Equal Justice Journal: What’s New in Civil Access To Justice & Legal Aid

 

Jackson Hole is down there somewhere. There's a whole city hiding below this mountain pass.
I wasn’t told my morning commute would involve cloud-driving. There’s a whole city hiding down there.

Greetings, Access to Justice Enthusiasts!  It’s been a while since I’ve published one of these.  With this new blog, which originates near Jackson Hole, WY, the Equal Justice Journal will be a regular feature.  The Journal collects news/developments in the civil access to justice world: among legal aid providers, the Legal Services Corporation, pro bono lawyers, ATJ Commissions and other government actors, law schools, the organized bar, etc..  I’ll publish the Journal every other week.  As I have with past iterations, I will focus on developments of interest to a broad ATJ audience, especially new practices that are replicable and new resources that are shareable.  And music.  There will be music.  Enjoy.  Comment below.  Tell your friends.

Before the equal justice news, some more general items for your consideration:

  • A program that should benefit legal aid clients: The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launched the Financial Coaching Initiative, which matches certified coaches with “recently transitioning veterans and economically vulnerable consumers.”  The coaches (60 nationally) are housed with nonprofits and Dep’t. of Labor centers.  CFPB announcement.
  • Crowd-funding public interest litigation.  Welcome (again) to the Digital Age. “Taking a cue from Kickstarter Inc. and Indiegogo Inc., lawyers and advocacy groups are using crowdfunding to get the public to bankroll social-justice litigation such as cases alleging police brutality.  At least three law-related crowdfunding sites launched in the past six months are using the financing strategy…  One group, Trial Funder, started in April with a single police brutality case that has raised $20,000. CrowdDefend, launched in February, finances the cases of various advocacy nonprofits. And Yale Law School lecturer Maxim Thorne, former senior…NAACP [official], started his own venture, called Justice Investor….  (National Law Journal)
  • Aiding the homeless with Internet-equipped mobile phones in, of course, San Francisco: “[In the US] Internet access has in many ways become like a basic need. Without it, it can be difficult to find a home, apply for a job, sign up for classes, make homeless shelter reservations or find soup kitchens.”  (NYT Dealbook blog)

Okay, the legal aid, ATJ, and pro bono news in very, very short:

  • Miami Herald urges U.S. House not to cut LSC funding
  • Legal aid in the Texas storm/flooding aftermath
  • The DC ATJ Commission’s “Raising the Bar” legal-aid fundraising project
  • A municipal first: “Office of Civil Justice Coordinator” in NYC
  • Law firm pro bono partner is new ATJ Commission co-chair in MA
  • MLPs in MN
  • In CA, a nonprofit law firm serving clients who are just over legal aid eligibility
  • Nova Scotian report on ATJ and public perceptions of the system
  • Will technology bypass traditional legal aid services?
  • MA practice rule amendment: IOLTA Committee to get notice from plaintiffs about forthcoming class-action resolutions
  • DOJ’s ATJ initiative convenes high-level workshop on civil legal aid research efforts
  • ABA ethics opinion: judges can send letters to bar encouraging pro bono
  • FL’s ATJ Commission establishing remote, electronic self-help stations
  • Pro bono projects in ME and the Mountain States serving entrepreneurs
  • Texas Supreme Court justice Eva Guzman on importance of legal aid funding
  • Should law firms require pro bono of their lawyers?
  • NYC’s Immigrant Justice Corps stretching to the suburbs
  • A Canadian site allows people to perform on online “legal health checkup”
  • From LSC: White House ATJ event & updated tech guidelines for legal aid offices
  • MUSIC!

The summaries…

  • 6.1.15 – “Hey, U.S. House of Representatives!  Put the kibosh on this loony-tunes proposal to slash Legal Services Corporation funding!” is my liberally paraphrased version of this Miami Herald editorial lamenting what an LSC budget cut would to to already struggling Florida legal aid programs.
  • 5.29.15 – Texas storms and flooding, and an immediate legal-aid response. Here I’ve cataloged how the pro bono and legal aid communities have mobilized to aid Texans in trouble.
  • 5.29.15 – the DC ATJ Commission honored: “law firms that donated a percentage of their annual D.C. office revenue last year to local legal services providers. The annual fundraising effort, known as the Raising the Bar in D.C. Campaign….

