Archive for The Legal Industry and Economy

Mid-Week Mashup: Grading the US’ Justice Infrastructure

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow (’14-’15)

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Like its transportation infrastructure, America’s judicial infrastructure is showing signs of collapse. (Photo: Mike Wills–CC License)

Whenever I get a chance, I try to keep abreast of legal news to see whether there aren’t any tidbits I should be passing along to PSJD’s jobseeking and career-developing audience. This week, I got my first chance in a long while. Luckily, a few of the stories that caught my eye boarded the same train of thought, giving me an opportunity to ask them to file out in an orderly fashion for you. Here’s what I’m thinking about:

Just last week, a New York Times editorial tried to make sense of the Supreme Court’s (predicted) schizophrenic response to the two most ideologically-charged cases on its docket (Obamacare and same-sex marriage) by drawing a distinction between the US’ historical track-records expanding “civil rights” versus providing “broad-based prosperity”:

“The broad point is that the country continues to follow its basic historical arc on civil rights: They expand…The progress is uneven—and hard-won, as the surviving Selma marchers know well—but it is undeniable. Economic matters are different… broad-based prosperity is more complicated…It depends on a series of choices that society makes, on education, tax policy and, yes, health care policy.”

Making this jurisprudential move, the Times is in powerful company: As Judge Posner has put it, “the Constitution is a charter of negative rather than positive liberties.” He draws support for this conclusion from the US Supreme Court, who Stephen Holmes and Cass Sunstein have accused of “assum[ing] its validity without serious examination or even argument.” But this move should be interrogated, and it must be discarded, and another tidbit of news I encountered in today’s surfing demonstrates exactly why:

This Tuesday, Above the Law gave law school hopefuls a stark assessment of their future as public criminal lawyers: Louisiana has been laying off its public defenders to make up for a $5.4 million shortfall in their budget. An ABA study recently concluded that Missouri PDs spend so little time on their cases that the state’s system violates indigent defendants’ constitutional right to counsel—yet the Missouri Governor has withheld new funding for the PD budget, even after the state legislature overrode his veto. (Note: Last October, New York settled a lawsuit alleging a similar unconstitutional defunding of its own PD system.) In Massachusetts, a study last year found that some prosecutors make less money than courthouse janitors.  Massachusetts, like Missouri, doesn’t seem able to raise the funds to resolve its problems. ATL’s assessment?

“If you’re thinking of becoming a PD but aren’t sure, consider carefully. Embarking on a career as a PD is uncertain: it can be tough to get the job but easy to lose it, and the workload is high while the pay is low. The job might not be for you.”

The crisis currently facing America’s public lawyers (prosecutors and public defenders alike) illustrates perfectly the argument Holmes and Sunstein set out to make in the first chapter of their book, “The Cost of Rights:”

“Individuals enjoy rights, in a legal as opposed to a moral sense, only if the wrongs they suffer are fairly and predictably redressed by their government…To the extent that rights enforcement depends upon judicial vigilance, rights cost, at a minimum, whatever it costs to recruit, train, supply, pay and (in turn) monitor the judicial custodians of our basic rights…This machinery is expensive to operate, and the taxpayer must defray the costs. That is one of the senses in which even apparently negative rights are, in actuality, state-provided benefits.”

In other words, it’s hard to argue (as the New York Times just did) that the United States has followed  a “basic historical arc” of expanding civil rights when individuals’ ability to protect those rights is tied to its “more complicated” history of policy choices about how to spend the profits our economy produces. And when we don’t provide enough money to hire all the lawyers the public criminal law machinery needs at rates that will allow them to take care with their clients and pride in their work, it isn’t just a crisis for “us” as lawyers or “us” as career development professionals—it’s an existential threat to our society.  As Holmes and Sunstein note, “rights cost, at a minimum, whatever it costs to recruit, train, supply, pay and (in turn) monitor the judicial custodians of our basic rights.” In addition to competent judges, these custodians include both prosecutors (who are charged with ensuring that the state acts responsibly when it decides to attempt to take away individuals’ freedoms) and defenders (who are charged with ensuring that the state builds an adequate case when it does so).

