LSC Updates - September 12, 2007
Main thrust: helping people represent themselves in court
Helaine M. Barnett, President of the Legal Services Corporation, today announced 2007 Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) totaling $2.1 million. The State Justice Institute is providing an additional $321,000 in matching funds for seven joint projects. LSC-funded programs in 25 states and the territory of Micronesia will be receiving the grants.
The TIG program, created by Congress in 2000, has stressed self-help since its inception. Stretching limited resources with self-help is a priority since LSC-funded programs lack the resources to serve many--if not most--of those eligible to receive civil legal aid.
To read the full press release, click here.
For a complete list of 2007 Technology Initiative Grants, click here.
For a TIG Fact Sheet, click here.
On September 6-7, technology experts from private law firms, foundations, academia, the courts, and legal services programs convened at LSC headquarters for LSC's Technology Strategic Planning Conference.
The goal of the conference was to help guide LSC's creation of a strategic plan for effective use of technology by LSC-funded programs. The plan will support future funding requests for LSC's Technology Initiative Grant program and guide the Corporation's future technology decisions.
Left to Right: Dave Hambourger, Chief Information Officer, Seyfarth Shaw LLP; Thomas Clarke, Vice President, Research and Chief Information Officer, National Center for State Courts; William Guyton, Information Technology Manager, Legal Services Alabama; Ed Marks, Litigation Director, Legal Aid of Western Ohio; Alison Paul, Deputy Director, Montana Legal Services Association; Alfred Azen, Executive Director, Pennsylvania IOLTA Board; Hugh Calkins, Director of Research and Development, Pine Tree Legal Assistance. Not Pictured: Richard Winder, Deputy Director, Michigan State Bar Association.
The first day of the conference focused on current technologies that should be in place in an up-to-date legal office, including intake systems, case management software, security tools, and Web-based legal information and self-help support for clients. Conferees discussed impediments to implementing up-to-date technologies, and strategies to overcome them.
Right to Left: Judge Michael Dennard, Senior Judge and Director of Court Assistance Services, Idaho Supreme Court; Gavin Clabaugh, Vice President, Information Services, C.S. Mott Foundation; Debbie Close, Director of Information Services, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; Ronald Staudt, Professor of Law and Associate VP for Law, Business & Technology, Chicago-Kent College of Law; Victoria Deak, Project Director, Access to Justice Technology Project, Indiana Legal Services; Anthony Young, Executive Director, Southern Arizona Legal Aid; J. Mark Hendrick, Director of Information Technology, Baker Botts LLP; Clara Woodburn, Information Systems Manager, K&L Gates.
The second day of the conference focused on future trends in technology that could affect the delivery of civil legal services to low-income communities.
John A. Tull, a management consultant who facilitated the conference, is revising the conference materials to reflect the participant's comments. LSC plans to make the materials available to programs.
Charito Villa, left, receives service award from LSC President Helaine M. Barnett
Charito Villa, Senior Accountant in LSC's Office of Financial and Administrative Services, received a special award for 30 years of dedicated service and loyalty to the Legal Services Corporation.
Villa began her career at LSC in June 1977, just three years after LSC's creation, making her the longest-serving employee in LSC's history.
"It has been an honor to serve LSC for 30 years and I am proud to be the longest-serving LSC employee in history," said Villa. "I want to thank the Corporation for the lovely plaque and service award presented to me."
LSC President Helaine M Barnett said, "The lifeblood of any organization is made of the dedicated people who work tirelessly to help it achieve its mission. Charito's decades of service to LSC and to the cause of equal justice are an important part of what makes LSC what it is today."
On September 11, LSC's Board of Directors approved a change in LSC's regulation governing the eligibility of citizens of the Freely Associated States (FAS)--Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau--for LSC-funded services.
The new regulation will make FAS citizens eligible for LSC-funded legal services anywhere in the United States. Previously, FAS citizens were only eligible in their home countries.
Hawaii, for example, has a population of approximately 12,000 resident Micronesians, none of whom were eligible for LSC-funded legal services under the old rule.
Chuck Greenfield, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, said, "This is a wonderful decision by the LSC Board. Not only is this exciting news for Micronesian communities in the United States, but it also sends a strong signal that LSC is caring and inclusive. That is an important message to send to low-income communities."
The new rule will be published in the Federal Register on September 14, and becomes effective 30 days later.
On September 27-28, LSC President Helaine M. Barnett will be the featured speaker at the MidAmerica Administrator's and Financial Officers' Association Conference, hosted by Detroit's Legal Aid and Defender Association.
The annual conference is a resource for those who provide "backbone" services to legal aid programs, ensuring that they have the financial and human resources necessary to fulfill their mission.
All LSC-funded program staff have been invited to the Friday morning session at 9:30 a.m. at the Courtyard Detroit Downtown, 3333 East Jefferson Avenue, Detroit, Michigan, to hear Ms. Barnett speak. For details on joining the association, or attending the full conference, contact Joe Simpson (317) 829-3083, President, or Angela Smith (313) 965-9419, Secretary.
On September 7, both houses of Congress approved a bill that would authorize loan repayment assistance for civil legal services lawyers.
Section 401 of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act (H.R. 2669) creates a new loan forgiveness program that would forgive the remaining balance on eligible federal loans for borrowers who, for ten years, have been employed by non-profit civil legal aid organizations and made every monthly payment on their loans. For attorneys with less than ten years of employment, one-tenth of the total loan will be forgiven for every year of employment.
The bill was sponsored by Rep. George Miller (D-CA). U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has announced that President Bush will sign the bill into law. No money has been authorized to fund this program.
