LSC Updates - November 29, 2006

Award Takes 'Father Of Pro Bono' By Surprise

Cynthia Di Pasquale, The Daily Record (MD) - November 20, 2006

Maryland's legal community has selected Herbert S. Garten, the "father of pro bono," for a leadership award honoring his commitment to the profession. Garten, founder of the Pro Bono Resource Center, was declared the premier winner of The Daily Record's Leadership in Law award at a luncheon Friday. Clearly surprised, Garten said he was "overwhelmed" as he accepted the award. "This was certainly one of the highlights of my career," he said in an interview later.

"I appreciate the support from the bar and especially this group here today. It's a great honor." Garten was one of 24 honorees selected by a panel of representatives from the business, legal and academic communities. The honorees themselves selected Garten by secret ballot.

Sue Garten was in tears as her husband received the top honor. "He's put such love and effort into it," she said of his legal career. "It's been a jealous mistress in our lives. But he's accomplished so much in this time."

Garten is a partner at Fedder & Garten practicing corporate, tax, and trust and estates law, and related civil litigation. Throughout his career, he has also dedicated a considerable effort to building free or low-cost legal services in the state. As president of the Maryland State Bar Association from 1989-1990, Garten managed to recruit 60 percent of the state's lawyers for pro bono work. He also helped establish the Pro Bono Resource Center, a clearinghouse for volunteer legal opportunities. He was chair of the Maryland Legal Services Corp. for eight years and chair of the American Bar Association's commission on Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) for three. In 2003, Garten was nominated by President Bush to the board of directors of the national Legal Services Corp., which distributes federal grants to local legal services programs.

"He's incredibly deserving," said Sharon E. Goldsmith, executive director of the Pro Bono Resource Center. "He is truly a leader. He was responsible for really moving the bar toward taking the pro bono effort to the next level and making that a priority for the Maryland legal community."

Susan M. Erlichman, executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corp., was as delighted with Garten's selection. "He's had a tremendous impact on the expansion of the delivery of legal service in Maryland, through both pro bono efforts, increased revenue and enhanced delivery models," she said. "He's a really an extraordinary leader, lawyer, mentor and he's my friend," she added. "He's a wonderful, wonderful man."

His son, Alan F. M. Garten, said it was a joyous event for their family. "My father worked very hard over the years to see this achievement," he said. "We're thankful to The Daily Record for bestowing this upon him."

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LSC in the News

Legal Aid Lawyers Leaving Due To Pay; Debts

Stephanie Potter, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin (IL) - November 16, 2006

More than 40 percent of legal aid attorneys plan to leave their jobs in the next three years, with low pay and high law school debt driving their decisions, according to a first-of-its-kind study issued Wednesday.

The study was released by the Chicago Bar Foundation and Illinois Coalition of Equal Justice. It found that financial pressures are even greater for young legal aid attorneys as the cost of attending law school rises. Among legal aid attorneys with up to five years' experience who are the sole earners for their households, 73 percent plan to leave their jobs in the next three years, the study found.

"The study quantifies some of those financial challenges and the impact on people in a way we haven't been able to do before," said Robert A. Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation.

Joseph A. Dailing, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice, said the findings reflect what he saw over the years when he was executive director of Prairie State Legal Services Inc.

"It's that sort of skyrocketing of [law school] tuition and debt," Dailing said. "It shows there's a real barrier for people who might be interested in legal aid work."

Glaves said the study found the median salary of a legal aid attorney lags significantly behind other public service jobs. For example, the median salary for an Illinois legal aid attorney with three years of experience is $45,000, while a prosecutor with the same experience who works in a major metropolitan area earns $55,890.

The survey also asked legal aid attorneys whether a salary boost would influence their decision to stay in their job.

Many said an extra $10,000 a year in pay and $5,000 in loan repayment assistance would make a difference, with loan repayment help particularly important to younger lawyers.

