Spotlight on Student Public Service & Pro Bono: “A Few Steps to a Fulfilling Journey in Pro Bono Work”

Help WantedAlexander Gamez, 2014-2015 Merit Distinction Honoree
(Photo courtesy of Southwestern Law School)

Every year, we honor law student pro bono with the PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award. Any 2L or 3L who attends a PSJD subscriber school and has significant pro bono contributions to underserved populations, the public interest community and legal education is eligible for nomination.

This week, the 2014-15 PSJD Pro Bono Publico Award Merit Distinction honorees will be guest blogging about law student pro bono and their public interest commitments. (This year’s Pro Bono Publico Award recipient, Alex Dutton, will publish his blog next week when he receives his award.) Today, we’re featuring Merit Distinction honoree and Southwestern Law School student Alexander Gamez, an advocate for undocumented immigrant children who recruited an unprecedented number of students to volunteer for the Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, and without whom Esperanza believes it “would not have been able to respond to the surge of demand for legal screenings for unaccompanied children.”

How a Few Steps Can Lead to a Fulfilling Journey in Pro Bono Work
Alexander Gamez, PSJD Pro Bono Publico Merit Distinction Honoree, 2014-2015 (Southwestern Law School)–

Attorneys and law students alike put in an obscene number of work hours week in-week out. The legal profession’s insatiable demand can make us frantic, cold, and exhausted, with little or no time for anything else once we are done with our work. With this in mind, many of us ask, how is it possible for me to get involved in pro bono work? Empathetic individuals who desire to do pro bono work may often find themselves conflicted when confronted with the task of striking a balance between their work and pro bono work. But have no fear! To ease this anxiety I propose the following six simple steps that have allowed me to find a healthy balance between my school/work obligations and pro bono opportunities.

Step 1. Realize & Prioritize. Pro bono work does not take up as much time as you would think. This of course varies with the sort of volunteer work you do, but in my experience volunteering may take one to three hours at a time. To put it in perspective, there are 168 hours in a week. Taking three hours out of a week once every few weeks or even once a month will not have much of an impact on your time. It will, however, have a tremendous impact on a client/applicant in need. Thus, I feel it is necessary to accept that volunteering does not have to be immensely time consuming and to make those occasional few hours of volunteering a priority. Are you extremely busy? I suggest being more productive during the times you set aside to do your work, i.e., stay away from social media. I also find it helpful to reward myself if I am able to accomplish the tasks I have set within a block of time, i.e., I get to watch a show on Netflix or have ice cream if I finish my work before 10:30.

Step 2. Volunteer with Friends. Probably the most difficult part of getting involved in pro bono work is actually signing up. In Los Angeles, there are plenty of nonprofits and a huge population of individuals that are in dire need of assistance so the issue isn’t really finding opportunities, it’s actually committing to them. It’s easy to say you’re going to sign up for a volunteer opportunity but once you take that bold step and confirm with an organization you’re going to volunteer, it’s almost as if there is no turning back because a no show may put your reputation in jeopardy.

When I began considering doing public interest work, this initial step was certainly the most difficult thing for me because of the angst I had relating to my other obligations with school. But, I found that by signing up with friends who have similar obligations, the volunteering process seemed effortless. Not only did we make a commitment to the organization, but we also made unspoken commitments to each other that we would not back out. If they could do it I could do it. By volunteering with friends you will reduce the anxiety of going into this alone and will also bring in more people to do pro bono work. Everybody wins!

Step 3. Lose the Ego. Okay, so I’m signed up, I have attended the training, and I am on my way to volunteer. Once this realization hits, anxiety pours over me. Doubts begin to surface: do I even have time to volunteer? Did I prepare enough beforehand? Should I look at the training material again? Is my Spanish up to par? Will I be able to help the client? Do I know where I’m going?