One final shoutout to recent news:  Last week’s episode of John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” tackled our increasingly urgent infrastructure crisis:

“We’re currently doing a terrible job of maintaining all of our infrastructure… At this point, we aren’t just flirting with disaster. We’re rounding third base and asking if disaster has any condoms. And the crazy thing is, ask any politician from either side and they’ll tell you that infrastructure is incredibly important. Everyone agrees on this. In fact, at a recent hearing, both business and labor in the form of the US Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO turned out to support infrastructure spending…”

Yet there’s no funding, and Oliver couldn’t get any answers from John Boehner’s office when he tried to ask for the Speaker’s plan for this issue. He ended his segment with a tongue-in-cheek appeal to Hollywood to help make infrastructure maintenance sexy. But unlike properly functioning roads and bridges, we already have many, many Hollywood blockbusters that make a properly functioning justice system sexy, featuring offices staffed by prosecutors and defenders with adequate time and resources to pursue justice for their clients.

…so when it comes to judicial infrastructure, what’s our excuse?

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Public Interest Attorney Salary Survey – Deadline March 28th!

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Every two years, NALP (the National Association for Law Placement) conducts a salary survey of legal aid and government attorneys at prosecutor and public defender offices. The 2014 survey is currently making its rounds throughout the public interest law community, and is incredibly important in determining the fiscal climate for attorneys in the public sector.

Please spread the word within the public interest law community.  The survey response deadline has been extended to March 28th.  

You can complete the survey now online or download the PDF – please use either one method or the other. All information will remain confidential. All participants will receive a free electronic copy of the report.

If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Christina Jackson, NALP’s Director of Public Service Initiatives and Fellowships, at 202-296-0057 or cjackson@nalp.org, or Judith Collins, NALP’s Research Director, at 202-835-1001 or jcollins@nalp.org.

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Today, Canadian Legal Services Orgs are ‘Flipping Their Wigs’ for Access to Justice!

March 6th is officially “Flip Your Wig for Justice” Day in Canada! Members of the justice community and public are sparking dialogue about Canada’s access to justice funding crisis by wearing traditional judicial or wacky wigs and making donations to participating non-profit agencies. This is the awareness campaign’s first year, and most of the activity is taking place in Ontario.

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From Pro Bono Students Canada:

  • Of the 12 million Canadians who will experience a legal dispute or injustice in a given three year period, 65% believe nothing can be done with respect to their legal problems.
  • Almost 40% of people with one or more legal problems reported having other social or health related issues that they directly attributed to a justiciable problem.
  • Statistics indicate that individuals who receive legal assistance are between 17% and 1,380% more likely to receive better results than those who do not.

How to Flip Your Wig

  1. Wear a traditional judicial or wacky wig on March 6, 2014, marking the day Ontarians took action for access to justice. Visit flipyourwigforjustice.ca to register as a participant or team and begin collecting donations.
  2. Make a direct donation to a registered participant or team on the website or offline. Donations are eligible for a charitable tax receipt.
  3. Join the conversation on Twitter (twitter.com/FlipWig, #FlipYourWig), Facebook (facebook.com/FlipYourWigforJustice) and Instagram (instagram.com/flipwig).

The seven founding non-profit organizations are: Association in the Defense of the Wrongly Convicted (AIDWYC);Canadian Civil Liberties Association Education Trust (CCLA); Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO); The Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children (METRAC); Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN/ROEJ); Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO); and Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC).

Check out the Flip Your Wig website for more information.

Photo: Ontario justice leaders and community prepare for ‘Flip Your Wig for Justice’, an awareness campaign in support of access to justice on March 6, 2014. Left to right: Treasurer Thomas G. Conway, Law Society of Upper Canada; Executive Director Wendy Komiotis, Metropolitan Action Committee on Violence Against Women and Children; and Dean Lorne Sossin, Osgoode Hall Law School (CNW Group/Flip Your Wig for Justice)

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From Idealist: “So you’ve started a pro bono project… now what?”

by Ashley Matthews, PSJD Fellow

If you’re on the job hunt, you’ve probably heard about Idealist.org. It’s a great jobs site that focuses solely on nonprofit and social impact work, and includes everything from development gigs to international human rights fellowships. Last week, Idealist contributing writer Katie Mang wrote a great blog post on starting and implementing a pro bono project. The article is written in general terms to apply to any career field, but she’s got lots of great tips for us law students and lawyers as well. Here’s a few tips that especially apply to law student and attorneys providing pro bono service:

Read the rest of this entry »

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Want to get a handle on educational debt? Check out these upcoming webinars from Equal Justice Works!