"What may have surprised us was the relatively low level at which salary could make a difference," said Jennifer T. Nijman, a partner at Winston & Stawn LLP and co-chair of the study's steering committee with Sheldon H. Roodman. Roodman is the executive director of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Sarah E. Biehl, a staff attorney at LAF who has been there about two years, said 30-year loan repayment plans are commonplace for young lawyers. Biehl, who helps domestic violence victims and runs a legal clinic for high school students, recently received the Kimball R. and Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Law Fellowship through the CBF.

She said it was a help, but it's still daunting to think of buying a home in the Chicago area. She would like to see a statewide loan repayment program for lawyers.

"I don't think anybody goes into this job expecting to make $100,000 a year," she said. "For me, it just seems like I'm always a little short every month."

Adrian G. Barr, a staff attorney for Prairie State Legal Services Inc. in Batavia, said loan repayment programs would improve retention. For new attorneys, law school debt can approach $100,000, the study found.

"The biggest thing weighing on my mind is the law school loans," said Barr, a University of Illinois College of Law graduate who has worked for Prairie State for three years.

Barr said he started searching for a new job about a year and a half ago, but was convinced to stay after the publication of a major legal needs study in 2005 led to salary increases and the establishment of a small loan forgiveness program for lawyers at Prairie State.

Roodman agreed that easing the debt load is a key issue. He said his staff of about 85 full-time attorneys is dedicated, but at times the realities of student loans overburden them. When attorneys leave, it affects both the clients who lose the value of their experience and other lawyers who have to pick up the slack, Roodman said.

The full study, entitled "Investing in Justice: A Framework for Effective Recruitment and Retention of Illinois Legal Aid Attorneys," is available on the CBF Web site, at

Note: In October 2005, LSC launched a three-year, $1 million pilot Loan Repayment Assistance Program to demonstrate that helping attorneys repay law school loans also helps legal services programs recruit and retain attorneys. The program ended its first year with 70 participants, including 31 new recruits, 23 attorneys in their first year with an LSC-funded program, 8 in their second year, and 8 in their third. For more information on LSC's LRAP, click here.

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Retired, Top Lawyers Back In Court; Come To Aid Of Poor Litigants

Sacha Pfeiffer, The Boston Globe (MA) - November 19, 2006

Bancroft R. Wheeler, 73, is a lawyer at an esteemed Boston corporate law firm. Elba Vazquez, 49, lives in Roxbury, is unemployed, and relies on disability payments for income.

It is fair to say that in the normal course of life, their paths would not have crossed.

But last week they stood side by side in a Suffolk County courtroom as Wheeler, of Nutter McClennen & Fish, helped Vazquez, a Puerto Rico native, win guardianship of her 9-year-old grandson. No hefty legal bill awaited Vazquez at the end of the day; Wheeler represented her free of charge, courtesy of Senior Partners for Justice, which pairs retired and active lawyers with low-income clients who otherwise would have fended for themselves in court.

"This is helping a lot of poor people who cannot really afford lawyers today," said Vazquez, whose grandson's parents are unable to care for him. "I wish they could have a lot more lawyers like him."

Run in Probate and Family Court by the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, the project gives white-shoe law firm firepower to impoverished litigants who frequently find the legal system confusing and inaccessible. But it has another, less obvious benefit: It taps the experience of numerous senior citizen lawyers who, like Wheeler, are winding down their practices after lengthy careers.

Many of these senior partners have spent their professional lives working exclusively for well-heeled corporate clients and have reaped substantial riches. But with big law firms often requiring lawyers to retire as young as their early 60s, many lawyers who consider themselves in the prime of their careers are forced out even though their interest in the law hasn't faded.

"The firms want them out, but they're really not old enough to just go play golf all the time," said Edward M. Ginsburg, a former Boston probate court judge who founded the program after retiring from the bench. "So I thought one of the great sources for this program would be people who are transitioning out of these large law firms, and for a lot of them I thought it could rekindle their ideals."

For retired lawyers, the program provides a sense of camaraderie and community that they often lose when they leave practice. And the legal issues they confront can be challenging for accomplished lawyers who suddenly find themselves in unfamiliar professional territory.

"Some of our lawyers spent their careers doing litigation but never handled a family law case--so they love the idea of doing something new, but it can also be scary and ego-wounding," said Mary M. Connolly, executive director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

"A lot of people find that very daunting," she said.