Although I have these thoughts because I want to ensure I do a good job for the applicant/client, I have come to find they are egoistic. Here I am on the verge of an anxiety attack but I never took a step back to think about the applicant/client’s concerns. In the context of interviewing unaccompanied minors facing the possibility of deportation, many of these individuals’ ages range from 6 to 18 years old. They’re children. Not only are they children but in most cases they’re thousands of miles away from their families, have been subjected to unimaginable circumstances such as sexual assault, trafficking, and near death experiences.

Like most other law students, I have lived a life of comfort compared to the person I am assisting.  When this realization hits, ego goes right out the window and I gain composure. In this context it is integral that volunteers convey strength and compassion to the youths. This will instill confidence and trust in the person you are assisting which will result in them providing you with the necessary information to obtain their legal relief.

Step 5. Reflect & Repeat. It is by taking part in pro bono work that one comes to appreciate humanity and becomes determined that more must be done to ensure that humanity persists. After I complete my pro bono assignments I am humbled, distressed, and yet gratified because, despite the troubles my pro bono clients/applicants have endured, troubles which I will never fully understand, they still have the courage to share their stories and share laughs and tears with complete strangers like myself in the hopes that I will help them find some sort of legal reprieve. I just imagine what the client would do had our services not been there. They would not stand a chance. Knowing that I was there to let them know that someone is willing to listen to their story, show them they are not insignificant, and that they are human beings brings me hope. This is what drives me to come back and volunteer again.

Step 6. Surround Yourself with a Support Group. The ability to participate in pro bono work becomes even more realistic if you’re surrounded by an amazing support group. I have been tremendously fortunate to have professors that have motivated, encouraged and found ways for me to get involved with pro bono work. Moreover, I have an amazing fiancée who also supports me every step of the way and has also done pro bono work alongside me and on her own. Lastly, I have friends inside and outside of law school who have been incredibly understanding when my law related activities have kept me away. This group’s support was and continues to be a vital force in my pro bono work.

By following these six steps my law school pro bono experience been tremendously satisfying. If you’ve ever had any qualms about finding a balance between school/work obligations and taking advantage of pro bono opportunities I hope these six steps will quash those concerns and lead you on a fulfilling journey in pro bono work.


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 20, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  We continue featuring spring break pro bono trips. If you’d like to be featured, send us the information.  We are very excited about all the great work being done!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Ontario’s ethnocultural legal clinics to get increased funding;
  • Louisiana to implement new rule allowing CLE credit for pro bono work;
  • New York public defender settlement final;
  • DOJ files Statement of Interest in Georgia juvenile justice suit;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 13, 2015 - “Legal clinics that focus on serving the GTA’s growing immigrant communities will get a slice of the province’s $4.2 million new funding, but the bulk of the money will go to mainstream neighbourhood clinics.  After years of stagnant funding to assist vulnerable groups with unique language and cultural needs, the so-called ethnocultural legal clinics are expected to receive a $86,000 raise in annual operational funding. Legal Aid Ontario is to announce the funding on Friday.  ’This is a provincial investment that will significantly improve the legal aid services in Ontario,’ said Nye Thomas, the LAO’s director general in policy and strategic research. ‘The funding will effectively address the concerns raised previously by the ethnolinguistic clinics.’”  (The Star)

March 13, 2015 - “The Louisiana Supreme Court announced this week it is implementing a rule some say provides lawyers with an incentive to do legal work for needy clients for free.   The state’s high court this week issued an order about the rule, which goes into effect May 1, that says every lawyer who performs pro bono work can earn up to three hours of Continuing Legal Education credit a year.”  ”Five hours of pro bono work, the rule says, can count as one hour of CLE credit. Emily Ziober, the chairwoman of the Baton Rouge Bar Association’s pro bono committee, said the new rule encourages those who already perform pro bono work by offering them a reward. And it incentivizes lawyers who don’t do pro bono work to start.”  (The Times-Picayune)

