On November 9, 2006, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett held the fifth in a series of "Conversation on Quality" meetings. This meeting focused on emerging leaders, who were identified as the protgs participating in LSC's Leadership Mentoring Pilot Program. The protgs made excellent suggestions on how to improve the delivery of high-quality legal services, specifically discussing the importance of salary, loan repayment assistance programs, availability of training opportunities, and how to market public interest law as a viable career to law students.
LSC's Leadership Mentoring Pilot Program also held its third and final training session on November 6-8. Mentors and their protgs met to hear presentations and to participate in workshops covering issues such as board relations, management issues, and resource development. Participants also attended a well-received diversity workshop facilitated by Dr. Ancella Livers from the Center for Creative Leadership. The workshop's subjects were "Leading Across Differences" and "Communicating Across Cultures." The Mentoring program will now continue its evaluation phase, which will result in the release of a final report sometime in 2007.
As part of LSC's focus on improving program quality, a committee of LSC staff has been established to revise LSC's Case Service Reporting System and Handbook. LSC President Helaine M. Barnett appointed an advisory committee of LSC-funded program staff to support the efforts of the revisions committee and to provide them with practical advice. The two committees met recently to discuss revisions to certain sections of the handbook. Teleconferences with the advisory committee will be held bi-weekly until the Handbook's expected completion date of June 2007. A six-month training period for LSC-funded program staff will follow before the Handbook's effective date of January 1, 2008.
LSC recently held a meeting with representatives from LSC-funded programs in the Gulf states. This meeting is one in a series resulting from a request by these programs for LSC to facilitate ongoing discussions about common experiences delivering legal services in this geographic region.
Please direct any questions, comments, or concerns regarding certain LSC initiatives to the following e-mail addresses:
On November 15, 2006, both houses of Congress passed a resolution (HJ Res 100) providing for the continued funding of the Federal government while the majority of FY 2007 appropriations bills await passage, including the bill containing LSC's appropriation. This resolution expires on December 8, 2006. If any appropriations bills have not been passed by that date, Congress will pass another continuing resolution.
All line-items in LSC's budget will continue to be funded at FY 2006 levels until its FY 2007 appropriation is passed by the Senate and signed into law by President Bush.
Sandhya Bathija, The National Law Journal - November 7, 2006
More than 100 of the nation's nearly 200 laws schools now offer loan repayment assistance programs--a 20% increase from 2004--in an effort to lure law students into public service.
But despite the sharp increase in the programs, reflected in a 2006 2007 study by Equal Justice Works, only a small percentage of graduating law students are taking public interest jobs.
The problem does not come from a weak demand for public interest lawyers. Last year, the Legal Services Corporation, which funds 138 legal aid programs in the country, found that 80% of the legal needs of the poor are not met.
So, what's the problem? There's more than one. Low salaries, lack of funds to create public service jobs, and undesirable locations where the jobs exist are major reasons for the shortage of public service attorneys.
"There just is not enough money nationally to make a dent in the justice gap," said Karen Sarjeant, vice president of programs and compliance for Legal Service Corporation, which also recently launched a pilot "loan repayment assistance programs" (LRAPs) for its legal aid programs.
But Sarjeant doesn't think LRAPs can close the "gap" on their own, nor should they be expected to. "There isn't just one reason why students don't go into the field. It's all part of a puzzle that has to be looked at from many different angles," Sarjeant said.
And the main angle points to low salaries for public interest attorneys.
The average starting salary for entry-level civil legal service jobs nationwide is $36,000, according to the 2006 Public Sector and Public Interest Attorney Salary Report, published by the National Association for Law Placement, a nonprofit group. The average starting salary for a first-year associate at a private laws firm is $105,000, according to NALP.
"If I were just graduating from law school and had the choice of starting at $30,000 or taking a private sector job at $100,000, it would be a hard decision to make," said Robert Echols, state support director for the American Bar Association Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives.
"While LRAP programs are effective for helping young lawyers be able to afford the careers, it still is insufficient," Echols said. "It's very important to just increase the funding for legal aid and get more lawyers involved in pro bono work."
