Job’o'th’Week (Entry-Level Edition) — 2015-2016 PSJD Fellow

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

Alright! This week’s entry-level Job’o’th’Week is…my own! Every year, NALP hires a recent law graduate to help strengthen PSJD’s services. Every Fellow is different, but we all try to bring a job-seeker’s perspective to the task of maintaining and improving PSJD. There are many aspects to this job, and anyone with ideas for improving the way we develop our content, communicate with our users, or educate students about career development should consider applying. (My predecessor, Ashley Matthews, made great strides developing our social media presence. I’m focusing my time on trying to improve the website’s inner workings.)

I believe in PSJD. It’s a vital resource for law students and lawyers trying to figure out a much less straightforward area of the legal market (public interest jobs) that simultaneously receives less attention from careers professionals because there are fewer public positions than private ones. I hope you agree. If you have an interest in our work, I encourage you to apply.

Check out the full post on PSJD (application deadline: March 6, 2015).

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 16, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • US federal government launches 2015 Workforce Recruitment Program for candidates with disabilities;
  • New endowment supports professional development and diversity efforts at University of Arkansas School of Law;
  • Prairie provinces contemplating overhaul of legal services delivery;
  • CA State Bar provides grant to start incubator;
  • Legal Aid of Marin launches lawyer referral service;
  • IU Maurer School of Law names first Director of IP Clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

January 12, 2015 -The Workforce Recruitment Program (WRP) is a recruitment and referral program that connects employers nationwide with university students and recent graduates with disabilities to internships or permanent jobs.  Individuals must work with their schools, who register with the program.  For details on how the program works, see the WPR website.

January 12, 2015 – “University of Arkansas School of Law alumnus and Walmart executive Jeff Gearhart and his wife, Lisa Gearhart, have created an endowed fund to enhance academic and professional development opportunities that advance diversity in the legal profession. The Gearhart Family Endowed Diversity Support Initiative was established through a $200,000 gift from the couple.”  “The initiative will support programs such as internships, student travel to conferences and competitions, and expanded diversity education. It will complement existing diversity initiatives at the School of Law.”  (University of Arkansas Newswire)

January 12, 2015 – “Putting your affairs in order might one day be as simple as another stop at Costco or the Alberta Motor Association, the dean of the University of Alberta’s law school says.  With seismic shifts already shaking the American and Commonwealth legal profession, Alberta has joined the Canadian conversation about changes in technology and service delivery that could improve access to legal services, break the virtual monopoly held by lawyers and radically change how and where legal advice is given.”  “In September, the Law Society of Alberta began working with partner societies in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to contemplate an overhaul of the delivery of legal services on the Prairies. Potential changes include rules around ownership of firms and the enhanced use of technology and paralegals.”  Alternatives to the traditional legal office are being considered across Canada, and changes may occur as soon as 2016.  (Edmonton Journal)

January 12, 2015 – “The State Bar of California’s Commission on Access to Justice has awarded a grant to Southwestern Law School, UCLA School of Law and Pepperdine University School of Law to establish a modest means incubator, a pilot program to help new attorneys launch and develop viable law practices serving modest means clients.
The law schools have partnered with local legal aid organizations and the Los Angeles County Law Library to create the Los Angeles County Incubator Consortium, through which 12 to 15 recent graduates –  four or five from each law school – will receive training in establishing law practices that provide legal services to low and modest income populations.”  (Southwestern Law School News)

January 13, 2015 – I have been in numerous discussions recently regarding lawyer referral services.  Here is one example of how the program could work.  “Legal Aid of Marin, a nonprofit based in San Rafael [CA], has launched a referral service to match litigants to qualified lawyers in relevant fields.  Under the service, called the Marin Lawyer Referral Service, residents pay trained volunteers $50 for each referral, and the lawyer agrees to provide a free 30-minute consultation. The participating lawyers are selected from a panel screened for experience and clean state bar records.”  (Marin Independent Journal)

January 15, 2015 – “The IU Maurer School of Law will bring in Norman Hedges as a new clinical associate professor of law and its first full-time director of Maurer’s intellectual property law clinic.  The clinic opened its doors in January 2014 to provide pro bono patent, trademark and intellectual property law counseling, according to an IU press release.”  (Indiana Daily Student)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants:  A moment of silence for the Nigerian victims of Boka Haram and those at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.  All lives are important and should be mourned equally.

