LSC Updates - January 25, 2010
Webcasts, Presentations Available Online
More than 150 people participated in the Legal Services Corporation's sold-out 10th Annual Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) Conference in Austin, Texas, from January 13-15. The yearly event serves as the official launch of new projects funded by LSC's TIG program and highlights innovations and issues relating to technology in the legal aid community.
Prior to the conference, the National Center for State Courts and the Self-Represented Litigation Network, in cooperation with LSC, co-sponsored the first-ever National Training on Public Libraries and Access to Justice. The two-day conference brought librarians, court personnel, and legal aid advocates together to discuss ways that public libraries can increase access to online legal information. The training was partially funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The Management Information Exchange (MIE) also held its Administrators Conference in conjunction with the TIG Conference, which incorporated a one-day track of sessions for administrators at civil legal aid programs. The MIE event featured sessions on fiscal and human resource issues at legal aid programs, including fraud prevention, maintaining a fiscal safety net, creating and sustaining a healthy work environment and managing organizational change.
Karen J. Sarjeant, LSC Vice President for Programs and Compliance, opened the TIG conference with remarks that highlighted the success of the TIG program, discussed current projects and outlined LSC's plans for the next funding cycle. She also discussed the critical role of technology professionals in legal services programs and the important role technology will continue to play as programs work to serve clients who are increasingly affected by the down economy. Sarjeant also held a question and answer session with attendees at a lunch during the conference.
The TIG conference featured tracks of sessions for administrators, technology experts and lawyers at legal aid programs, as well as a track dedicated to website and document assembly issues. Individual sessions covered topics like electronic discovery, the online LiveHelp program, how a legal aid program can "green" its Information Technology function and an upcoming national web-based resource for military families. The conference also included plenary sessions on "Generational Approaches to Change and Technology Adaptation" and an "Ignite" session featuring eight short presentations highlighting innovative technology projects and ideas.
Staff from the TIG team in LSC's Office of Program Performance-Bristow Hardin, Magali Khalkho, Glenn Rawdon and Jane Ribadeneyra-led a session for TIG recipients on LSC's revised reporting and evaluation process, LSC's FY 2011 request for TIG funding from Congress and more. Cheryl Nolan from LSC's Office of Program Performance moderated a session highlighting how three legal aid programs have successfully integrated the Internet into their intake systems to increase access and improve the quality of services for clients.
LSC and the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP) will hold a webinar on February 2 for all LSC grantees interested in applying for 2010 funding from the Corporation's Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) Program.
The webinar will discuss eligibility for the program, the application process, reporting requirements for successful applicants and the new online application and reporting systems. Approximately $3.4 million in funding will be available this year. Only LSC grantees can apply for TIG grants, but LSC encourages other interested parties to partner with their local LSC program on projects that use technology to improve access to justice.
The webinar will be hosted by LSNTAP. Click here to learn more or to register.
On January 14, the Legal Services Corporation hosted the seventh installment in its series of conference calls with legal aid programs and national consumer and poverty law organizations to discuss initiatives aimed at addressing the nationwide foreclosure crisis.
The meeting began with an introduction of Victor M. Fortuno, LSC's interim president, who thanked the participants for joining the calls and praised them for their work to help low-income Americans avoid foreclosure.
Topics of discussion included a new online pleading bank for consumer advocates developed by the National Association for Consumer Advocates, a session on preventing foreclosure at the recent National Legal Aid and Defender Association Annual Conference and the Obama Administration's Home Affordable Modification Program. Geoffrey Walsh of the National Consumer Law Center led a discussion on state mediation programs.
Participants on the calls include representatives from national consumer and poverty law organizations, like the Center for Responsible Lending and the Sargent Shriver Center on Poverty Law, and civil legal aid programs from across the country.
The Legal Services Corporation's Board of Directors will meet at the Corporation's Washington offices at 3333 K Street NW on January 29 and 30 to consider and act on several matters.
The agenda includes a presentation of the Fiscal Year 2009 annual financial audit, consideration of the Corporation's Consolidated Operating Budget for Fiscal Year 2010 and other business.
Members of the public who are unable to attend may listen to open sessions of the Board and Board committees by telephone, using the instructions submitted to the Federal Register and posted on the Corporation's website.
The Board of Directors of New Jersey's Essex-Newark Legal Services Project has adopted a resolution aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 109 the total number of 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."
Follow LSC's Twitter feed at Twitter.com/LSCtweets to learn about the latest developments at LSC and in the civil legal aid community. Signing up for a Twitter account is free and easy, but anyone can follow LSC's feed by clicking the above link.
Many stakeholders in the legal aid community are also on Twitter, including the American Bar Association, Equal Justice Works, the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project, the National Association for Law Placement, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the Pro Bono Institute, Pro Bono Net, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law.
Visit the Twitter home page at http://twitter.com.
Legal Aid of North Carolina – January 7, 2010
Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC) announced [on January 7] that the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation will continue its vital support for LANC by renewing a major grant of $450,000 for its Home Defense Project.
The Home Defense Project (HDP) fights to save homes and reduce foreclosures in North Carolina. In North Carolina, home foreclosures are expected to exceed 50,000 in 2010.