Legal services programs don't have enough funding to employ the students who want to do the work, Sarjeant noted.
Note: Visit the LRAP section of LSC's Recipient Information Network for more information on LSC's loan repayment program: http://www.rin.lsc.gov.
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Scott Sandlin, The Albuquerque Journal (NM) - October 22, 2006
The "emergency room of the legal system" in New Mexico is gasping under the strain of too many needy clients and too little money, according to a study released this year.
The grim report by the court-appointed Access to Justice Commission was that less than 20 percent of the legal needs of poor New Mexicans are being met. And the consequences, according to the commission, can be significant in curbing domestic violence, getting child support and arranging child custody, handling consumer debt and wringing health care out of a recalcitrant system.
Now the New Mexico Supreme Court is lobbying the Legislature, the public and the executive branch to support an initiative to pay for services the private sector cannot. The centerpiece: a proposal for a $4 million recurring appropriation for legal services statewide.
Supreme Court Justice Edward Chavez first pitched the proposal to the interim legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee in July. He recently promoted it in telephone interviews with reporters across the state.
Chavez, who will become chief justice Jan. 10, said that the estimated 18,000 unmet needs each year would cost $8 million--about $438 per family. That figure was derived by the commission after culling data from hearings and statistics from legal aid organizations.
Those who qualify for legal assistance in civil cases can't make more than $25,000 a year for a family of four.
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On October 26, 2006, South Brooklyn Legal Services (SBLS), with co-counsel, filed a case, Goldstein v. Pataki, in federal court against development company Forest City Ratner, New York Governor George E. Pataki, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and others, to stop the State of New York from taking the property of ten property owners and tenants who reside in the proposed Atlantic Yards Development area. Counsel for the tenant-plaintiffs in the matter is SBLS's Jennifer Levy. Said Levy, "I represent low-income renters and most of my clients in this case are rent-stabilized tenants who will be removed from their long-term homes, distanced from their families, and removed from their communities, if [the proposed Atlantic Yards Project] is permitted to proceed. This case represents an unjustifiable use of the State's eminent domain powers, which only permit the use of eminent domain where there is a resulting public use. It is not permissible to use eminent domain for the benefit of a private developer displacing vulnerable populations."
Pablo Lopez, The Fresno Bee (CA) - November 7, 2006
Hounded by a creditor, Richard and Rowena Stidham, an elderly Fresno couple living on Social Security benefits, had no money to hire a lawyer.
In stepped Central California Legal Services, which represented the Stidhams at no cost and forced the creditor to dismiss the civil case.
Monday, the Stidhams received the agency's Champions of Justice award for taking a stand against the creditor, a move that could let others know there is help available for low-income residents.
More than 350 people attended the awards luncheon in downtown Fresno, marking the agency's 40th year of providing free legal service to people combating domestic violence, wrongful termination, illegal debt collection and other civil matters.
State Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George was the keynote speaker and the first recipient of the agency's Ronald M. George Equal Justice Award.
George said the United States has a beautiful Constitution, but many people don't get to use it because they can't afford a lawyer.
While criminals have a right to a free lawyer, individuals involved in civil disputes don't. This failure has caused people to unjustly lose their jobs, homes and sometimes their children, the chief justice said.
He then praised the agency's 40 years of commitment to the less fortunate, saying, "You give them a stake in our system of justice."
Legal services has offices in Fresno, Merced, Visalia and Hanford and serves a diverse population of Valley residents, many of them non-English speakers, said executive director Chris Schneider.
The agency represented nearly 6,000 clients with a budget of about $5 million, Schneider said. But the agency is under pressure, Schneider said, because it depends on government grants and donations.
Nationwide, grant money for free legal services has dropped from $400 million in 1996 to $320 million today, even though more people are being served, said Schneider, who called on the legal community and others for financial help.
"They give meaning to our work," Schneider said of clients who stand up against domestic violence, slumlords and unscrupulous creditors.