Super Music Bonus!  http://youtu.be/PoPL7BExSQU

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Equal Justice Works’ Urgent Call: Help Preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness

When it comes to student debt problems, Equal Justice Works helps us all a lot. They’ve got their student debt blog on the Huffington Post, their free student debt ebook, and their monthly free webinar series JDs in Debt: What Law Students & Lawyers Need to Know about Managing Student Loans & Earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness. (The next webinar is Thursday, January 22, from 3pm – 4pm EST, by the way.) Now, EJW needs your help. I’ll let them explain for themselves:

Help Preserve Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) allows borrowers to earn forgiveness of federal student loans after making 10 years of on-time monthly payments while working full-time in a public service position. While we hear from countless borrowers about how critical PSLF is to making a public interest career possible, currently, there is little hard data on who is relying on the program and its impact. You can help by filling out this very quick survey to show the impact the ability to earn forgiveness through PSLF has on your career plans.

This data will be invaluable in helping Equal Justice Works and a coalition of interested groups advocate for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. PSLF is currently being challenged by groups alleging it contributes to rising tuition and unfairly benefits professional and graduate students, including lawyers, doctors and social workers. This spring, the Obama Administration recommended capping PSLF at the undergraduate loan limit (currently $57,500) in its FY 2015 budget request to Congress. Now, Congress might propose a similar cap during the ongoing reauthorization of the Higher Education Act this year.

Your responses will be aggregated for confidentiality. You have the option to share your personal story in the survey if you would like to provide anecdotal evidence of the importance of PSLF. You can also let us know if you would like to be contacted about additional steps you can take to advocate for PSLF, including in Congress.

The deadline for completing the survey is March 2, but please complete it as soon as possible in case Congress acts sooner. Thank you for your help on this urgent issue!

Share and Get Involved

Please share this post with anyone you think might benefit from the free webinar or whose voice should be heard and encourage them to respond to the survey as soon as possible.

Equal Justice Works is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to creating a just society by mobilizing the next generation of lawyers committed to equal justice. To stay up to date, follow us on Twitter (@EJW_org, #studentdebthelp) and on Facebook.

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – January 9, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone and welcome to 2015! Pro Bono hours are in, and I’m so pleased to see an increase in both hours and the number of individuals who have answered the call to service.  Keep up the great work!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. receives 1.4 mil gift;
  • TX county tests indigent defense pilot project;
  • Crowd-funding a public interest career?;
  • CT boosts legal aid ranks with ‘LawyerCorps’;
  • DE launches Access to Justice Commission;
  • Washington State to license LLLTs;
  • New rules clarify NJ requirements for pro bono exemption;
  • Syracuse University College of Law opens veterans clinic;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants:  National Law Journal Pro Bono Hotlist – 10 firms making a real impact on their communities;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 22, 2014 – Legal Services of North Florida, Inc. covers 16 counties with “16 attorneys and seven paralegals trying to cover a geographic area where 200,000 people could be eligible for its services. 362 private attorneys also provide pro bono services, amounting to 5,600 hours of work.”  The agency “recently received a boost from someone it helped. William T. and Virginia N. Lyons never forgot the work that Legal Services provided for its clients and for the internship that [Executive Director Kris] Knab provided William Lyons over 30 years ago, when he took up law as a second career.  Legal Services this week announced receiving a gift of $1.4 million from the estate of the couple, now both deceased. To honor the agency’s single largest donation, Legal Services has renamed its Tallahassee office the William T. and Virginia N. Lyons Justice Center.”  The money comes at a critical time when all agencies are cutting staff and services in the face of budget cuts and funding shortfalls.  (Tallahassee Democrat)