March 18, 2015 - “A settlement between five New York counties and the state over the handling of public defender services was finalized Monday in state Supreme Court, and state officials are now on the clock to enact major changes.  Under the agreement, the state will adopt major reforms in Ontario, Onondaga, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties, which were chosen because their public defense systems are run differently and have diverse communities of different sizes.”  ”The settlement of the case, Hurrell-Harring vs. New York, requires the counties to hire a sufficient number of lawyers, investigators and support staff to ensure that criminal defendants who cannot afford attorneys receive legal representation and mandate that every qualifying criminal defendant will be guaranteed a lawyer at the first court appearance. The state must also spend $4 million over the next two years to increase attorney communications with lower-income criminal defendants and to advertise its services, as well as increase training.”  (Register-Star)

March 18, 2015 - “The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a Statement of Interest in a suit against the state and the Cordele Judicial Circuit, which claims some children in the circuit’s four south Georgia counties aren’t receiving adequate representations in juvenile court.  The 20-page statement doesn’t weigh in on the merits of the suit’s claims. Rather, it outlines the kind of defense juveniles are entitled to under the law. The letter concludes that if the allegations of inadequate representation are true, then the court should hold that ‘juveniles’ constitutional rights are being violated.’”  (WABE)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: Boston University School of Law.  Fifty-two BU Law students are spending their spring breaks providing assistance to low-income clients involving legal issues ranging from asylum to housing. Groups of one to six students are traveling to 12 different cities across the US, while a dozen students are staying local to serve in the Boston community, as part of BU Law’s Pro Bono Spring Break Service Trips.  Under the supervision of BU Law faculty, staff, or alumni, the students will work at 20 different nonprofit organizations to advocate for the legal rights of economically disadvantaged individuals. They will gain valuable experience working with real clients, learning about their host organizations, and conducting legal research. And by the end of the week, they will have had the chance to make a tangible impact on the communities they are serving.  What a great opportunity to give back!  (BU School of Law)

Super Music Bonus!   


Meet the Jolly Good Fellows – The Washington Council of Lawyers is sponsoring a panel of current and former postgraduate fellows.

Public interest jobs are competitive, especially right out of law school. A great way to get started is with a fellowship — a position that allows recent law school graduates to practice with nonprofit organizations, the government, educational institutions, and sometimes even law firms.

If you’d like to learn more about public interest fellowships — from fellows themselves — then we invite you to attend Meet the Jolly Good Fellows. At this event, you’ll get to talk to current and former fellows about applying for postgraduate public interest fellowships, the benefits and challenges of being a fellow, and the ways in which a fellowship can jump start your public-interest career. 

Meet the Jolly Good Fellows takes place on Tuesday, March 24, from 6:30 – 8:00 pm at Kirkland & Ellis (655 15th Street, NW). To learn more and register, click here:

We’ll have current and former fellows from organizations such as Legal Counsel for the Elderly, Neighborhood Legal Services Program, National Women’s Law Center, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and more. Public-interest coordinators from several area law schools will also be on hand to answer questions. (Complete list of participating fellows.)

This business-casual event is free for our members, and $5 for non-members, with a one-year Washington Council of Lawyers membership included in the price of admission. 


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 13, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  We continue featuring spring break pro bono trips.  If you’d like to be featured, send us the information.  We are very excited about all the great work being done!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • Texas Indigent Defense Commission honors law school/counties;
  • Public Service Venture fund awards two seed grants;
  • Pro Bono legal program awarded Toledo (Ohio) SOUP funds;
  • Government plans overhaul of USAJobs;
  • Louisiana hackathon promotes access to lawyers;
  • New British Columbia online tribunal could resolve some legal matters;
  • DC Bar Foundation awards $3.8 mil to fund civil legal services for the poor;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

March 6, 2015 - “The Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC) honored the Texas Tech University School of Law, along with Lubbock and Dickens counties, for their work in improving indigent defense throughout the state.  Specifically, the School of Law and Dickens County were presented the Gideon Award for their work in creating the Caprock Regional Public Defender Office (CRPDO). That office provides indigent defense representation to more than 16 rural counties on the South Plains that is more cost effective for communities that have a lack of access to local attorneys who will accept court appointments.”  (Everything Lubbock)