It pays to be smart about student loan debt, especially for public interest advocates! Take a look at this message from our friends at Equal Justice Works:

Welcome to May! Here in DC, winter has finally relented completely and the pollen counts have begun to climb relentlessly.  Despite the latter, we have a full schedule of free webinars that provide a comprehensive overview of the federal debt relief options available for students and graduates. Our May webinars are:

Drowning in Debt? Learn How Government and Nonprofit Workers Can Earn Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Thursday, May 16, 3-4 p.m. EST

Thursday, May 30, 3-4 p.m. EST

A must attend for anyone with educational debt planning to work or currently working for the government or a nonprofit, this webinar explains how you can benefit from income driven repayment plans, including President Obama’s new Pay As You Earn program, and exactly how Public Service Loan Forgiveness works.

Enter to Win a $100 Amazon Gift Card!

As summer approaches, it’s also time to start thinking of escaping to the beach. Which entails, of course, light summer reading. We recommend bringing our new eBook, Take Control of Your Future, which provides the in-depth information on powerful federal relief programs like income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness students and graduates need to manage their student debt and pursue the careers of their dreams.

If a comprehensive guide to borrowing and repaying student loans isn’t your preferred beach reading, make sure enter our $100 Amazon Gift Card Sweepstakes.  Just enter the promo code MAY1. And feel free to pass on information about Take Control of Your Future and the promotion to everyone on your summer vacation list.

 While you’re in the office, don’t forget to read our weekly U.S. News blog, the Student Loan Ranger. It will keep you up to date on issues such as fixing legal education, the implications of President Obama’s budget for student loan borrowers and the student debt of Members of Congress.

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Get control over your student loans with Equal Justice Works’ Educational Debt Webinars

by Ashley Matthews, PSJD Fellow

It’s April already! In addition to filing your taxes and major spring-cleaning, make sure you add Equal Justice Works’ educational debt webinars to your calendar for this month. These webinars make financial literacy as easy as the click of a registration button, and EJW has a ton of student loan debt resources and news. Read on for the message from our friends at EJW:

Has your student debt become a financial burden you are struggling to deal with? Are you worried about the amount you are borrowing to pay for college or graduate school and wondering if you will be able to repay it all? If so, Equal Justice Works is here to help.

 We provide in depth information on powerful federal relief programs like income-driven repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness that can help anyone manage their student debt and pursue the career of their dreams. Our eBook, Take Control of Your Future, details the steps you need to take to manage your student debt now and in the future.

 Every month, our free, live webinars also provide a comprehensive overview of the federal debt relief options available for students and graduates and provide viewers with the opportunity to ask questions. Click here to view a schedule of our webinars and to register for an upcoming session.

 Our April sessions include:

 How to Pay Your Bills AND Your Student Loans: Utilizing Income-Driven Repayment Plans

Friday, April 12, 2-3 p.m. EST

 Saddled with high student debt? This webinar reviews income-driven repayment plans, including Income-Based Repayment, Income-Contingent Repayment and the new Pay As You Earn Plan, which allow borrowers with high debt relative to their income to reduce their federal student loan payments.

 Get Your Educational Loans Forgiven: Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Thursday, April 18, 3-4 p.m. EST

For recent graduates with jobs in government or at a nonprofit, this webinar explains how to make sure you immediately begin fulfilling requirements to qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness so that your educational debt will be forgiven as soon as possible.

 Finally, make sure you keep up with the new events shaping the student debt crisis by following our weekly U.S. News blog, the Student Loan Ranger. Last month we covered the effect of the sequester on higher education funding, the role of underemployment in the student debt crisis and the decline in law school applications.

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No Big Difference in Legal Job Market for Class of 2012: Entry-Level Employment Rates Stay the Same

by Ashley Matthews

From the National Law Journal:

Employment rates held fairly steady last year, according to data from the American Bar Association. Nine months following graduation, 82 percent of graduates had secured some form of employment—the same percentage as the class of 2011.

On a more positive note, 56 percent of the graduates secured long-term, full-time jobs that required bar passage, a 1 percent increase over the previous year. (This job category is widely seen as the most desirable).