December 28, 2014 – A central Texas county “will be the first in the country to give [indigent defendants] the ability to choose their own attorneys at the government’s expense.  It’s part of a pilot program in Comal County that could determine whether the idea could be adopted in other jurisdictions and provide a new wrinkle to how the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments are exercised.  Under the new system, a defendant who is declared indigent will be given a list of 30 to 50 attorneys who have been approved by the county. An individual will have a day to make a choice.  Legal experts have suggested that defendants will be more invested in their cases, and there will be more accountability for attorneys.”  The program is set to begin January 12.  (ABC News)

December 30, 2014 – Here is an interesting article from Above the Law about one student who is attempting to crowdfund her public interest law firm.  It is an intriguing idea, and, in her case, well thought out.  Give it a read.  (Above the Law)

December 30, 2014 – “Connecticut’s legal aid community breathed a collective sigh of relief when lawmakers in 2014 approved a plan to continue using increased court filing fees to fund their legal services programs for the poor.”  Each of the state’s three largest legal aid agencies—Connecticut Legal Services, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, and the New Haven Legal Assistance Association—is in the process of reviewing applications for the new [LawyerCorps Connecticut] fellowships. Hiring committees will interview applicants and choose fellows, who maybe either in law school or recently graduated. The new fellows will work to help those in need obtain protection from domestic violence. They will also help clients with legal issues related to housing, education and health care.”  Law students and admitted lawyers interested in applying for the LawyerCorps Connecticut program can visit lawyercorpsct.org/apply. Applications are due by Jan. 20.
(Connecticut Law Tribune)

December 31, 2014 – “Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. earlier this month launched the Access to Justice Commission, a task force focused on helping low- to moderate-income individuals obtain legal services for criminal and civil cases.  The commission’s main efforts will be to ensure organizations providing indigent legal services make the most of limited resources, increase attorney pro bono offerings, and lessen the economic hardship on attorneys representing low-income clients.  ‘All of the commission’s mandates are equally important,’ Strine told Delaware Law Weekly. ‘We will take the time to look specifically at these issues and how to go about addressing them with the talent that is relevant to those issues. You will see distinguished in-house attorneys look at increasing pro bono work or financial experts look at increased funding.’”  (Delaware Law Weekly) (free subscription required)

January 1, 2015 -Washington’s (and the nation’s) first limited license legal technicians are preparing for practice. The inaugural class of 15 “have taken the required courses and will sit for a licensing examination in March. The state will begin licensing those who pass in the spring.  These nonlawyers will be licensed by the state to provide legal advice and assistance to clients in certain areas of law without the supervision of a lawyer.  The first practice area in which LLLTs will be licensed is domestic relations.”  “So far, Washington stands alone in formally licensing nonlawyers to provide legal services. But California is actively considering nonlawyer licensing, and several other states are beginning to explore it. New York has sidestepped licensing and is already allowing nonlawyers to provide legal assistance in limited circumstances while also looking to expand their use.  In its January 2014 final report, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education called on states to license ‘persons other than holders of a JD to deliver limited legal services.’ Now this issue of allowing nonlawyers to provide legal services is among the topics being taken up by ABA President William C. Hubbard’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services.”  The Washington and New York programs are detailed in the article.  (ABA Journal)

January 5, 2015 – “Rule changes aimed at helping New Jersey lawyers fulfill their annual pro bono obligations kicked in at the start of the new year.  The changes were proposed in 2012 by the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Task Force and adopted by the state Supreme Court last July, but had a delayed effective date of Jan. 1.  New Jersey has a unique system of mandatory court-appointed pro bono service, but lawyers can claim an exemption from it by doing at least 25 hours of pro bono work for a qualifying organization in the preceding year. It is known as Exemption 88.”  “New Rule 1:21-12 for the first time sets forth the exemption in the form of a single rule, stating that lawyers who certify to 25 hours of voluntary qualifying pro bono service in the prior year are exempt from court-appointed service under Madden. The other new rule, Rule 1:21-11, defines what constitutes ‘qualifying pro bono service’ for purposes of satisfying the obligation and requires certification of the programs through which lawyers provide such service.”  More information can be found on the Court’s website.  (The New Jersey Law Journal) (free subscription required)

