectacle since The Wire!”  On Tuesday, 1/22, at Noon Eastern, our friends at Equal Justice Works are taking the reins to present a webinar on interviewing and networking.  Learn more and register here.

Okay, this week’s public interest and access to justice news in very brief:

  • NYC’s Legal Aid Society returns to lower Manhattan office after extended Sandy displacement;
  • the Last Resort Exoneration Project is up and running at Seton Hall Law;
  • pro bono’s down Down Under;
  • IOLTA FDIC insurance change explained;
  • is law school pro bono’s future bright?;
  • in Gideon’s 50th anniversary year, a criminal justice reform proposal;
  • LSC’s TIG conference;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

  • 1.16.13 -”The Legal Aid Society is finally home again.  Hundreds of staffers returned to their headquarters on Tuesday, 2-1/2 months after Superstorm Sandy damaged the building at 199 Water Street and forced them to seek other office space.  The group found refuge at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, as well as at Legal Aid’s other satellite offices around the city.  The telephone lines remain out of service, but everything else is back to normal, said spokeswoman Pat Bath.  Legal Services NYC and the New York Legal Assistance Group also were displaced by Sandy but have already returned to their offices.  NYLAG’s staff members were housed at UJA-Federation of New York and at a host of law firms around the city before remanning their office at 7 Hanover Square last Thursday, said president Yisroel Schulman.  Legal Services was forced out of its downtown offices for about a week, with most of its lawyers moving to its Harlem office.”  (Story from Thomson-Reuters.)
  • 1.16.13 – “In the last 15 years, eight people have been exonerated in New Jersey, the majority with DNA evidence….  In an effort to bring more of these cases to light, the Last Resort Exoneration Project at Seton Hall University School of Law was established to offer pro bono legal services. It is the first and only program dedicated exclusively to the convicted innocent in New Jersey.  The Last Resort Exoneration Project recently filed its first petition…”  (Story from PolitickerNJ.com.)
  • 1.14.12 – “The Legal Services Expenditure Report 2011-2012 found that more than half of the top 30 Australasian firms reporting in both 2011 and 2012 registered a decline in pro bono work.  According to the web site Legal Business Online, the report also found that only 11 of the 46 firms that reported their 2012 figures hit the aspirational target of 38 hours of pro bono work per lawyer.”  (Story from the Global Legal Post.)
  • 1.14.13 – “With Congress failing to take action to extend unlimited coverage, as of Jan.1, 2013, FDIC insurance available to IOLTA accounts is limited to the standard amount of $250,000 per owner of the funds (client), per financial institution, assuming that the account is properly designated as a trust account and proper accounting of each client’s funds is maintained.”  (This blog post from the Washington State Bar Association goes on to explain how insurance coverage for IOLTA funds has generally reverted back to the pre-Dodd Frank norm.)
  • 1.11.13 – David Udell and Liz Tobin Tyler look toward the future of law student pro bono: “Law students have long been key players in important pro bono legal assistance efforts. They engage in a range of access to justice activities―working with mentoring attorneys on pro bono cases, staffing court pro se assistance programs, providing community legal education, and more. But the announcement last spring by the New York Court of Appeals of a 50 hour pro bono requirement for applicants to the New York Bar has brought the role of law student pro bono work into the foreground like never before. What is the role of law student pro bono in addressing the growing justice gap? In providing law students with practical legal skills? In instilling a professional responsibility for pro bono service in new attorneys? The effect of the New York rule―on the focus and structure of existing and developing law school pro bono programs, on law school accreditation standards, and on other state access to justice reform efforts―remains to be seen, but a significant impact seems likely. This article describes current law school pro bono program goals and structures, highlights key elements of the New York pro bono rule, and posits some of the potential implications of this first-of-its kind rule.”  (Full piece on the Bloomberg Law site.)
  • 1.8.13 – “The ‘perpetual crisis in indigent defense’ could be lessened by moving minor infractions—including minor drug offenses—out of the criminal justice system, according to a new report by an ABA committee and a national group of criminal defense lawyers.  The report concludes that the criminal justice system is flooded with petty infractions that could be dealt with through two front-end reforms: reclassification and diversion. In reclassification, criminal statutes are changed so that minor illegal acts are changed from criminal offenses to civil infractions that carry a fine. In diversion programs, individuals charged with low-level criminal offenses can have the charges dismissed if they perform community service, enter substance abuse treatment or follow other requirements.  The report (PDF) was released in advance of the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, the March 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision finding a Sixth Amendment right to counsel.”  (Story from the ABA Journal.)
  • Finally it’s noteworthy that the Legal Services Corporation this week convened the 13th Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) Conference this in Jacksonville, FL.  LSC bills the event as “the nation’s largest convening of experts and persons interested in the use of technology to address the civil legal needs of low-income Americans.”  I haven’t seen news coverage, but conference attendees are, appropriately enough, creating a record using the Twitter hashtag #lsctig.  Check out the happenings.