March 6, 2015 – “Two recent Harvard Law School graduates, Shannon Erwin ’10 and Alana Greer ’11, have been selected as recipients of grants from the Public Service Venture Fund, a unique program that awards up to $1 million each year to help graduating Harvard Law students and recent graduates obtain their ideal jobs in public service.  The Public Service Venture Fund, a first-of-its kind program at a law school, was launched in 2012 to invite law students and recent alumni to identify unmet legal needs and develop new initiatives to meet them.”  (Harvard Law Today)

March 9, 2015 - A group of female attorneys who volunteer their time with Sisters in Law (a new initiative at Mom’s House) providing legal advocacy and mentorship to young moms walked away March 8 with the most money raised yet at a Toledo SOUP event.  ”Founded 21 years ago, Mom’s House is a Toledo nonprofit that assists mothers aged 13-24 while they raise their children. There are currently 13 mothers enrolled in the program — full capacity — with more on the waiting list, said Executive Director Christina Rodriquez.  Sisters in Law was established a few months ago by Toledo attorney Gretchen DeBacker after her friend Rodriquez called on her several times to help mothers in the program with legal issues.”    (Toledo Free Press)

March 9, 2015 - “Federal officials on Monday announced plans to reshape government hiring and employee engagement efforts — including an overhaul of the troubled job announcement site USAJOBS — saying the changes were ‘a long time coming.’”  ”OPM is referring to the initiative as “REDI” (recruitment, engagement, diversity and inclusion), and it includes new programs as well as ongoing efforts.”   The first changes are expected in May, after which “OPM will roll out new developments to the website every 12 weeks. A final overhaul of the website, which could include an entirely new design or changes to the current one, will become public in early 2016.”   (Government Executive)

March 10, 2015 - “The Louisiana State Bar Association is partnering with the American Bar Association to host a hackathon to promote access to justice during New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.  The event will attract entrepreneurs, coders and developers who will compete to create the best hacks to improve access to the civil justice system for Louisiana residents who cannot afford lawyers.  The hackathon will be held at Loyola University College of Law on March 21 and 22.”  (New Orleans City Business)

March 10, 2015 - “Bitter fights between condo owners and their strata corporations over fees, parking stalls, pets and other matters could soon be forced into arbitration rather than through the courts.  Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said new legislation Tuesday would make it mandatory for strata property disputes, as well as small claims lawsuits worth less than $10,000, to go through a new government civil resolution tribunal website.”  ”The new civil tribunal’s website should go online later this year, said Anton. People can access it, file complaints and update their case material from a computer at any time of day.  Currently, a strata dispute that can’t be resolved through arbitration ends up either in small claims court or B.C. Supreme Court — depending on the matter — where legal fees can easily cost tens of thousands of dollars.  The new tribunal’s goal is for people to proceed through the Internet resolution process within 60 days, at a cost of around $200, said Shannon Salter, chairwoman of the Civil Resolution Tribunal.” (The Vancouver Sun)

March 11, 2015 - “The DC Bar Foundation today announced the FY15 recipients of the Access to Justice (ATJ) Grant Program, which awards grants to nonprofit legal services organizations that provide direct civil legal services to low-income DC residents. A total of $3,865,000 was awarded to 24 projects, of which five are new projects.  Funded by a grant from the District of Columbia Office of Victim Services (OVS), the ATJ Grant Program funds projects in three categories: (a) underserved areas; (b) housing-related matters; and (c) a shared legal services interpreter bank. The Foundation awarded 19 grants in the underserved areas category, totaling $2,555,000; four grants in the housing-related matters category, totaling $1,040,000; and one grant to the shared legal services interpreter bank, totaling $270,000.”  (DC Bar Foundation)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: The University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law tackles 5 specialized areas of pro bono representation this week during their Alternative Spring Break 2015.  Students will work on pro se divorce, advanced directives, civil rights restoration, DACA, and LGBT Equality legislation.  Read more about their great work!!