January 8, 2015 – “Military veterans in Central New York will have access to free legal help through a new, year-round legal clinic opening today at Syracuse University’s College of  Law.  The Veterans Legal Clinic opens today at SU’s Dineen Hall. It will specialize in work involving the Department of Veterans Affairs such as appeals of adverse VA decisions and attempted  upgrades of military discharges.  Tom Caruso and Josh Keefe, both of whom graduated from SU’s College of Law and SU’s Maxwell School this year, helped create the clinic.  Each is returning to active duty as a judge advocate  - Caruso for the U.S. Navy, Keefe for the Marine Corps.”  (The Post-Standard)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: As law firms continue to expand their services globally, so too have their pro bono programs, with lawyers volunteering in 2014 to help with immigration matters, natural disaster relief and human trafficking cases. Last year also brought plenty of pro bono opportunities stateside. Attorneys devoted their time to gun control cases, voter identification laws, free speech issues, abortion rights and same-sex marriage cases.  Here is the National Law Journal’s list of the top 10 firms that made exemplary contributions to access to justice.

  • Arnold & Porter
  • Chadborne & Parke
  • Crowell & Moring
  • Farella Braun + Martel
  • Jenner & Block
  • Kirkland & Ellis
  • Morrison & Foerster
  • Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
  • Reed Smith
  • Sidley Austin

Read about their great work.  (National Law Journal)

Super Music Bonus! http://youtu.be/OPf0YbXqDm0

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Congratulations BC Law on new role running Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy!

An announcement from our friends at BC Law:

Rappaport Foundation Makes $7.5 million gift to BC Law to Fund Center

Boston College Law School has been selected as the new home for the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy. The Center is funded by a $7.53 million gift from the Phyllis & Jerome Lyle Rappaport Foundation.The gift is the largest in the school’s history, and it will support both the Rappaport Center and the Jerome Lyle Rappaport Visiting Professorship in Law and Public Policy at BC Law.

The Center comprises the long-running Rappaport Fellows Program, which provides 12 paid summer internships to Greater Boston-area law students interested in public service, and the Rappaport Distinguished Public Policy Series, which will conduct scholarly research and host lectures, debates and roundtable discussions on public policy issues with the region’s leading policy makers and thought leaders. The Center will be led by Professor Michael Cassidy, who has held positions in public service ranging from Chief of the Criminal Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office to membership on the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission.

“This is a landmark moment for our law school,” said BC Law Dean Vincent Rougeau. “We were chosen by the Rappaport Foundation in part because of our track record in training public policy leaders locally and nationally. Our mission aligns closely with the Center’s aspirations and the leadership that Professor Cassidy will offer instilled great confidence in the donors. The Rappaport Center will give an even greater focus to what have always been important components of a BC Law education–serious discussion and study of law and public policy issues, and the training of thoughtful, ethical, and innovative public servants and leaders.”

The Center will open in the spring of 2015. For more, see BC Law Magazine Online.

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You Need a Montage: Final Scene

Sam Halpert, 2014 – 2015 PSJD Fellow

Penguin is Ready!

Okay, grasshoppers. Over the last month, we’ve tackled your resumes and your cover letters. We’ve mastered the art of building, contacting, and maintaining your mentor-and-peer network. We’ve also developed a strategy for talking about work at a party without putting the room to sleep. Our holiday job search training montage is almost complete! The hardest stuff–the things I’ve needed to think through with an expert like Christina–is behind us.

But we’re not done yet. Over the winter break, in addition to putting this series’ advice into practice, remember that we have a few more outstanding holiday job search tips for you to consider. The ones that are left are pretty self-explanatory. You’ll just need to get out and get them done!

