LSC Updates - March 2, 2005

The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel - February 2005

LSC President Helaine M. Barnett received the New York State Bar Association's 2005 Gold Medal Award at the President's Dinner on January 29. The award is the highest distinction given by the bar to an attorney or judge. Association President Kenneth G. Standard noted, "Helaine's dedication and leadership in ensuring all citizens have access to legal services has been invaluable to the poor in our state and made her one of the most respected attorneys in the American legal community." Prior to her appointment as LSC President in 2004, Barnett devoted more than three decades of service to the Legal Aid Society of New York's multi-office civil division, which she headed from 1994 through 2003.

Media Highlights

Mary P. Gallagher, New Jersey Law Journal (NJ) - February 14, 2005

With the help of two new legal assistance projects, Asian and Latin American immigrants in New Jersey can now access civil legal advice in their native languages. Students at Rutgers Law School-Newark launched the Asian American Legal Project in Jersey City, a clinic designed to assist Filipinos with immigration problems. Prior to the clinic's opening, Asian immigrants were confronted with linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing legal assistance, and was no organization in New Jersey to help them specifically, says Alex Saingchin, a Rutgers law student who began the project with classmate Deric Wu. The clinic leaders hope to expand the service to South Asians and to eventually handle broader issues beyond immigration facing the Asian American community.

In March, the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund will debut a hotline to put Latinos who have immigration questions in contact with pro bono attorneys. Designed to assist Mercer County immigrants, the 24-hour hotline will connect callers with bilingual lawyers. While the focus will be on immigration, says fund Chairwoman Maria Juega, lawyers will also offer advice on housing, job, and other issues affecting Latin American immigrants.

Maria Burnham, The Commercial Appeal (TN) - February 18, 2005

In Judge Phyllis Gardner's General Sessions Civil Court, most people represent themselves in cases involving issues such as evictions and divorces. Many times, Judge Gardner has found herself ruling against someone with a potentially good case because of a lack of knowledge about the law. "You cannot compensate because someone doesn't have a lawyer," she says. "You have to be fair and impartial. But that doesn't mean you don't recognize something lacking in the system." This realization resulted in the Lawyer of the Day program, a pro bono initiative that enables people with pending cases to contact a lawyer for free advice on their case. While lawyers involved in the project are already booked through April, the coordinating agencies, including Memphis Area Legal Services, hope to recruit additional volunteers. "This is going to level the playing field," Judge Gardner notes, "and that will certainly make our jobs easier." 

Program News

National Law Journal - February 14, 2005

Legal services organizations in the Los Angeles area, including LSC-funded Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Neighborhood Legal Services, have teamed up with several of the nation's largest law firms to create the L.A. Pro Bono Council. The group is spearheaded by California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George and seeks to offer pro bono legal representation to low-income residents in the Los Angeles area. Sixteen of the nation's top law firms, including such powerhouses as Jones Day and Latham & Watkins, were members of the organizing committee.

Brennan Center Legal Services E-lert - February 18, 2005

The Legal Aid Society of Hawaii (LASH) has opened three additional Providing Access To Help (PATH) project offices in Kalihi, Wahiawa, and Waimanalo, expanding services in family, consumer, public benefits, and housing law. "PATH is a return to Legal Aid's past," says Victor Geminiani, executive director of LASH. "We are employing our original goal as the general counsel for low-income communities throughout Hawaii to institute change in those communities." LASH attorney Desiree Hikida Mokuohai notes that it is much easier for clients to stop by one of the satellite offices than drive to Honolulu.


Erin L. Nissley, Centre Daily Times (PA) - February 22, 2005

While serving in the military, Susan Michalik was inspired to become a lawyer. During her time in law school at the University of Wisconsin, she dedicated herself to a career in legal aid. "It dawned on me that if you get charged with a crime, you get a court-appointed lawyer," she recalls. "But if you need a lawyer for anything else, you don't get anyone." Michalik was soon hired as an attorney with Mid-Penn Legal Services, where she has worked for 15 years.

During this time, she has helped residents in 18 counties save their homes, protect their kids, and keep warm during the winter. While she is modest upon receiving praise, her clients unabashedly continue to pile it on.

"I don't know what I would have done, if it hadn't been for Susan," says Helen Wheland, a 57-year old Sandy Hook resident. Three years ago, Wheland was confronted with a Social Security problem and contacted Mid-Penn. Michalik took the case, an d untangled the problem. "She's a very good lawyer and a special person," Wheland notes.

While Michalik is, at any given point, involved in 80 to 100 cases, she - like countless other legal aid lawyers - does not bring home a big paycheck. "Look out in the parking lot. There isn't a Lexus out there," she says. "But I get a lot of satisfaction out of the job. That's why I do it."

Program Resources

LSC Resource Library Update
Sponsor: AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly
Project: Pro Bono Systemic Initiatives
Date: February 6, 2005

For years, the AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE) has been a successful pro bono program, mostly handling the individual cases of seniors. With the concentration of large and well-known law firms in urban areas, however, collective pro bono projects are often more attractive to private firms than individual cases. Pro Bono Systemic Initiatives allows LCE to work on law reform measures in a manner that allows them to be successfully marketed to large private firms. After a brainstorming session and analysis of the resulting ideas, the LCE Board invited law firm representatives to a meeting showcasing the initiatives. Following this, specific staffers were assigned to collaborate with each firm on the chosen project. Currently, 12 projects are being completed with approximately 15 different law firms. For more information on this and other projects, please visit

Client Success Story

Donna Iacoboni, The Plain Dealer (OH) - February 24, 2005

(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.)

Six-year old Tony Smith was doing more than just acting up. Two police officers had to restrain him from destroying everything he could get his hands on in his babysitter's home. Months later, he threw kitchen knives at his mother, Precious, and older sister and took a brick to the family's car. When he was 7, Precious caught him with a pillow over his brother's face, trying to smother him. He smashed his grandmother's windows, and was kicked out of several daycare centers. Precious, a nurse's aide, couldn't hold down a job because of being called away from work due to his behavior.

Thankfully, pediatricians from the MetroHealth Medical Center and an attorney from the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland intervened through the Family Advocacy Program, a partnership between the two organization that began in January 2003. Doctors diagnosed Tony with post-traumatic stress syndrome, a result of his witnessing the brutal physical abuse unleashed upon his mother by his father, who eventually abandoned his family. Legal Aid Society attorney Mallory Curran took the letters from his doctors and won for the family essential help during the crisis, including Medicaid, Social Security, food stamps, public housing, and special education classes. Due to her persistence and the support of the doctors, Curran was able to save months in typical delays from receiving public assistance.

Now, at the age of 8, Tony is showing new sides of himself: smart, artistic, even polite. He is now drug-free, no longer in need of the seven medications that were initially vital to his recovery, and his family is on their way out of poverty.

During a recent visit with Curran, Tony said he was "happy, happy, happy, magnificent, marvelous." His mother agreed, adding, "I'll never forget Mallory. Tony will never forget her."

This is not the first time that Curran's persistence has made a difference in the lives of children. Since the Family Advocacy Program began in early 2003, her work has impacted nearly 150 families.