Super Music Bonus!   I’m trying to encourage Spring with a little Vivaldi.


Job’o'th’Week (Internship) — Master Every. Fellowship. Ever.

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that we at PSJD are big fans of post-graduate fellowships. These choice entry-level positions are ideal ways to begin your public interest law career–for some of them you even get to write your own job description!

Thing is, it can be a challenge to identify the fellowships that fit your interests, plan for each one’s (sometimes quite involved) application process, and research how best to meet the nuanced expectations of the different organizations you’ll need to impress to become a post-graduate fellow. That’s why we do everything we can to help prospective fellows by publishing the PSJD Comprehensive Fellowship Guide.

What does this have to do with this week’s juicy internship? Creating this fellowship resource is a lot of research, and every year we hire a law or graduate student to take on this daunting task. This is a paid position, here in DC, that will require someone to do extensive research and outreach to various fellowship organizations to update the Guide for 2015-2016.

So if you’re interested in a post-graduate fellowship, consider getting a headstart by mastering the field and building your network this summer as the PSJD Publications Coordinator. We’re looking for current law students with the ability to work independently, a high level of attention to detail and accuracy, (preferably) some knowledge of HTML, and a few other choice characteristics.

If this sounds like you, check out the full post on PSJD. (Application deadline: April 3rd, 2015)


Mid-Week Mashup: Grading the US’ Justice Infrastructure

Sam Halpert, PSJD Fellow (’14-’15)

Bridge Collapse

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?


Get Free Help with Your Student Debt. Win $50. (That’s a win-win!)

From our friends at Equal Justice Works:

Get Free Help with Your Student Debt. Win $50. That’s a win-win!

Take Control of Your Future - A Guide to Managing Your Student Debt

Three lucky lawyers or law students who download Equal Justice Works’ comprehensive student debt e-book, Take Control of Your Future: A Guide to Managing Your Student Debt, before Friday, April 3 will win $50 Amazon gift cards. Just download your free copy today and you’ll be automatically entered to win.

Take Control of Your Future is a comprehensive guide to managing student debt, with chapters on understanding student loans and loan consolidation, planning before borrowing, income-driven repayment plans and a step-by-step guide to earning Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

One reviewer noted “This book is particularly helpful for anyone working in the non-profit field who earns a lower wage and has mounds of student loan debt.” 

And another said “I’ve been dealing with my student loan holder for the last three years on my past due account. It wasn’t until I read ‘Managing Your Student Debt that I discovered the loan holder wasn’t giving me all the options. By using the guide I’ve been able to work things to my benefit. I encourage everyone to read this book!”

 Upcoming Free Student Debt Webinars
Equal Justice Works will host the following free student debt webinars in March and April:

Our student debt webinars are tailored for law students and lawyers, but the information is applicable to anyone who needs help managing their student debt.

Keep Up To Date on Student Debt Issues
Make sure to follow our blog on the Huffington Post to keep up to date on student debt issues. We’ve been writing recently about Campus Debit Cards: Good for You or Your University?, Have We Already Solved the Student Debt Crisis? and 6 Reasons to Love (Okay, Grudgingly Accept) Your Student Loans.

Share and Get Involved
Please forward this e-mail to anyone you think might benefit.

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.


PSJD Public Interest News Digest – March 6, 2015

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

Happy Friday everyone!  Welcome to March and spring break season.  This month we’re going to feature spring break pro bono trips.  If you’d like to be featured, send us the information.  We are looking forward to all the great work that will be done this month!!

Here are the week’s headlines:

  • MacArthur Foundation awards $400,00 to legal incubator;
  • Legal Aid Ontario extending services to Tilbury;
  • Montana counties receive DOJ domestic abuse grant;
  • Georgia lawmakers back away from indigent defense changes;
  • Louisiana Public Defender cuts set to take effect April 1;
  • Virginia General Assembly includes law clinic in budget;
  • Oregon governor signs legal aid class action bill;
  • Spotlight on Public Service Servants;
  • Super Music Bonus!