Added Ginsburg: "I remember one person saying, `I'm ready to take a case, but I'm going to Florida so I'll do it when I get back next month.' And then it was, `Well, next month,' and then the month after that. And then it dawned on me: He was just apprehensive. But the fascinating thing is that those who were able to do it have been absolutely thrilled."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Domestic Violence Symposium A Success

Press Release, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas - November 27, 2006

Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas ("Legal Aid") and The Women's Advocacy Project hosted the "2006 Legal Symposium on Domestic Violence" in Dallas on November 10, 2006. Over 95 attendees representing 55 different shelters in Legal Aid's 114-county service area spent the day learning about legal services for victims of domestic violence and crime. The audience included shelter advocates and executive directors, police, attorneys and judges as well as representatives from the Texas Attorney General's Office, the Dallas District Attorney's Office, the Texas Equal Access to Justice Foundation, and the American Bar Association.

Texas Supreme Court Justice Harriet O'Neill spoke to the group during lunch, encouraging them in the work they do. She serves on the Texas Access to Justice Commission, which was created by the Supreme Court to develop and implement initiatives designed to ensure that the court system is available to meet the basic civil legal needs of low-income Texans.

"We wanted to provide training for the shelters and agencies in our 114-county service area who serve victims of domestic violence. The chance to provide this dedicated group with training and a networking opportunity was wonderful," said Legal Aid's CEO, Jesse L. Gaines. The symposium was free to all shelters in Legal Aid's 114 county service area and travel reimbursement was provided to domestic violence shelter attendees.

The all day program included substantive workshops, including special sessions for executive directors and legal advocates on how to assist and support victims of domestic violence needing access to the legal system and help end the cycle of violence.

To read the press release in its entirety, click here.

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In Honor Of The 50th Anniversary Of Legal Services Of Northern California

The Honorable Doris O. Matsui (D-CA-5th), in the United States House of Representatives - November 15, 2006

Mr. Speaker, I rise today to honor an organization with a distinguished history of community service to the Sacramento capital region. Legal Services of Northern California is celebrating 50 years of providing free legal services to the low-income residents of Sacramento County and 22 other counties in Northern California. As the staff and supporters of Legal Services of Northern California gather to celebrate this momentous milestone, I ask all my colleagues to join me in saluting one of Sacramento's most important and respected organizations.

In 1956, Legal Services of Northern California, then known as the Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County, was born out of the insight of prominent members of the Sacramento Bar Association and a budget of $12,000. With the assistance of volunteer pro bono attorneys and a staff consisting of one part-time attorney and one social worker, the Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County finished its first year having provided assistance to nearly 2,900 low-income clients.

From these humble beginnings 50 years ago, the Legal Aid Society has grown significantly. In 1967, the organization began to expand its services beyond Sacramento County and opened offices in Yolo County. By the late 1970s, the Legal Aid Society of Sacramento County had acquired a state-wide reputation for resolute and effective advocacy on behalf of the poor and disabled, and had won significant victories on behalf of its clients. To reflect its expanding geographic reach, the organization changed its name in 1979 to Legal Services of Northern California, which today operates offices serving 23 counties, with a budget of over $7 million and a staff of over 120 employees and 1,000 volunteers.

Legal Services of Northern California has also greatly expanded its scope of services beyond providing traditional legal assistance to low-income individuals. The organization now operates the Senior Legal Hotline, the Health Rights Hotline, Ombudsman Services of Northern California, and the Disability Employment Rights Advocacy Program, As a testament to its far-reaching services, the Senior Legal Hotline fields almost 9,000 calls each year from seniors all over California. Also notable was in early 2006 when Legal Services of Northern California acquired the Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program, an organization that advises thousands of seniors on the different prescription drug plans available to them under Medicare.

Mr. Speaker, for 50 years the good men and women of Legal Services of Northern California have dedicated countless hours to identifying and defeating the causes of poverty and injustice. As the staff and volunteer attorneys gather to reflect upon a half century of exemplary service to the community, I am proud to recognize such a reputable organization. I ask all of my colleagues to join me in congratulating Legal Services of Northern California and wishing them many more years of continued success.