"At a time of tremendous financial stress and declining revenue for foundations, a renewed award in such a substantial amount is both a solid statement of support for the work and an indication of the profound impact the still-expanding foreclosure epidemic is having on communities," said Hazel Mack, HDP project director and senior managing attorney for LANC. "The grant is recognition that creative legal strategies are essential if working families are to be kept from homelessness and if we are to stabilize our neighborhoods and our communities throughout the state in the wake of this crisis.
The Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands have received grants to fund their medical-legal partnerships-projects that bring doctors and lawyers together to address the legal issues contributing to the poor health of low-income patients.
In Atlanta, the UPS Foundation awarded $20,000 to the legal aid program's Health Law Partnership, a collaboration between the Georgia State University College of Law, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta and the Atlanta Legal Aid Society.
In Tennessee, the Baptist Healing Trust awarded nearly $36,000 to the Nashville-based Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee and the Cumberlands for its Medical-Legal Partnership for Children, a collaboration between the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt University and the Legal Aid Society.
LSC-funded programs are involved in medical-legal partnerships in more than 25 states. Visit the website of the National Center for Medical Legal Partnerships to learn more.
The Migrant Farmworker Division of Colorado Legal Services has released a report highlighting the abuses suffered by migrant sheepherders working in the state as part of the federal H-2A program, which allows U.S. employers to hire foreign agricultural workers when they can not find enough American workers.
The report, "Overworked and Underpaid: H-2A Herders in Colorado," is based on surveys of nearly 100 sheepherders in Colorado. The surveys revealed that almost 73 percent of the herders reported having zero days off over the course of a year, roughly 70 percent reported never having access to a functioning toilet and almost 50 percent said they never had the opportunity to read their employment contracts. The full report contains additional examples of their working conditions.
The problem, according to the authors of the report, is that the H-2A program does not provide the same protections to sheepherders as it does to other H-2A workers. For example, herders can be paid much less and less frequently than their counterparts and can be housed in campers with no electricity, running water or toilets.
The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants is seeking nominations for the Harrison Tweed Award, which honors state and local bar associations for increasing access to justice. Last year's winners were the North Carolina Bar Association, for its innovative "4ALL" campaign to increase access to legal services throughout the state, and the Philadelphia Bar Association, for its Residential Mortgage Foreclosure Diversion Pilot Project.
The American Bar Association has reduced the price of its "Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid" in order that they can be broadly available to the entire civil legal aid community. The printed, 273-page document is now available for $10 plus shipping and handling. Revised and updated in 2006, the standards are intended to articulate best practices for providers of civil legal aid and to provide guidance on new issues in the legal aid community like technology and language access.
The Center for Legal Aid Education will host a training session on board development in the legal aid context at its Boston headquarters on March 18 and 19. The course is designed for board members and executive directors of legal aid programs and seeks to clarify the roles and responsibilities of boards, strengthen the capacity of boards to fulfill their responsibilities, build a greater sense of purpose and commitment within boards, and more. Click here for more information.
In April, the Center will host a training session on "Meetings that Matter"-how to plan and conduct meetings that maximize the time, creativity and expertise of everyone who attends. The course will cover topics like alternative decision-making models, basic meeting facilitation skills and collaborative problem solving. The course will be offered at the Center's Boston headquarters on April 6 and 7. Click here for more information.
Legal aid is about helping ordinary people with real-life problems. Client stories illustrate the day-to-day struggles-and victories-of poor Americans seeking justice under law.
New State Foreclosure Mediation Program Saves Client's Home
Ethan Wilensky-Lanford, Kennebec Journal – January 18, 2010
Tracy Camden built his five-bedroom colonial house in Parsonsfield himself, with money he earned from trucking.
"When I built this house, I owned it outright," he said. That was 18 years ago.
Like many Mainers at that time, he did not have a credit card. He figured that if he paid cash for everything, he said, he would have good credit when needed.
But 15 years later, he was facing foreclosure. First, he had mortgaged his house to buy a car, because he could not get a normal car loan without an established credit history.
"It was the stupidest thing I ever did," Camden said. "The next thing I knew, everybody was giving me credit cards, and the interest rates kept going up all the time."
He said that he did not always understand the forms he signed, and blames predatory lenders for part of the problem. He took out a second home equity loan to build an addition for his family; he and his wife have had three children, and adopted another five.
One of their sons has diabetes, and without health insurance, racked up $50,000 in medical bills, he said. The family borrowed to pay that debt.
Before long, Camden owed around $100,000.
His monthly payments shot from $1,100 a month-already more than half his income-to $1,600 a month. He contacted his lender during summer 2008, and told the company there was no way he could make the payments.
He struck a deal, he said, to pay $1,100 again. If he made the first three payments on time, the reduction would be permanent.
Instead, after three months, the lender sent him a letter saying he had to pay $1,600 again, plus late fees, he said. He called Pine Tree Legal Assistance, a lower-income legal advocacy group.
For a year, attorney Chet Randall tried to work with the lender to rewrite the terms of the mortgage.
"I tried for months and months to get an affordable modification for the family, but couldn't get them to make a decision and tell us what they were going to do," Randall said.
But then last spring a bill was passed making Maine one of the first states in the country with a foreclosure mediation program that actually required creditors to appear at mediation, either by phone or in person.
Randall requested foreclosure mediation on Camden's mortgage during a pilot project in York County in August, and the company settled for a trial payment of $980 a month in November-including taxes and insurance.
Randall credits mediation with getting the lender to finally act. "It would have taken many many more months to resolve," he said.