The summaries:

February 26, 2015 - “The MacArthur Foundation is awarding a two-year, $400,000 grant to a Chicago pilot program that connects lawyers hanging out their shingles to clients who need low-cost legal services.  The grant to the Chicago Bar Foundation will support the group’s Justice Entrepreneurs Project, which launched in 2013. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation program officer Jeff Ubois said in a press statement that the project shows ‘great potential to develop replicable, market-based models’ to address the needs of low- and moderate-income people who don’t qualify for free legal aid but are priced out of the open market.  ’This gives us a really big endorsement from someone who’s in the business of looking for promising models,’ said Bob Glaves, executive director for the Chicago Bar Foundation, the charity arm of the city’s bar association.”  (Chicago Business)

February 26, 2015 - “Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) has recognized transportation is a challenge for some residents of this Chatham-Kent community.  That’s about to change.  ’LAO’s mandate is to provide assistance to low-income people and what we found through our experience is a lot of these individuals in our outlying communities, such as Tilbury, have a lot of problems accessing services in Chatham due to lack of transportation,’ Rocio Alvarez, staff lawyer at LAO’s Chatham Family Law Service Centre told The Daily News Thursday.  So Alvarez will make the drive from Chatham to Tilbury to reach those individuals in need through a new family law advice clinic held locally once a month.  ’The intention is that it’s a walk-in clinic, but we also will be taking appointments through our family law service office in Chatham,’ Alvarez said.  People can receive legal advice on issues such as separation, divorce, child custody, access, child and spousal support and Children’s Aid Society matters.”  (Chatham Daily News)

March 2, 2015 - “A three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Justice will allow two western Montana counties to expand their domestic abuse and sexual violence programs, and help prosecute the offenders.  Missoula County signed a memorandum of understanding last week with nearly a dozen partners and hopes to receive the $750,000 grant this fall from the Office on Violence Against Women.”  ”As proposed, the new grant would fund a crime-victim advocate in Mineral County to work with local prosecutors. It would also fund a part-time investigator, marking the first time the Mineral County Sheriff’s Department would have an investigator on staff who specializes in sexual and domestic abuse.”  (Missoulian)

March 3, 2015 - “Georgia lawmakers have backed away from a proposal that would have removed requirements governing public defense, a move that had sparked backlash from attorneys groups in the state.”  ”Under an amended bill introduced in a House committee late last week, though, that language would have been stripped out. It also would have changed the name of the state agency that oversees the system from the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council to the Georgia Public Defenders Council. The changes to the public defender provisions, tied to a criminal justice reform bill, prompted strong opposition from the Southern Center for Human Rights and the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.  But just before a the committee was set to vote on the bill Monday afternoon, sponsor Republican Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula, restored the public defense requirements currently in place.”  ”With the changes, the bill passed out of committee with a unanimous vote.  It now moves on to the House floor. “ (WABE)

March 3, 2015 - “Cuts to Louisiana’s Public Defender Offices are set to take place on April 1.”  ”Back in October, Alan Golden the head of that department in Caddo Parish, announced the program was going broke and would soon require cuts.  ’We have to make personnel cuts,’ said Golden. Tuesday, those cuts were announced as an initiative to help offset a projected $700,000 shortfall for next year.”  (KLSA News)

March 3, 2015 - “The Lewis B. Puller, Jr. Veterans Benefits Clinic at William & Mary Law School is slated to receive $245,000 in funding from the Commonwealth of Virginia in FY2015/16 through the state budget passed by the Virginia General Assembly last week. This legislation is now before Governor McAuliffe for his approval.  William & Mary Law School’s Puller Clinic provides free legal representation to injured veterans seeking disability benefits from the Veterans Administration.  Since its founding in 2008, the Puller Clinic has represented more than 100 veterans with their disability claims – all of whom suffered an injury or illness as a result of their military service.  Almost all of them are Virginia residents.  ‘We are enormously grateful that the General Assembly has made this important investment in the Commonwealth’s wounded warriors who served our nation,’ said Davison M. Douglas, dean of William & Mary Law School.”  (William and Mary Law School)