    Forty-eight law firms ( see the full list here) last year donated more than $5 million in revenue from their D.C. offices…. Thirty firms contributed .11 percent of their D.C. office revenue, reaching…“Platinum” level. Seven firms reached the “Gold” level, donating .09 percent of revenue, and 11 firms were honored at the “Silver” level for donating .075 percent of their revenue.” (National Law Journal coverage, and here’s more on Raising the Bar.)

  • 5.27.15 – the NYC “City Council…passed a bill to create the city’s first Office of Civil Justice Coordinator to help New Yorkers facing eviction, bankruptcy or child custody proceedings receive legal counsel….  The Office would “…have a budget of about $2 million [and] would work with city agencies to collaborate with nonprofits, pro bono programs and advise the mayor on implementing legal services….”  (Capital New York)  The Coordinator would be a mayoral appointment.
  • 5.27.15 – “Susan M. Finegan, a Member at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. and the firm’s first full-time Pro Bono Partner, has been named co-chair of the third Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, a 24-member body appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court. She will serve alongside Supreme Judicial Court Justice Geraldine S. Hines.” (Media release)
  • 5.26.15 – 3 medical-legal partnerships in MN, 4th one in the works: “The state’s first [MLP] was established more than two decades ago at Community University Health Care Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota Public Radio News reported. Hennepin County Medical Center’s Whittier Clinic formed a partnership in 2013, and a third partnership began this spring [in] St. Cloud.  Hamline University’s law school also is working to set up a similar relationship with a St. Paul clinic.”  (AP via Post Bulletin)
  • 5.22.15 – a look at “…Justice Crusaders Legal Services, a nonprofit law firm…that charges clients based on their income….  Justice Crusaders serves individuals whose incomes are 125 percent to 425 percent above the poverty level. [Many of them] are ineligible for free legal services….  Justice Crusaders has an hourly rate ranging from $65 to $125 per hour, depending on…income and family size.”  (Daily Bruin)
  • 5.22.15 – Canuck news!  The Nova Scotia Barristers Society’s new “Talk Justice” report explores the inability of low-income and marginalized persons to access the legal system, and their perceptions of how the system works.  Or doesn’t.  (Global News Canada.  Here’s the Talk Justice report)
  • 5.22.15 – a CNN.com piece on the sea changes impacting law practice includes thoughts on services for lower- and middle-income clients: “Bar associations have argued for years that increased legal aid funding, required pro bono service, or a constitutional right to a free lawyer in civil cases are the answers to these problems….  This is an unrealistic analog, 1960s-era solution to a very serious problem. There will never be sufficient funds to pay for enough individualized legal work….  Fortunately, except for in-court representation, computerization is on the verge of bypassing the legal profession altogether and solving these problems….”
    • A stray thought: “…computerization is on the verge of bypassing the legal profession altogether.”  [Emphasis mine.]  In fact it’s “the profession” that is connecting non-lawyers to legal info and processes.  Lawyers have a huge role to play, and we are figuring out now a new balance between traditional representation and empowering lay people to navigate the system.
  • 5.21.15 – the Massachusetts “Supreme Judicial Court has amended the rule governing class-action lawsuits to require plaintiffs to notify the Massachusetts IOLTA Committee before a judgment is entered or a compromise approved regarding the disposition of class-action residuals.”  (Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly)
  • 5.20.15 – “Today, the U.S. Department of Justice National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and Access to Justice Initiative (ATJ), in collaboration with the National Science Foundation…(NSF), are hosting a Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop in…D.C. This invitation-only workshop will…explore existing and needed research around civil legal aid and its intersection with public safety and criminal justice…. [S]ince the early 1980s basic research into access to civil justice has fragmented into a number of…disciplines.  [Because] of that fragmentation…little high quality, publicly available data exists today to guide policy and programmatic decisions.”  (Full DOJ blog post)
  • 5.20.15 – “The [ABA] issued an opinion on Wednesday clarifying that it is kosher for a judge to send out a general letter to all local attorneys encouraging them to meet the 50-hour pro bono minimum recommended under the bar’s rules for professional conduct.  In a matter of first impression, the ABA said that the encouragement of pro bono work does not run afoul of rules prohibiting judges from making personal solicitations that could imply coercion….” (Law 360.)