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Bilingual Hire Helps Legal Aid Extend Reach To Immigrants

Cindy Gonzalez, Omaha World-Herald (NE) - November 21, 2006

Legal Aid of Nebraska has opened a south Omaha clinic and this month hired a bilingual attorney to help the immigrant community.

Liliana Shannon, a Bolivia native and Creighton Law School graduate, will work at the 4827 S. 24th St. space on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A goal, said Legal Aid's Muirne Heaney, is to eventually have the site open three days a week.

"We want to be a more permanent presence there so people don't get exploited," Heaney said.

The nonprofit Legal Aid, which provides low-income Nebraskans with free legal assistance in civil matters, started the south Omaha clinic in May to improve access for the immigrant population.

First National Bank of Omaha offered office space for the clinic at the Centro Latino de Educacion Financiera.

The clinic offers walk-in clients help on such matters as tenant-landlord disputes, bankruptcy and divorce matters. Immigration services are not provided, but Legal Aid refers those clients to other agencies.

Heaney said Legal Aid is not certain why it was not adequately reaching the Latino population. She said officials wondered if the disproportionately low caseload was caused by unfriendly application procedures, a language barrier or lack of demand for legal services.

Shannon, 28, is Legal Aid's first Omaha-based, Spanish-speaking lawyer in at least six years, Heaney said.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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Harris Beach PLLC Partner To Receive Neighborhood Legal Services Award

The Daily Record of Rochester (NY) - November 22, 2006

Harris Beach PLLC partner A. Vincent Buzard will be recognized by Neighborhood Legal Services, Inc. (NLS) for the effort he expended as New York State Bar Association president to restore state funding of legal services for low-income residents.

Buzard will receive the organization's first "And Justice For All" award at the NLS 30th Anniversary Celebration and Fundraiser. NLS is a not-for-profit agency located in Buffalo, which provides free legal services to low-income individuals and those with disabilities throughout Western New York. Buzard will be recognized for his efforts while NYSBA president, leading a campaign earlier this year that resulted in more than 1,500 bar members contacting their state legislators to request restored state funding of $4.6 million for civil legal services for the poor. The funding was restored in April when the state Legislature overrode the governor's veto. "Last year, NLS laid off 10 staff members as a result of large federal, state and county budget cuts," said William Hawkes, executive director of NLS. "The governor's veto this year was going to further devastate NLS because the cuts would have resulted in the loss of an additional $230,000 in core funding and the loss of even more staff. A. Vincent Buzard mobilized the bar membership through an extremely creative use of the association's technological resources," he added. "The support of the NYSBA and its hundreds of members, who used the pathways established by Mr. Buzard, were seen as key political support for the override actions of the Legislature."

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Dynamic Duo In The Front Office

Tracy Connor, The Daily News (NY) - November 13, 2006

They don't have law degrees. They've never tried a case or filed a brief in court.

But Frances Laguer and Flora Brown are the heart and soul--not to mention the funny bone--of South Brooklyn Legal Services, which provides free help to thousands of New Yorkers every year.

Laguer, 59, is the intake officer and Brown, 55, is the receptionist, but their official titles don't tell the half of it. They're also called on to act as social workers, therapists, standup comedians and, occasionally, bouncers.

For more than three decades, they have held sway over the front desk at 105 Court St., making sure the needy who call or come through the door are treated with dignity in what's often their most desperate hour.

They could have better paying jobs in white-shoe law firms. Instead, they spend their work days dealing with the downtrodden about to be evicted, HIV patients battling discrimination, young mothers trying to get their kids out of foster care.

"We have seen it ALL!" Laguer says with a throaty laugh.

The duo are "irreplaceable," says Deborah Alexander, SBLS's director of administration.

"They've got these magnetic personalities," she said. "They draw people in and it's very important when people are going through difficult times they're made to feel at ease and as though what they have to say is important. For them, it's not the politicians or the people who give us money--it's the clients."

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

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