by Christina Jackson, NALP Director of Public Service Initiatives & Fellowships
Happy Friday! Spring Break is right around the corner. Do you have a spring break service project planned? Let us know.
Here are the week’s headlines:
- Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee turns 100;
- Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance announce new medical-legal partnership;
- Michigan Indigent Defense Commission issues recommendations to help indigent defendants;
- Idaho Legal Aid Services receives $25,000 grant to assist identity theft victims;
- Law student debt and stress levels on the rise;
- Arkansas Access to Justice and the Arkansas Policy Program map legal aid need;
- Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
- Super Music Bonus!
February 25, 2016 – “One of the nation’s longest continuously operating civil law firms for the poor turned 100 Thursday. For all the societal changes in the century since the The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee opened, its mission remains nearly the same. The poor still get evicted, institutionalized and preyed upon by forces they may not understand or have the means to combat. ‘I’d love to see the day we could close our doors,’ because the organization was no longer needed, said Kimberly Walker, executive director since 2014. Legal Aid, which represents low-income residents for free in civil matters, marked its anniversary at its new offices at 728 N. Lovell St., in the Community Advocates building.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
February 25, 2016 – “Doctors at SIU School of Medicine have a new tool for improving the health of low-income patients around Springfield: the ability to ‘prescribe’ a lawyer. SIU School of Medicine and Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance announced last week a “medical-legal partnership” meant to offer patients help dealing with legal issues affecting their health. The program is funded by part of a $2.3 million federal grant and aimed at situations like housing hazards or unfair rules regarding public aid. It allows doctors at the SIU Center for Family Medicine in Springfield to refer patients to Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance for free legal aid when appropriate. Examples include things like peeling lead paint in a rented apartment, denial of insurance coverage or denial of public aid benefits. Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance is a nonprofit offering free legal aid across 65 Illinois counties.” (Illinois Times)
February 26, 2016 – “Poor people charged with crimes are at a disadvantage in courtrooms across the state of Michigan. But the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission says they have a game-plan to start fixing the problem.” “Earlier this month, the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission released four initial minimum standards to tackle the problem. They are: better training for public defenders; more confidential spaces for attorney-client meetings; more effective use of investigators; and, faster assignments to counsel.” “[T]he Michigan Supreme Court will take a look at the recommendations, and they’ll decide in June whether to adopt them state-wide.” (WLNS)
February 29, 2016 – “Idaho Legal Aid Services, the state’s largest non-profit law firm, has received a $25,000 grant to help provide legal assistance to low-income residents and seniors who are the targets of identity theft.” “This grant money will allow Idaho Legal Aid attorneys to provide services they might not normally have the resources to provide, [Jamal] Lyksett said in a statement. Those services will include helping victims complete fraud affidavits, working with credit reporting agencies to correct erroneous information, negotiating with creditors, resolving debt collection issues, and more.” (MagicValley.com)
February 29, 2016 – “A full 44 percent of law students expect to graduate owing more than $100,000 in student loans, according to a new survey of nearly 22,000 students. Fully 67 percent of those hefty borrowers anticipate they will leave law school with more than $120,000 in debt—up from 63 percent in 2011. The latest iteration of the Law School Survey of Student Engagement, a student satisfaction survey conducted annually by Indiana University’s Center for Postsecondary Research, focuses on student loan debt over the past 10 years and how that debt impacts law students while on campus. The survey, which included responses from 80 campuses, found that debt levels are increasing, are contributing to law student stress, and are hitting minority and lower-income students the hardest.” “The survey also examined the role race and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores play in student debt, with results [Aaron Taylor, a law professor at Saint Louis University School of Law and the director of the survey] described as ‘worrying.’ The survey suggests that minority students and those with lower LSAT scores are paying more than their white and Asian classmates and those with higher LSAT scores. Previous research shows that high LSAT scorers tend to come from more prosperous backgrounds.” (National Law Journal)(subscription required)
