LSC Updates - August 15, 2007
LSC has issued a revised edition of its Case Service Report Handbook, which instructs LSC grantees how to report closed cases to LSC.
The revised handbook is an important component of LSC's Quality Agenda--a multi-pronged strategy to improve the delivery of legal services throughout the country. Revisions to the handbook were made to ensure that LSC receives consistent case statistics from individual programs that can be combined to reflect accurately the level and nature of legal services provided by LSC grantees nationwide.
LSC is holding a series of training sessions from now through December 2007 to acquaint staff of LSC grantees with the new handbook. All LSC-funded programs are encouraged to take advantage of these training opportunities.
The Boards of Directors of six more LSC-funded programs--Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida, Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, New Center for Legal Advocacy (Mass.), Blue Ridge Legal Services (Va.), Mississippi Center for Legal Services, and Utah Legal Services--have adopted resolutions aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 17 the number of LSC-funded programs who have adopted such resolutions.
LSC is encouraging all program Boards of Directors to adopt pro bono resolutions modeled after one adopted by LSC's Board in April 2007. Urging programs to adopt local resolutions is a key element of LSC's private attorney involvement action plan, entitled "Help Close the Justice Gap, Unleash the Power of Pro Bono."
For more information, visit the private attorney involvement section of LSC's Resource Library.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett spoke at various events during the American Bar Association's annual meeting, held in San Francisco, Calif., from August 9-14, 2007.
Barnett participated in an IOLTA workshop entitled "The Role of IOLTA in Encouraging and Enhancing the Delivery of High Quality Pro Bono Legal Services," where she focused her remarks on LSC's private attorney involvement initiative.
Barnett also provided remarks at a meeting of the ABA Committee on Disaster Response, where she was asked to address the ongoing need for legal services for victims of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma.
Barnett provided an update on LSC initiatives and other national news to members of the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants. LSC Board Chairman Frank B. Strickland also gave brief remarks. LSC Board Member Herbert S. Garten was in attendance.
The Texas Supreme Court has approved a rule requiring attorneys to place their client trust accounts in "eligible" banks--banks that pay interest rates on these accounts comparable to other accounts of similar size.
Interest earned from IOLTA accounts is collected by the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation (TEAJF) and distributed to legal aid programs, including the LSC-funded Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid. In 2006, these programs received a total of $1.2 million in IOLTA revenue.
According to the TEAJF, the more than 20,000 client trust accounts in Texas earn about $4 to $6 million annually--revenue that could double or triple under the new rule, which applies to more than 500 banks in the state.
Justice Harriet O'Neill, a member of the Texas Supreme Court and liaison to the TEAJF said, "Legal aid organizations turn away half of all qualified applicants due to a lack of resources. The new IOLTA rule will help bridge the gap by increasing IOLTA revenue, thus increasing funding for legal aid programs. I applaud the financial institutions that have opted to participate in the IOLTA program."
For more information, click here.
The LSC-funded Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association (VLP) in conjunction with the Legal Advocacy & Resource Center (LARC), a VLP sub-grantee, will staff a new foreclosure assistance hotline established by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
Low-income residents who call the hotline will be screened by LARC. Eligible callers will be referred to the VLP, who will assign a pro bono attorney to appropriate cases.
Creation of the hotline was spurred by the record number of foreclosures in the state, according to the Attorney General's office. More than 3,000 foreclosures were initiated in the last 60 days alone, according to www.ForeclosuresMass.com.
"The loss of people's homes in a place like Boston has a disproportionate impact on the low-income because there is so little affordable housing here," said Mary Connolly, Executive Director of VLP. "That is why programs like this are so important."
Established in 1977, the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association is one of the oldest organized pro bono efforts in the country. It refers low-income clients to a panel of approximately 1,000 attorneys and paralegals.
For more information on the foreclosure assistance hotline, click here.
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, at bill signing ceremony for SB 69.
On August 3, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin approved a bill (SB 69) creating a fund to benefit the state's civil legal services programs, including the LSC-funded Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC).
The new fund will collect 50 percent of all state court punitive damage awards, which previously went to the state's general fund. Since Alaska law prohibits the dedication of funds, the legislature is not required to appropriate the money for civil legal services. Nevertheless, ALSC staff sees this as a positive first step towards increasing state funding. Alaska has not appropriated money for civil legal services since 2004.
Commenting on the importance of state funding, ALSC Executive Director Andrew Harrington said in a press release, "If you're a poor Alaskan who breaks into your neighbor's house, the state will give you an attorney to make sure that the prosecution adequately proves its case. But if the Flybynight Mortgage Company is trying to take your home away from you and your family, you're on your own; there's no right to an appointed attorney. That's where legal aid has to come in. It's vital that the state help address the need for such legal aid...."
For more information, click here.
Legal Services for New York City (LSNY) has established a loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) to help its employees repay their educational debts.
LSNY has distributed $60,000 to 13 applicants since the program began in July. Payment amounts vary with the participant's yearly debt payments, household size, and level of income. Payments are provided in the form of one year loans, with the principal and interest forgiven after two years of employment with LSNY.
LSNY started the program in recognition that crushing debt loads often prevent attorneys from remaining in low-paying public interest jobs. Andrew Scherer, LSNY's Executive Director, said in a press release that LSNY is "excited to offer a loan assistance program that will help us continue to attract, support and retain our dedicated and talented attorneys and social workers. Without them, LSNY cannot continue its mission of providing the best possible legal assistance to those who have nowhere else to turn."