The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, VA) - November 3, 2006
For nearly 40 years, Legal Aid organizations in Hampton Roads have stepped in to assist the region's poor.
In everything from bankruptcy to domestic relations, from landlord-tenant disputes to Social Security, the free legal service provides a crucial safety net for individuals who don't have the cash to navigate a maze of regulations, paperwork and other quasi-judicial hurdles.
The local nonprofit group, the Legal Aid Society of Eastern Virginia, helps individuals resolve issues that include employment and medical bills. People facing problems with their credit records also seek the agency's help. Federal and state dollars comprise the bulk of LASEV's funding.
As it kicked off a 40th anniversary campaign at a fundraiser [November 2] at the Town Point Club in Norfolk, one goal "is simply to let people know about us," says Ray Hartz, the local agency's executive director. To see if you qualify for services, call 757-827-5078.
With 24 staff attorneys covering five offices in Norfolk, Virginia Beach, the Peninsula and the Eastern Shore, LASEV has taken its services straight to the citizens who need them. In 2005, for example, the organization closed nearly 6,600 cases that assisted more than 15,000 people.
Among the individuals who have benefited is Nancy M. Allen, 51, of Virginia Beach. After receiving a lumpectomy in June, she needed thousands of dollars for chemotherapy treatment but didn't have a way to pay for it. She had lost her medical insurance after losing her job at the end of 2004. Friends pointed her to the Legal Aid Society.
The agency represented her at a hearing and helped her procure a claim for disability and other payments totaling more than $16,000, Hartz said. Without Legal Aid's help, "I might have gone and died," Allen said. "I was at a no-end situation. It's not easy, not easy at all, going through this chemo."
That's why the agency plays such a vital role for so many people.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press (TN) - November 4, 2006
A recent grant will allow Legal Aid of East Tennessee to expand its services to assist victims of domestic violence in 24 counties in the state, officials announced Friday.
Legal Aid officials said the $250,000 grant from the office of Violence Against Women does not affect Hamilton or Knox counties. Those areas are funded through other sources, officials said.
David Yoder, Legal Aid of East Tennessee executive director, said in a statement that the grant will allow the organization to hire two more attorneys, collaborate with other agencies and provide translation services to assist non-English speaking victims.
"We are excited to have this opportunity to help more victims of domestic violence become survivors of domestic violence and break the cycle of violence in more families," Mr. Yoder said.
According to a news release from Legal Aid of East Tennessee, Tennessee ranked fifth in the nation in 2005 for the number of women murdered by men.
Press Release, University of Pittsburgh (PA) - October 21, 2006
University of Pittsburgh School of Law alumnus Robert V. Racunas, executive director of the Neighborhood Legal Services Association, [received] the law school's Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award at the Pitt Law Alumni Dinner and Reunion [on] Oct. 21.
Racunas earned the B.A. degree at Pitt in 1968 and is a 1971 Pitt law graduate. He has served in his current position at Neighborhood Legal Services Association since 1980 and is responsible for the overall management of the four-county organization, which provides civil legal assistance to low-income residents and victims of domestic violence.
The immediate past president of the Allegheny Country Bar Association, Racunas has been active in the bar associations at the local, state, and national levels. He is an Allegheny County Bar Foundation Fellow and a member of the Western Pennsylvania Federal Bar Association and the Women's Bar Association of Western Pennsylvania.
In addition, Racunas is a member of the American Bar Association (ABA) House of Delegates, the ABA Committee on Equal Opportunity in the Legal Profession, the ABA Labor and Employment Law Section, and the ABA Public Sector and Government Lawyers Division.
Cary Aspinwall, The Tulsa World (OK) - November 6, 2006
Viva Roland just wants to keep taking care of her great-granddaughter, like she has since Megan was a baby.
Roland is 88. Her great-granddaughter is 16. Taking care of a teenager with developmental disabilities in your 80s is no small feat, but Roland accomplishes it with grace.
So volunteers from Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma wanted to make Roland's life a little bit easier.
Bill Jackson, a volunteer attorney for Legal Aid, helped Roland get legal guardianship of Megan in 1998, and has helped her file her annual report to the courts every year since.