February 29, 2016 – “Hendrix College senior Nigel Halliday ’16 recently published ‘Bridging the Map: The Geography of Legal Need and Aid in Arkansas‘ through the Arkansas Policy Program (APP). The Arkansas Policy Program was developed by Hendrix politics professor Dr. Jay Barth with the support of the Bill and Connie Bowen Odyssey Professorship, which builds upon Barth’s ongoing public policy and public opinion research and advocacy work related to Arkansas. Through APP, students and faculty provide nonpartisan, original analyses on key public policy issues in Arkansas through a new undergraduate think tank. The new report examines the geographic distribution of legal aid and need to identify critically underserved areas in Arkansas. Its central conclusion is that hundreds of thousands of Arkansans – particularly low-income rural Arkansans – are currently being underserved by the civil justice system, in what is, in no small part, a product of geography. By examining exactly where the need for legal help is, along with the current distribution of aid, this report can hopefully help legal aid providers bridge the geographic gaps that prevent thousands of Arkansans from getting access to justice.” “Halliday’s report was completed in collaboration with Hendrix alumna attorney Amy Dunn Johnson ’96, Executive Director of the Arkansas Access to Justice Commission.” (Hendrix College News Center)
Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:
Minnesota Lawyers of the Year: Glenn Drew and the Larry Stigen Legal Team
Glen Drew has been devoting his energy to the Volunteer Lawyers Network for as long as he’s been a lawyer — in fact, for even longer than that. “I was working for Volunteer Lawyers Network for five years before I became an attorney as a case placement coordinator, trying to place civil lawsuits with volunteer attorneys,” recalled Drew. “I would interact with clients, gather documentation and try to get lawyers to take their cases.” Mr. Drew runs VLN’s clinics and staffs them with pro bono volunteers, all of whom he trains and to whom he provides ongoing advice and support. He also trains volunteer attorneys on how to effectively advise and represent low-income clients in State of Minnesota District Court proceedings, primarily in consumer debt disputes, negligence subrogation claims, Conciliation Court appeal cases, garnishment exemption claims and administrative law licensing issues. In addition, Drew coordinates the participation of law firms, corporate legal departments, and individual attorneys at free walk-in legal clinics located at the 4th Judicial District Court’s Self Help Center and Conciliation Court; recruits, trains and supervises non-attorney clinic assistants to support volunteer attorneys at legal clinics; creates and presents CLE programs about areas of law that pro bono lawyers often encounter; places civil litigation and administrative law pro bono cases with pro bono attorneys; supervises temporary staff; and oversees the accuracy of data about VLN services and cases for the benefit of the organization’s funders. He does all of this while also taking on his own case load on behalf of low-income clients. (Minnesota Lawyer)
Larry Stigen, a Vietnam veteran, had long struggled with anxieties and nightmares until finally being diagnosed with PTSD, but because of his discharge status, could not receive benefits. In 2007, Stigen relayed his story to lawyer Patrick R. Burns, a former Army JAG officer, who then put out a call for pro bono assistance. John Satorius, a senior corporate lawyer at Fredrikson & Byron and also a Vietnam vet, felt compelled to help. But he realized that Stigen needed a lawyer with more expertise in PTSD and military law. Two more attorneys soon joined the fray — John Degnan, a Briggs and Morgan lawyer with years of experience in medical malpractice (and also a Vietnam vet), and Patrick Mahlberg, an associate at Frederickson. Armed with psychiatric reports and accounts of his battlefield experience, the team focused on getting the VA to recognize the PTSD diagnosis. After years of frustrating delays and rejection, yet another lawyer entered the mix — Virgil Bradley of Cornerstone Family Law. An Iraq War veteran and one of the founders of Minnesota Veterans Legal Assistance, Bradley mounted a new appeal — this one aimed at upgrading Stigen’s discharge. The VA rejected the appeal in 2013. Judy Ojard, an expert in VA appeals with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs, joined the fight and, last February, the VA finally acknowledged what was always apparent to Stigen’s advocates: he deserved mental health treatment and disability benefits for PTSD. (Minnesota Lawyer)
Congratulations to all the recipients and thank you for helping those most in need.
Super Music Bonus! Music pick from the PSJD Fellow Eulen Jang.