However, there also was a 1 percent increase in the number of unemployed graduates, which stood at 11 percent nine months after graduation.

The article cites a couple of reasons the legal job market may be idling out, and also points out that J.D.-Advantage jobs are on the (slow) rise:

The class of 2012 faced a tough employment market not only because legal hiring has slowed, but also because there was more competition. The most recent graduating class was the largest on record at 46,364—more than 5 percent larger than the class of 2011, according to the ABA. (That figure is expected to decline because applications and new student enrollment has fallen off.)

There was also a slight uptick in the percentage of recent graduates in long-term, full-time jobs in which a J.D. is an advantage, if not a requirement. Nearly 10 percent of recent graduates landed jobs in that category, up by 1.4 percent from a year ago. J.D.-advantage jobs of any kind, including short-term and part-time, accounted for 13 percent of new graduate employment.

Confused about what exactly a J.D.-advantage is? Check out NALP’s informational video on where exactly this non-traditional route can take law grads.

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Educational Debt Resources for Public Service Employers, by Student Loan Expert Heather Jarvis

Law school debt affects many elements of an attorney’s professional career. From the selection of a post-graduate employer to stressing about repayment options, lack of proper debt management can have a wide range of consequences. For this reason, NALP has engaged Heather Jarvis to serve as our student debt expert to provide members with information, best practices and professional insight related to educational debt and repayment options for law students and graduates. Please respond to this brief survey to help Heather Jarvis tailor her efforts to your needs!

Heather has also created Student Loan Toolkits with separate resources tailored specifically to public interest or law firm employers, and an employer’s guide to Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Each presents a collection of resources that employers can make available to their staff to help lighten the pressure on lawyers with student loan debt. Resources on NALP include recordings of webinars, slides and handouts, and step-by-by guides for public service and law firm employers (member login required).

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Gideon v. Wainwright Turns 50

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright, a historic ruling establishing that all defendants have a constitutional right to an attorney – even those without the funds to afford one. This landmark case, decided on March 18, 1963, put a spotlight on the American criminal justice system and its ability to adequately ensure a fair trial for the accused. Fifty years later, tax-payer funded public defender offices are struggling to handle crippling caseloads and quality of representation is suffering. Public interest lawyers committed to indigent defense often find themselves “fixing” this broken system – struggling to ensure equality and fairness despite financial burdens and marginalization of the work itself.

If you want to learn more about the case and its modern implications, check out the documentary film Gideon’s Army, which shows the inadequacies of the indigent defense system and the underfunded public interest lawyers defending not only the accused, but the constitutional rights guaranteed in this landmark case. Gideon’s Army premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and was honored with the documentary editing award.

If you want to know even more about Gideon v. Wainwright, browse through The Atlantic’s guide to books and movies that will help you understand the case. You can also take a look at NPR’s piece on Gideon‘s anniversary.

Organizations like Gideon’s Promise  and Equal Justice Work’s Public Defender Corps have tried to combat the growing problem of underfunded indigent defense offices and insurmountable caseloads by recruiting, training and mentoring new attorneys, but funding remains an obstacle. What are some other ways of ensuring the constitutional guarantees laid out in Gideon? The U.S. is certainly having no shortage of attorneys, so could there be a solution waiting in the pools of unemployed recent law graduates?

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Looking for Financial Assistance While Studying for the Bar? Apply for the AEF Bar Assistance Grant!

The Asian American Bar Association Educational Fund is currently accepting applications for the 2013 AEF Bar Assistance Grant!

This fellowship award grants a $1,500 stipend and a reduced-fee Barbri course to recent graduates who have taken or are planning to take a 2013 bar exam prior to embarking on a public interest legal career. The only catch is that the job must benefit either the Asian Pacific American community and/or the metropolitan Washington, DC community-at-large. AEF created the self-funded fellowship because public interest and government employers rarely provide direct financial support to their employees for bar-related expenses. With this award, grantees don’t have to take out additional loans or find part-time jobs while studying for the bar.

With that being said, the AEF Bar Assistance Grant is a great way to relieve some of the financial pressure associated with taking the bar, allowing grantees to focus on passing the bar. The deadline to apply is May 1, 2013!

 

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