Each year during his visit, he noticed her home needed some repairs and touch-ups. So Legal Aid, a United Way agency, came to the rescue again--this time with paint brushes and primer instead of court filings and affidavits.
This past summer, volunteers from Legal Aid's Tulsa office and the Benham Cos. did a makeover on Roland's home as part of the Tulsa Area United Way's Day of Caring.
New paint, wall repairs, power washing and cleaning helped Roland's home sparkle--so she can focus on taking care of Megan, making her mac-and-cheese for dinner and packing her beloved baby doll in her backpack for school each morning.
Legal Aid helps thousands of people such as Roland in northeastern Oklahoma each year, said Scott Hamilton, managing attorney for the Tulsa office.
"Our principle focus is to protect people from harm, and protect housing rights and basic income," Hamilton said. "We try to focus on basic needs, work for equal justice."
The Battle Creek Enquirer (MI) - November 6, 2006
I wanted to thank Legal Services of South Central Michigan for helping my sister resolve issues and obtain the services she needed.
Legal Services of South Central Michigan is funded in part by the Calhoun County Senior Millage and Area Agency on Aging. Many of their clients are unable to afford legal services.
After my sister had a stroke, she had nursing home issues, as well as needing affordable housing and a variety of services. Robert Mathis gave her legal advice, provided necessary paperwork and actually contacted various agencies on her behalf. He really went the extra mile.
The staff at Legal Services was courteous and caring. They really made a difference, and I want to thank them.
Jean Spano, Battle Creek
(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.)
Christy Schuldt can't recall exactly how she heard of Iowa Legal Aid, but when she had a dispute with her former daycare provider, she found herself at the Central Iowa Regional Office in Des Moines.
Christy was a working, single mom with one child and another on the way. Her son went to the only childcare center available in her neighborhood. She received assistance from the Department of Human Services (DHS) to supplement her payment for childcare. Christy began having problems with the daycare center when she noticed it was reporting and charging her and the DHS for hours when her son was not present. When she brought the matter to the daycare's attention, she was instructed not to change the hours herself; the daycare would fix it. They never did, and continued to overcharge.
Then Christy's child suffered an injury at the daycare. She pulled him out of the facility and reported the incident and the overcharging to the DHS. "This was really difficult because I did not have other child care set up. I was worried about losing my job."
Shortly, she received notice from the daycare of unpaid expenses that were significantly more than what she truly owed. Schuldt recalls, "I never wanted to avoid paying what was rightly owed. I just knew they had all these hours included where my son wasn't actually there. They weren't just overcharging me, they were overcharging a state agency too." She tried to work with the daycare about correcting the hours and paying the proper amount, but got nowhere. The daycare eventually sued Christy.
Her attorney, Shellie Mackel, states, "This suit really represented more than a small claims action. This action jeopardized Christy's DHS childcare assistance, future daycare, and consequently, her ability to work." Shellie began scrutinizing records to estimate what was actually owed. An agreement was reached with the daycare that was several hundred dollars lower than the overcharged amount. Christy paid that amount as agreed and the suit was dismissed.
When asked to reflect on these events, Christy comments, "It is so easy for single moms like me to be taken advantage of because others assume we won't fight, we'll just be quiet, because we are afraid of what might happen, that no one will believe us. I tell everybody about Iowa Legal Aid now. I tell them, you deserve to be heard and there is someone out there to help for free. Justice means you have a voice, even if you don't have a lot of money."
Mackel says of her former client, "I saw in Christy an aversion to injustice--not so much for herself though. She was thinking of how this could happen to other single mothers." It is this characteristic that made Christy Schuldt an excellent nominee for the Iowa Legal Aid Board of Directors as a client member, a position she currently occupies.
"It's a real honor to serve on the Board of Directors for Iowa Legal Aid," says Christy, who continues to work full time as the sole supporter of her family. "Now I get to be of service to an organization that helped me to be heard. It really has changed my life for the better in many ways."
Source: Iowa Legal Aid's Equal Justice Update, November 2006.