Music!  Tennessee’s Lucero has long been one of my favorite rock bands.  Here’s “Tears Don’t Matter Much”, their homage to some fellow songwriters and to the way that a good song can stop you dead in your tracks.  Great chorus.

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Let’s Play Two! But Not Three. Doing Away with the Third Year of Law School(?)

From the National Law Journal:

The third year of law school has long been a punching bag for critics who argue it’s a waste of time and drives up the costs of a law degree, but there have been few serious attempts to do anything about it. Until now.

Legal educators and top New York state court officials will gather on January 18 to discuss whether to allow candidates to sit for the New York state bar examination after just two years in law school. The idea was floated by Samuel Estreicher, a professor at New York University School of Law, who believes skyrocketing law school tuition and diminishing job prospects for new lawyers have created a climate favorable to reform.

“People have been asking for years: ‘Do we really need a third year of law school?’ ” said Estreicher, co-director of NYU’s Institute of Judicial Administration. “I’m simply proposing that we give students a choice to stay for three years or leave after two. The economic downturn is a big part of it.”

He believes additional states would follow suit if New York adopted a two-year option. The proposal may prove a tough sell to the legal academy at large, however, which has blocked previous attempts to drop the third-year requirement.

But there are some institutional hurdles:

Unless the ABA changes its accreditation standards, New York students who opt to take the bar instead of completing their 3L years would not receive juris doctor degrees. (The ABA requires completion of 83 credit hours for a J.D. A handful of schools offer accelerated, two-year J.D. programs, but students still must meet the 83-credit minimum.)

Convincing the New York Court of Appeals would require significant support from practicing attorneys and professional organizations, Estreicher acknowledged. Practicing attorneys tend to be receptive to the idea because many recall their 3L years as worthless, he said.

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A Bright Future for Law School Pro Bono?

In Bloomberg Law, two proponents of boosting public-service learning opportunities in law school look at where student pro bono may go in the near future, especially in light of New York’s new 50-hour requirement:

Law students have long been key players in important pro bono legal assistance efforts. They engage in a range of access to justice activities―working with mentoring attorneys on pro bono cases, staffing court pro se assistance programs, providing community legal education, and more. But the announcement last spring by the New York Court of Appeals of a 50 hour pro bono requirement for applicants to the New York Bar has brought the role of law student pro bono work into the foreground like never before. What is the role of law student pro bono in addressing the growing justice gap? In providing law students with practical legal skills? In instilling a professional responsibility for pro bono service in new attorneys? The effect of the New York rule―on the focus and structure of existing and developing law school pro bono programs, on law school accreditation standards, and on other state access to justice reform efforts―remains to be seen, but a significant impact seems likely. This article describes current law school pro bono program goals and structures, highlights key elements of the New York pro bono rule, and posits some of the potential implications of this first-of-its kind rule.

Read the full piece…

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No, a Corporation is Not a “Person” for Purposes of Driving in the Carpool Lane. (But Nice Try!)

Citizens United has re-ignited debate about the rights and responsibilities of corporate entities.  Well, it seems as though a line’s been drawn.  Corporations can spend all the campaign cash they want, but even that kind of clout isn’t gonna get them into the carpool lane.   From the San Francisco Chronicle:

It is the rare motorist, however, who hopes his explanation will overturn more than 100 years of Supreme Court rulings and challenge the legal notion of corporate personhood.

Jonathan Frieman, a 56-year-old San Rafael resident and self-described social entrepreneur, failed to convince a Marin County Superior Court jurist Monday after he argued that he was not alone when a California Highway Patrol officer pulled him over in October while driving in the carpool lane.

Instead, Frieman admitted that he had reached onto the passenger’s seat and handed the officer papers of incorporation connected to his family’s charity foundation.

By Frieman’s estimation, if corporations are indeed persons as was first established in the 1886 Supreme Court case Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad Co., and he offered evidence that a corporation was traveling inside his vehicle – riding shotgun, of course – then two people were in his car.

Comments