Kentucky's Appalachian Research and Defense Fund (AppalRed) has opened a low-income taxpayer clinic to provide free representation to taxpayers involved in controversies with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The project is funded by a grant from the IRS, and is the only taxpayer clinic in central and eastern Kentucky.
Services provided by the clinic include helping with IRS audits or exams, settling tax debts, representing in U.S. Tax Court, and appealing Earned Income Tax Credit rejections.
The clinic is also developing a bilingual community outreach program called "Financial Independence and Self-Sustainability." It will teach low-income taxpayers, individuals with limited English proficiency, survivors of domestic violence, and high-school students how to use their tax refund as a tool for reaching financial goals.
For more information, go to www.appaltax.org.
Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Nebraska State Bar Association, in cooperation with the state Supreme Court, have teamed up to create Nebraska's first and only self-help center, located in the Lancaster County District Court.
Staff and volunteer attorneys from Legal Aid of Nebraska and the state bar will operate the center, which is open half-days, three days a week. Self-help desk users will also have access to Legal Aid's HelpChat service, which allows users to directly "chat" with a Legal Aid paralegal through an on-site computer. If this center proves effective in helping self-represented litigants handle their legal problems, similar centers will be set up throughout the state.
Nebraska Appeals Court Judge Richard Sievers, chairman of the state Supreme Court committee that set up the self-help center, told the Lincoln Journal Star, "As a court system, we have the obligation to make the system available to everyone....Clearly, justice cannot be equal if meaningful access is only available to people of means."
For more information, click here.
Gary Housepian, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands
Gary Housepian, the new Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands, has announced a plan for his first 100 days in office and has set up a blog to document his experiences.
"I'm going to take the first 100 days of my tenure and learn all I can about the clients and communities we serve as well as the supporters we depend on to do the important work of Legal Aid Society," said Housepian in a press release. "During this time, I will visit all eight offices and meet with staff, clients, donors and community leaders. At the end of the program, I'll report what I've learned and discuss the future of the Legal Aid Society."
Housepian also plans to educate others while he is learning.
"A lot of people still don't know what we do and what we're trying to do," Housepian said in an interview with the Tennessean. His priorities include getting the community, especially the business community, more involved in the work of his program.
He will write about his experiences on the Legal Aid Society's new blog, http://legalaidsociety.blogspot.com.
"There is a lot of work ahead of us," Housepian said. "We are blessed to have a group of dedicated, passionate attorneys, staff and volunteers who are devoted to our goals of providing access to justice for low-income families."
To visit Housepian's blog, click here.
To read, "Legal Aid's New Leader Out to Alter Perceptions" from the Tennessean, click here.
Ronald M. George, Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, received the John Marshall Award from the American Bar Association's (ABA) Justice Center at the ABA's recent annual meeting in San Francisco, Calif. The award is given annually to a judge or lawyer for contributions to the improvement of the administration of justice. George was chosen in part for his role in securing state funding for legal aid programs. In October 2006, George endorsed a resolution passed by the Conference of Delegates of California Bar Associations calling for state supported free legal representation in matters affecting sustenance, shelter, safety, health, and child custody.
(Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories from the field illustrate the day-to-day struggles - and victories - of poor Americans seeking justice under law.)
"Sleepless Nights and Constant Worry" One Client's Story
Kate Myers, Director of Pro Bono Services, South Jersey Legal Services
"I had reached my wit's end with phone calls from collection agencies." 67-year-old Gloucester County resident Marlene Minard had accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card bills, and she didn't know what to do. Living on a fixed Social Security income of only $529 per month, credit cards had become the only way she could afford basic necessities.
For most of her life, Marlene had been a stay-at-home mom to seven children, including one grandchild. While the children were still young, she was divorced and had to rely on $1,000 per month in child support to care for her family. When the youngest turned 18, the support payments ended and she found herself faced with a new challenge. "I never had the luxury of working," she says. "When the child support stopped, I realized I had no job skills, no way to support myself. So I did what I knew; cleaning houses and babysitting."
As she got older, work became less feasible and she hadn't earned enough in her lifetime to qualify for Social Security. So, at age 62, she decided to collect half of her ex-husband's Social Security. That $529 per month wasn't enough to make ends meet, so when a credit card offer arrived in the mail, she replied. Soon, one card became five, and Marlene found herself increasingly burdened with bills, which she could not pay. For five years, she struggled to make the minimum payments, but it was impossible. "The phone was ringing off the hook," she says. "I had many sleepless nights and constant worry."
Desperate, she realized she needed to file for bankruptcy, but she couldn't afford an attorney. Then she heard that South Jersey Legal Services provides legal assistance at no cost to clients. Within a few days of her request, a pro bono attorney was on her case.
Marlene's Chapter 7 case was handled by Dan Hutchinson in Woodbury. "I immediately felt comfortable with the staff at SJLS, and I was surprised at how quickly I was contacted by the pro bono attorney. The attorneys involved in my case really listened to me and answered all of my questions. Money simply was not an issue--they treated me like I was a paying client." Marlene's bankruptcy was filed within a few weeks and discharged in November. Finally, she could get on with her life, which she says was a "great relief."
"I really don't know what I would have done with-out the services of the Private Attorney Involvement Program. It is a wonderful thing that a program like this exists for those of us who cannot afford a lawyer. I wish the attorneys who take our cases could know how much we appreciate the work they do and the way it impacts our daily lives."