  1. Professionalize your online presence. Try Googling yourself. Remember, you’re not safe simply because many people share your name. Employers will have your resume, so see what comes up when you search for yourself using your name and also student groups on your resume, the name of your school, etc. Also look at your social media (employees of prospective employers may be part of your network). Clean up your image where you think you need to. (Ask a career counselor if you’re not sure what image you need to project in these semi-public spaces.)
  2. Visit the courthouse. It’s a great way to expose yourself to a legal work environment, and you might even get a chance to build your network.
  3. Volunteer with a legal aid office. Look through PSJD employer profiles if you’re stumped. See whether you can find someone doing work in your area who needs a hand (often organizations solicit volunteers on their websites).
  4. Write an article, or research a topic. Even if you don’t find a place to publish your ideas, it’s still a great excuse to talk to lawyers who do work you’re interested in. If you have an idea related to topics we cover on PSJD (e.g. a profile piece on what your upper-class friends think they’ve learned one year out from graduation), write to PSJD–we may be interested in publishing your work here on the blog.
  5. Join a bar organization. If you don’t know what practice areas you’d like to follow yet, consider asking your informational meeting network to help you decide.
  6. Update your professional references. The end of the year is a great time to check back in with the people who’ve offered to be your reference in the past. Let them know what you’re up to and at least give them a general sense of where your job search is taking you now. Also, evaluate your references. Are they still relevant for the types of legal positions you’re now seeking? If not, determine who else could potentially be a reference and make that connection. (This task has gone much more smoothly for me with the skills and tools I practiced during the informational meeting portion of the series.)

One more thing: Don’t forget to take a well-earned rest! Hopefully, contemplating these tasks isn’t as daunting as it seemed when we proposed them over Thanksgiving. If you can manage a restful break while still tackling even some of the ideas on this list, you’ll be ready to impress employers in the New Year.

So good luck, and let us know how it goes! If you find anything you’ve read here particularly helpful or you run into unexpected challenges, we’d love to hear about it. Write to us at psjd@nalp.org, and you may see your triumphs or your concerns addressed in future editions of PSJDblog.

Happy holidays!
-Sam

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PSJD Public Interest News Digest – December 19, 2015

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

Happy Holidays everyone!  We finish up our series on job search strategies for the winter break on the PSJD Blog.  Check it out and share with your friends.  The Digest will be taking a hiatus for the holidays.  We will return in January with news to get your year started right.

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • RI legal services non-profit to suspend services;
  • CT legal aid agency marks 50 years;
  • Marquette law clinic to offer free legal services to start-ups;
  • Vancouver nearly doubles indigent defense fund;
  • DC Bar Foundation awards $319,000 in loan repayment assistance;
  • Ontario appoints lead for new Aboriginal Justice Division;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants:  William P. Quigley;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

December 11, 2014 -”The Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy will suspend most of its operations on Dec. 23, its president and founder said in a statement Thursday.  The nonprofit, public-interest, civil-legal-services corporation, founded in 2008, will continue its Medical Legal Partnership Program at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, founder and president Geoffrey A. Schoos said.  The center, which provides legal services for underserved, low-income residents, is seeking additional funding to reopen its programs.”(Providence Journal)

December 11, 2014 – It would be unheard of today, but 50 years ago when New Haven Legal Assistance Association was launched,  it was called a “socio-economic experiment,” and “the bar association felt that legal-aid lawyers were not worthy of being members.”  “A lot has changed since the early days of NHLAA. The so-called research project as it was once referred is now a staple in the legal community. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and former first lady and U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton are among the noteworthy legal minds that got their start at NHLAA.”  Read more about their great work here.  Congratulations, and here’s to many more years of serving your community.
(Connecticut Law Tribune) (free registration required)

