Equal Justice Journal – October 5, 2015

Happy Monday, Access to Justice Enthusiasts!  Yesterday NPR played in the background while I searched online for help diagnosing a problem with my Subaru.  Hooray, I am a stereotype!  I was also fortunate to hear a Marketplace Weekend story, “Behind New York’s Right to Shelter Policy,” which recounted a late 1970s pro bono case brought by a young Big Law lawyer.  The case, Callahan v. Carey, resulted not just in establishing a legal right to shelter, but to improvements in the NYC shelter system.  Worth a listen.

The ATJ and legal aid news in very, very short:

  • Montana Legal Services Assoc. gets its own beer as a 50th b-day gift
  • Cash-strapped CT legal aid programs prop up their state-support arm
  • N. Carolina ATJ Commissioner calls for state legal aid funding boost
  • Alabama State Bar president calls for more legal aid funding, too
  • in GA, poor legal aid funding widens a literal justice gap: rural/urban
  • DC’s high court offers support for the fee-shifting “Laffey Matrix”
  • praise for the Pro Bono Institute in boosting corporate counsel pro bono
  • check-in on WA’s Limited License Legal Technician (LLLT) program
  • Pres. Obama creates Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR)
  • TX high court hears case on qualifying for in forma pauperis fee waivers
  • Annual statewide report shows modest pro bono growth in TN
  • LSC announces 15 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant awardees
  • FL ATJ Commission experiments with tech solutions to boost ATJ

The summaries:

  • 10.4.15 – To celebrate its 50th anniversary, [Montana Legal Services Association] partnered with the Crowley Fleck law firm and Blackfoot River Brewing to brew a beer with a portion of proceeds going to MLSA. This is the fourth beer brewed as part of Blackfoot’s community partnership program, and in September MLSA and Crowley Fleck attorney Dan McLean helped brew the German style alt lager.  (Helena Independent Record)
  • 10.2.15 – the Connecticut Law Tribune on the Nutmeg State’s legal aid funding picture.  The statewide legal-aid support office, the Legal Assistance Resource Center, was due to shut down for lack of funding.  It’s gotten a temporary reprieve, yet 4 of its 7 staffers were just laid off.  The state’s 3 legal aid direct-service providers are still reeling in the Great Recession’s wake.  A law passed “to raise court fees, with the extra revenues targeted for legal aid” has not met expectations.   The higher fees had been projected to raise $6.4 million in the first half of 2015, but they actually raised about $5.5 million.”
  • 10.1.15 – North Carolina’s Equal Access to Justice Commission member Kirk Warner argues that “The recently adopted state budget does not restore the over $2.7 million in legal aid state funding lost since 2008….  Legal aid is not only cost-effective, it also preserves the basic human needs of North Carolina’s most at-risk citizens – children, seniors, disabled veterans and our poor. Resources are at the heart of access to justice, and we need to make funding for legal aid a priority.”  (The News & Observer)