  • 5.18.15 – the Daily Business Review on recent Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice activity.  It backed “the creation of [an online] ‘statewide gateway portal’…to enable users to figure out what kinds of legal help they need.  The ‘portal will be a software-based access point that would be in libraries, courthouses, shopping malls that would be the point at which a person with a legal problem could go find someone to solve their problem, or even get forms…to do it themselves,’ [said one Commission member].”  The Commission is also exploring: 1) how non-lawyers may help pro so litigants, 2) boosting corporate support for legal aid, and channeling class action residuals to legal aid organizations.”
    • This WCTV story, which aired just before the Commission’s meeting, notes that time is of the essence: “‘We’ve lost over 67 percent of our funding. This last cut was over 40 percent, and we lost half of our staff,’ says Florida Legal Services Director, Kent Spuhler.”
  • A pair of stories about pro bono projects serving entrepreneurs in need:
    • 5.18.15 – the Portland Press Herald looks at “a new program – formally launching in Maine on Monday – that provides pro bono services to farmers and food entrepreneurs. The Legal Services Food Hub is a project of the Conservation Law Foundation. It is modeled after a similar program in Massachusetts, and organizers hope it will spread to every New England state.”
    • 5.12.15- I’d known generally about state-based projects providing pro bono patent services to low-income entrepreneurs, but I didn’t realize there’s now a 49-state network doing pro bono IP work.  The Denver Post looks at pro bono patent growth in the Mountain states: the “Pro Bono Patent Program [is] an initiative led by Mi Casa Resource Center and Colorado Bar Association Intellectual Property Section to pair low-income inventors with patent professionals….  Mi Casa, the [CBA] and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office announced the extension of the program — or ProBoPat — to the states of New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.”
  • 5.17.15 – an op-ed from Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman (the Court’s liaison to the TX ATJ Commission): “Adequate funding for legal aid programs is imperative to ensure justice for all Texas residents….  Among [state legislative proposals to address the deficiency are] …bills to expand the Chief Justice Jack Pope Act…[through which]…the…Attorney General transfers civil penalties assessed for violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act to the Supreme Court for civil legal-aid grants.”  The piece goes into specifics about proposed legislative funding streams.  I summarized here, and here’s the full op-ed in The Monitor.
  • 5.14.15 – should law firms require pro bono of their lawyers?  Blank Rome does, and sees the policy as “the wave of the future.”  Pro bono lawyers at Akin Gump counter that mandatory may not be optimal.  Here’s a summary/analysis of recent New York Law Journal pieces from both sides.
  • 5.13.15 – the NYC-based Immigrant Justice Corps is expanding to the ‘burbs.  The “ambitious, still-developing fellowship program begun in New York City [by a federal judge]…will place 11…law school graduates and two college graduates out of 35 new fellows in surrounding counties.” IJC, which serves unrepresented people facing deportation in the U.S.’s congested immigration courts, was created with a mind toward replication in other U.S. cities.  (New York Times)
  • May, 2015 – from Ontario, a site that allows people to take an online “legal health checkup.”  It’s an intriguing effort at a diagnostic tool to help people identify potential legal needs/problems and channel them towards resources.  Feels a bit like SurveyMonkey.  (Here’s the Legal Health Checkup site, on which you can do a limited demo.  I did one.  I didn’t get an actual “diagnosis” or referral when I finished, but I think this is because I was in demo mode.)
  • May, 2015 – two LSC developments, highlighted in “LSC Updates”:
    • first, the White House Forum on ATJ, co-hosted by LSC, in April.  The Forum convened heavy hitters from bench and bar, including several state high-court chiefs/justices, federal judges, corporate general counsel, bar officials, legal aid leaders, and some former government lawyer named Eric Holder.  Notable, in my view, was that the participant pool included folks from all areas of the political spectrum.  Video of various programs is available.
    • second, “LSC has updated its publication ‘Technologies That Should Be in Place in a Legal Aid Office Today,’ often referred to as the LSC Technology Baselines.”  The updated edition covers “…mobile devices, social media, and cloud computing; new security concerns for networks and data; knowledge management strategies; and the use of web and video conferencing…. [Also] the section on Support for Pro Bono and Use of Private Attorneys has been revised….”

Music!  It’s the War on Drugs, with “Red Eye”…

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