December 13, 2014 – “In a move that could bolster the region’s innovation efforts, Marquette University is launching a clinic that will provide free legal services to start-ups and entrepreneurs.  The first such clinic in the area, it will provide services to aspiring companies ranging from high-tech start-ups to mom-and-pop grocery stores, said Nathan Hammons, a full-time faculty member and the clinic’s director.  Marquette’s Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic supports the vision for entrepreneurship and innovation that Michael Lovell, the school’s recently installed president, has laid out for the campus community. But it also will fill a gap in the region’s emerging start-up scene, observers said.”  “The Law and Entrepreneurship Clinic will open in January in a limited capacity and be fully operational by fall 2015, Parlow said. The clinic is being funded by donations to the law school’s annual fund.”  (Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel)

December 15, 2014 – “The Vancouver City Council on Monday approved a new indigent defense contract for 2015 worth nearly $1.1 million, approximately twice what it spent this year.  The additional expense, which was included in the approved 2015-16 budget, enables the city to meet legal standards set by the Washington Supreme Court to help ensure that indigent defendants receive adequate representation.”  (The Columbian)

December 17, 2014 – “The DC Bar Foundation (DCBF) announced the recipients of its two loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP) for FY15. More than $319,000 was awarded to 69 civil legal services lawyers, who provide direct civil legal services to low-income, underserved DC residents. They will receive an interest-free loan from DCBF to help pay their monthly student loan payments from January to December 2015, at which time these interest-free loans will be forgiven.” (DC Bar Foundation)

December 17, 2014 – “Following an extensive recruitment campaign, Kimberly Murray has been selected to lead the newly created Aboriginal Justice Division at the Ministry of the Attorney General.  This new division was recommended by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci in his report, First Nations Representation on Ontario Juries.  Ms. Murray, who is a member of the Kanehsatake Mohawk Nation, was called to the Ontario Bar in 1995. Over the past 20 years, she has gained considerable experience in the field of Aboriginal law as a legal counsel, and as a leader who has the ability to build collaborative relationships and bring about transformational change.”  (Ontario Newsroom)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: William P. Quigley, a professor at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law, has been named the 2015 recipient of the Father Robert Drinan Award. The annual award is presented to one law professor a year by the American Association of Law School’s section on Pro Bono and Public Service Opportunities and recognizes educators working toward increasing access to justice.  Read more about this award and his great works here.  Congratulations!

Super Music Bonus! Happy Holidays!

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Job’o'th’Week (Experienced Edition)–Save the Beaches with the Surfrider Foundation

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

So far, the experienced edition of the Job’o'the’Week has focused on great opportunities for attorneys at the top of their fields to push themselves. This week we’re looking at a position that will likely represent a turning point for a formerly entry-level attorney. If you land a job like Surfrider Foundation’s Legal Associate position, you’ve arrived. Any environmental lawyers out there who have put in their time at entry level positions or racked up enough clerkship or fellowship years might consider this position as their first “experienced”-level job.

Surfrider is looking for a full time employee with at least three years of experience and a strong commitment to protecting coastal areas. You can read all about it in the full job post on PSJD. Applications are due on January 5th.

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Job’o'th’Week (Entry-Level Edition)–EEOC Hiring Trial Attorneys in Many Places [CLOSES TOMORROW]

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has many openings for Civil Rights Trial Attorneys with bar certification and at least one year of professional legal experience with litigation. (If you’ve done litigation in a clinic, ask your career advisor whether you can count that experience on your application.) If you’re interested, you’ll need to act fast. The deadline for applications is 11:59pm TOMORROW.

The job post on PSJD is here, but to since you’ll need to apply through USAJobs anyway here are the direct links:

Two vacancies in Las Vegas NV: https://my.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/388435700

Five vacancies in Phoenix AZ, St. Louis MO, Buffalo NY, and New York NY: https://my.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/388434900

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From die-ins to tangible change: how law schools and students are responding to Ferguson

Elizabeth Gyori
Program Assistant, Leitner Center for International Law and Justice at Fordham Law School

Law school communities protest police brutality in front of symbols of their legal expertise. [Reprinted with permission.]Law school communities protest police brutality in front of symbols of their legal expertise. [Reprinted with permission.]