March 4, 2015 – “Kate Brown on Wednesday signed the first bill of her young tenure as Oregon’s governor, waiting a little more than a day to approve controversial legislation redirecting unclaimed class-action damage awards to the state’s legal aid fund.  Under House Bill 2700, that money will now be used by the Oregon State Bar to help low-income Oregonians obtain free counsel in housing, family law, public benefits and other noncriminal cases. State law had otherwise allowed companies that were sued to keep whatever money was unclaimed.”  (Oregon Live)

Spotlight on Outstanding Public Servants: University of Tennessee Knoxville College of Law Alternative Spring Break.  UT Pro Bono is proud to support an Alternative Spring Break program. Each year, during Spring Break, students choose to serve at various locations across the country.  We’re looking forward to hearing about the great work they will do this year.  (UT Law Pro Bono)

Super Music Bonus!


Can You Tell Me How to Get to Washington? (Sam’s Final Answer)

The PSJD Fellowship: Not just a thing you could do, but a place you could be

I know you all haven’t heard from me in a while. This February I spent a lot of time away from the office, travelling to various schools to talk to students about how to get the most out of PSJD. (I really love that part of this job; it’s fulfilling to meet the people who are relying on PSJD’s services to help them get out of school to do great work in the public interest legal world.) At the end of many of these presentations, I opened the floor up to general questions people might have about how I’m approaching my own career search or other topics they might have initially thought were too personal.

A number of students across several campuses asked me variations on the same basic theme: “How do I find work for myself in Washington DC?”  It’s a good question (there are many, many opportunities here for public interest lawyers), and I’m a good guy to ask (PSJD’s based here, after all). I answered each variation on this question as students asked them, but in hindsight I realize that I neglected to mention a potentially helpful strategy for law students trying to relocate to DC after graduation: the PSJD Fellowship itself.

Those of you that follow this blog know that I wrote about the 2015-2016 PSJD Fellowship back in January. To recap, this position (my current job) is a great opportunity for graduating law students with an interest in helping us help you. But there’s another way to look at it: if your background or your current interests make you a good candidate for the PSJD Fellowship, the PSJD Fellowship is a good way for you to relocate to Washington DC and embed yourself in the public interest community here. I went to school just a few metro stops away, but several of my predecessors moved here from various other legal markets and then into other employment in DC when their fellowship year was up.

Not everyone can do this job, and not everyone would want to. But, if you read the job post and feel you might be a good fit, it’s worth remembering that the PSJD Fellowship isn’t just a thing you could do—it’s a place you could be.

If you’re interested, though, act fast—the last day to apply is this Friday, March 6th 2015.


Job’o'th’Week (Internship) — Choose Your Own Adventure in Illinois!

Help Wanted Photo: Brenda Gottsabend – CC License

If you want to do public interest work this summer but haven’t been able to figure out how to pay for it, look no further: The Public Interest Law Initiative (PILI)’s Law Student Internship Program is open to all 1L and 2L law students from across the country who are interested in working with legal service agencies in Illinois over the summer. These positions are paid : PILI raises the funds necessary for each agency to pay its PILI Interns (the funds are paid to the agency as a grant, rather than directly to the Intern as with many other internship funding programs).

Interns work 400 hours full-time, with PILI ensuring quality supervision by experienced agency attorneys, and providing extra educational, networking and mentoring opportunities.  Through this program, PILI helps our partner agencies increase their impact while also helping you develop your legal and client interaction skills, build your professional networks, and strengthen your commitment to public interest law and service.  Applications will remain open until all Internship positions are filled.

If this sounds like you, check out the more detailed, full post on PSJD.