    • Related: a 9/29 Winston-Salem Journal article, “Legal Aid struggling with cuts to budget,” covers significant layoffs at Legal Aid of North Carolina due to state/federal funding losses, and notes that state funding for NC’s civil legal aid community has fallen fro $5.8m to $2.8m since 2008.  (Winston-Salem Journal)
  • 10.1.15 – Alabama State Bar president Lee H. Copeland emphasizes not just pro bono work but legal aid funding: “Nearly 900,000 Alabamians live in poverty and the child poverty rate is a staggering 27 percent.  One in four low-income people in Alabama experienced a civil legal problem last year….  A recent study conducted by Community Services Analysis LLC found that for every dollar invested in civil legal aid in Alabama, the state receives more than $8 in short- and long-term economic impact.”  And there are only 60 civil legal aid lawyers in Alabama.  So there sure is investment to do.
  • 9.30.15 – in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Georgia Legal Services Program director Phyllis Holmen highlights “the importance of civil legal aid in the fight against poverty. A quarter of Georgia’s population is eligible for legal assistance, yet lawyers outside Atlanta are scarce, as 70 percent work [there]. This gap makes funding legal aid critical to rural Georgians’ ability to seek justice….  [Yet federal] funding has failed to keep up with inflation even as poverty grows. Since it was first funded by Congress in 1976, funding for legal aid through Legal Services has been cut by more than half.”
  • 9.28.15 – legal-fee awards, granted when a party wins a case in which the winning side is entitled to payment of reasonable fees by the losing side, are important legal-aid revenue streams.  Good news out of DC, where the District’s local high court looked favorably on the prevailing federal fee-shifting standard – the so-called Laffey Matrix – governing how legal fees are awarded to legal aid providers in federal litigation.  This decision of course has direct value as precedent only in DC-based litigation, but it’s still good to have some additional judicial support.  (Blog post from Legal Aid Society of DC)
  • 9.28.15 – a Metropolitan Corporate Counsel opinion piece triumphs the rise in pro bono performed by corporate legal departments, and includes high-level praise for Pro Bono Institute founder Esther Lardent’s role in making pro bono an important part of in-house and law firm practices.
  • 9.27.15 – the Associated Press checks in on Washington State’s Limited License Legal Technician program.  The article notes that the LLLT program could have huge upside for low- and middle-income clients unable to afford lawyers, but also highlights LLLT’s slowness out of the gates.  There are only three LLLTs now, and the requirements for paralegals to achieve LLLT status under present rules are burdensome.  Nonetheless other states have moved to create similar programs.  Here’s more detail.
  • 9.24.15 – President Obama formally established, via memorandum, the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR).  LAIR had functioned as a joint DOJ/White House project for a few years, but the Obama action gives LAIR more institutional grounding and specific policy direction.  Generally, LAIR’s mission involves 1) promoting best practices in how federal agencies work with/through civil legal aid providers to achieve federal anti-poverty goals, and 2) allowing the myriad federal agencies which do anti-poverty work to talk to one another about legal aid’s role.  More details here on what LAIR will look like going forward.
    • ATJ blogger Richard Zorza sees this LAIR action, along with a recent Conference of Chief Justices (or “CCJ”, which comprises the top judges in the states) resolution supporting civil ATJ, as two big pieces “in the national Mosaic of vision, leadership and coordination” on ATJ work.
  • 9.23.15 – “When and how local clerks can make poor plaintiffs pay court fees to get divorced will be argued [ed. note: the case has now been argued] before the Texas Supreme Court with both sides hoping the justices provide clarity on the contentious issue.  Six plaintiffs [had sued a] local district court clerk for charging them court fees even after they filed affidavits of their indigent status — also known as “pauper petitions” — when they filed for divorce. But the clerk says final divorce decrees require that each party pay its share of the court costs.”  (Texas Tribune)
  • 9.22.15 – “[A report] by the Tennessee Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Commission shows that the number of hours of pro bono service volunteered by attorneys in Tennessee went up by nearly 3,000 hours in the last reporting year.  Although fewer attorneys reported performing pro bono work, those that did reported an average of more than 78 hours in one year, an increase of nearly 6 percent.  Forty-one percent of the 17,980 Tennessee attorneys reported participating in pro bono activity….  The report relies on data collected in 2014 for work done in 2013.”  (Associated Press. Here’s the actual pro bono report.)
  • 9.18.15 – “The Legal Services Corporation announced today that 15 legal aid organizations will receive grants to support innovations in pro bono legal services for low-income clients.  Many of the projects will use technology to connect low-income populations to resources and services, while others aim to increase efficiency and effectiveness through partnerships with law schools, community organizations, and in-house corporate attorneys.”  (LSC media release)
    • I confess that one project stirred my Irony Meter.  Legal Services NYC got a grant “to address student debt issues for low-income individuals.”  This is a worthy project and a smart use of funds.  But one wonders how many lawyers offering advice to student-debt-ridden clients won’t also be taking it.
  • 9.15.15 – a look at the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice’s work on using technology to improve ATJ.  The Commission is either exploring or launching: “a database of programs across the state and the country that provide better access to the courts”, “a statewide web-based lawyer referral service that would help match attorneys with clients”, a kiosk system through which people may access court forms/info and perhaps video-conference with judges, and an “eBay-inspired automation system, which would help people draft wills and fill out divorce and other forms that don’t necessarily require an attorney.”  (Daily Business Review)

Music!  Some cat named Hozier has been all the music-industry rage of late.  I don’t know his music well, but a song like “Someone New” justifies the raging.

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