Law students have lain in tense, reflective silence while holding signs that read, “Black Lives Matter.” They’ve chanted, “No justice. No peace. No racist police!” while blocking traffic. They’ve acted as legal observers, demanded inclusion at their schools, and called for long-term, systemic change. Many law schools have erupted in protest, activism and internal soul-searching after a grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American, in Ferguson, Missouri.

The Michael Brown case has become symbolic of rampant police brutality against communities of color in the United States and sparked an outpouring of anger and protests across the country. This movement against police abuse gained momentum after another grand jury declined to indict white police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American, on Staten Island. Because many see these cases as failures of the criminal justice system, the voices of law schools, students, faculty and staff, who have spoken out against police abuse and institutionalized racism in light of recent events in a plethora of ways, are an especially significant part of this movement.

PROTESTS AND EVENTS

Fordham Law School contingent at Millions March in NYC, 13 Dec 2014 Fordham Law School contingent at Millions March in NYC, 13 Dec 2014 [Reprinted with permission.]

From Berkeley to New Haven, law students have organized protests in solidarity with national protests after the grand jury verdicts. Over 200 law students, faculty and staff participated in a die-in at UC Berkeley School of Law on December 10, in which about 40 people laid down in front of the law school for 15 and a half minutes. Eleven minutes symbolized the number of times Eric Garner gasped, “I can’t breathe,” while in a chokehold. Four and a half minutes symbolized the number of hours Michael Brown’s body was left in the street after he was shot dead. Similarly, over 500 members of Yale Law School led a die-in, lying in the street for four and a half minutes in New Haven on December 5.

Students, faculty and staff have also joined national and community protests for justice, both as representatives of their institutions or groups and as individuals. In New York, members of many law schools, including Brooklyn, Cardozo, Columbia, Fordham, New York and Touro, marched in the Millions March on December 13. In general, the recent protests have been noticeably youthful, and law students have been visibly present at the various actions.

As with most controversial legal issues, law schools have sought to foster dialogue about Ferguson and racial disparity in the US through forums and other events. Lewis and Clark Law School held two open forums on the shootings and grand jury verdicts. At The University of Washington School of Law, over 200 people attended a discussion led by Seattle Defense Attorney Jeffrey Robinson on Ferguson, policing in communities of color, and the criminal justice system. Many schools will host follow-up events in the spring on the issues Ferguson has brought to surface.

ORGANIZING AND ACTIVISM

Law schools and students are uniquely positioned to legally address the situation in Ferguson and surrounding issues. Recognizing this, student organizations like chapters of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) have sprung into action. The National BLSA developed an activism toolkit on organizing strategies, possible campaigns and students’ rights when protesting.

Law students are “the ones who can affect change because it is the lawyers who will essentially change the law,” Kim Brimm, National Director of Public Relations for the NBLSA, said. “Some of us will become senators, and some of us will become governors, and councilmen, so it definitely starts with us.”

True to Ms. Brimm’s words, individual BLSA chapters have already started. In the wake of recent events, law students have begun working within their local communities to address police brutality and racial disparities. Harvard’s BLSA has been working with Professor Ronald Sullivan to draft model local cameras-on-cops legislation. The group also hosted a conference on police relations in Boston and Cambridge, which over 200 community members attended. The conference featured a “Know Your Rights” workshop and a dialogue with Boston and Cambridge police, which was “really, really powerful,” McKenzie Morris, president of Harvard’s BLSA, said.

In Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania School of Law’s BLSA has been working with the American Civil Liberties Union on two projects on stop-and-frisk and civil access forfeiture. In partnership with the local organization Disproportionate Minority Contact, they also hope to launch a program next spring that will educate local law enforcement on adolescent psychology and facilitate dialogues between police officers and students in largely minority and disadvantaged schools, Dorian Simmons, President of UPenn’s BLSA, said.

Northwestern Law School's #handsupdontshoot solidarity action [Reprinted with permission.] Northwestern Law School’s #handsupdontshoot solidarity action [Reprinted with permission.]

Other law school communities have taken public stances on more national stages. To raise awareness and show solidarity, a wide array of student groups and some law school communities released statements condemning the non-indictments and calling for meaningful reform. A statement by members of Fordham Law School, which garnered over 350 signatures, expresses support for “thoughtful reforms such as demilitarization of our nation’s police forces and shifting the focus of enforcement away from tactics that have disparate racial impact.” An open letter to President Obama and Attorney General Holder, which was drafted by Harvard Law School’s BLSA, garnered over 1,000 signatures – almost half of the law school. The letter calls for action against a system that devalues black lives, including through the use of body-worn cameras by police, and the prosecution of police officers who have killed unarmed minorities.

Several schools and student groups have also engaged in media campaigns, including Northwestern, Harvard, UCLA, and Fordham law schools. They participated in the #handsupdontshoot campaign by taking photos in front of their law school signs with their hands raised. This fall, the Harvard’s BLSA even launched their own media campaign, featuring similar photos of students.

OBSERVATION AS ACTION

One of the most distinct ways that law students have engaged in recent actions is through legal observing, in which neutral individuals monitor and document the activities of demonstrators and their interactions with law enforcement at the request of organizers. When the Ferguson Legal Defense Committee (FLDC), an organization providing legal support to the Ferguson community, issued a call to action for law students, many responded by volunteering as legal observers, while others provided research support. Nicholas Klaus, a 3L at Wayne State University School of Law and Co-Student National Vice President of the NLG, made two trips to Ferguson in October and November, traveling with two fellow classmates in November. “I felt like I had a duty to go,” Klaus said. “I felt like there was a call to do something. I was in a position to do the work. It’s what I came to law school to do, and so, we went.”

Watching and documenting demonstrators’ interactions with police, Klaus observed (and experienced) police use of pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets against protestors during his trips, which may prove important in defense of criminal charges brought against protestors and in affirmative litigation against such police practices.

With many student chapters of the NLG conducting observer trainings, legal observing by law students has also been prominent at community protests. Legal observing “allows people who would otherwise be pretty moderate to be a part of the movement without actually having to participate,” said Meredith Osborne, Co-Chair of University of Michigan Law School’s NLG chapter. “They can kind of be this ‘neutral observer,’ but in reality they know that they are there on behalf of the organizers.”

As protests continue, so does the need for observers. Osborne and her NLG chapter have been acting as legal observers for demonstrations in the Ann Arbor area since the summer and plan to conduct observer trainings every semester in light of an increase in interest from students.

CHANGES WITHIN

Nothing is more local for law students than their own law schools communities. Student coalitions at Georgetown, Columbia, and Harvard law schools have called on their own schools to become more inclusive of minority students and to address racism on campus. “As students of color on campus, we feel very isolated,” said a 2L African-American Coalition member at Georgetown who asked to remain anonymous. “The Coalition basically formed out of a feeling that we needed to do more, and get the university to really listen to what our needs are and what our problems are with the way the people of color are treated on campus.”

Generally, each coalition is demanding institutional support for students affected by recent events, a public statement by their respective administrations on Ferguson, exam extensions on an individual basis, and continuing initiatives to address diversity on campus, including diversity training. Schools have begun to respond to these demands, with all three schools beginning dialogues with the coalitions and Columbia Law School granting exam extensions.

In this time of reflection, some law schools have implemented or are considering new programs addressing diversity and racial disparity in the justice system. For example, Columbia Law School launched an online forum on police accountability, complete with fact sheets on the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases written by faculty, for interested students who want more information for informed conversations with family and friends. The school is also considering small group discussions on the issues surrounding Ferguson and a parallel orientation or year-long program for 1Ls on how race, gender, poverty and social exclusion intersect with the law, said Ellen Chapnick, Dean for Social Justice Initiatives at Columbia Law School.

MOVING FORWARD

Activism around and the police killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner has opened a space for public conversations addressing police brutality, racism and failures of the justice system in the US. Law school communities are seizing this moment of opportunity to explore innovative and creative ways to frame these dialogues and push for justice in Ferguson and beyond.

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