In July, the U.S. Senate approved a different loan repayment assistance program for civil legal aid attorneys, but the House has yet to act on that measure.
For more information on the bill, click here.
The Boards of Directors of Florida's Bay Area Legal Services, Arizona's Community Legal Services, Legal Services of South Central Michigan, and Idaho Legal Aid Services have adopted resolutions aimed at increasing the involvement of private attorneys in the delivery of legal services to their clients, bringing to 23 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 a complete list of programs who have adopted pro bono resolutions, click here.
The Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP) is hosting a free technology training session for all LSC-funded programs from 11:00 AM to 12:30 PM on Friday, September 21.
The session will feature managers and administrators from three LSC-funded programs: Washington's Northwest Justice Project, Legal Services of South Central Michigan, and North Penn Legal Services. They will share their experiences implementing successful technology trainings dealing with the problems of staff being spread throughout multiple offices, limited money, and high demand.
The session is open to everyone, but recommended for executive directors, managers, and administrators.
Funded by LSC's Technology Initiative Grants program and several LSC-funded programs, LSNTAP's mission is to fight injustice to low-income people. It fulfills this mission by helping LSC-funded nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology.
For more information, and for registration instructions, click here.
The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) has released an updated report, "Civil Legal Aid in the United States: An Update for 2007." The report provides an overview of the current structure of America's civil legal aid system and discusses issues such as funding, the justice gap, pro bono, pro se, and program quality.
The report, which was authored by CLASP Executive Director Alan W. Houseman, is available for download from the CLASP web site.
To download the report, click here.
The Texas Access to Justice Foundation (TAJF) has awarded approximately $12 million in grants to Texas' three LSC-funded legal services programs: Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
These three programs, which together provide services to low-income Texans in all 254 of the state's counties, received two-thirds of the $18 million distributed by the TAJF to 40 legal aid organizations throughout the state.
"Legal aid organizations make a significant difference in the lives of low-income Texans," said TAJF Executive Director Betty Balli Torres in a press release. "Our poverty population continues to grow, and with that comes an increased need for free legal assistance."
The Texas Access to Justice Foundation, created by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1984, is the main source of state funding for civil legal aid programs in Texas.
To read the TAJF's full press release, click here.
Georgia Legal Services Program, the State Bar Pro Bono Project and the University of Georgia School of Law Launch "Legal Research Match"
Press Release, State Bar of Georgia – August 28, 2007
Georgia Legal Services Program [GLSP] advocates now have the opportunity to work with law students at the University of Georgia on research projects. GLSP, the State Bar of Georgia Pro Bono Project and the Law School's Civil Clinics have developed a pilot project that matches research needs from GLSP advocates with UGA law students working in one of the Law School's many service programs.
The selection of research projects will range from the simple to the complex. Students will consult directly with assigning advocates, and will receive necessary training on the substantive law from UGA Law Professor and Civil Clinic Director Alex Scherr or from GLSP program experts in the relevant area. Once the research is complete, the law student, the GLSP advocate and law school supervisor will evaluate the work and suggest improvements to the process.
Lisa Krisher, GLSP's Litigation Director, notes, "The Project will enhance GLSP's services to clients, especially in complex cases." Professor Scherr adds, "The project gives students experience in legal research on pressing issues for real clients. It reflects a valuable addition to the Law School's tradition of service learning for its students."
To read the press release in its entirety, click here.
Florida's Bay Area Legal Services has been selected as one of five charities to benefit from the 2008 Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, a charity golf tournament that has raised millions of dollars for organizations throughout Tampa Bay, Fla.
The event will take place April 14-20, 2008, and is expected to raise about $1 million, which will be shared by the five charities.
Richard Woltmann, Bay Area Legal Services Executive Director, said in Outback Steakhouse's press release, "We are thrilled to be one of the benefiting charities of the prestigious Outback Pro Am. This provides us with the opportunity to expand our services to children in desperate need. It is our honor to have the chance to work with such a well respected company."
To read Outback Steakhouse's press release, click here.
Do-it-yourself divorce packets, created by Kentucky's Legal Aid Society, in partnership with the Louisville Bar Association and Kentucky's Family Court, are making divorces easier and cheaper for Kentuckians in Jefferson County. They are also easing the case load of local courts.
The $10 packets allow couples seeking a simple, uncontested divorce to end their relationship without costly attorneys or the complications of going to court.
Chief Family Court Judge Stephen George told Kentucky's Courier-Journal that hiring a private attorney for a simple divorce can cost upwards of $1,500.
"The inability to pay should not be a barrier to accessing justice," said Chief Family Court Judge Stephen George.
To read, "Jefferson divorce packets cut costs," in the Courier-Journal, click here.
Linda Chiem, Pacific Business News (HI) – August 31, 2007
Members of the legal community have teamed up to conduct the state's first comprehensive [civil] legal needs study in 14 years.
The Access to Justice Hui has worked together since last December conducting focus groups, surveys and interviews with Hawaii's low-income residents to gauge their unmet legal needs, which typically include such issues as domestic child custody fights and landlord-tenant disputes.
The goal is to improve the underserved population's access to legal services, counsel and, simply, justice. The group says it is a need that is largely ignored in the midst of other crises that include homelessness, high cost of living and the tight job market.
Members of the hui include the Hawaii Judiciary, Hawaii State Bar Association, Legal Aid Society of Hawaii, Hawaii Justice Foundation, University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law and several other nonprofits.
"It is absolutely at a crisis state and reached a point where many individuals are simply going without critically needed legal services," said Chuck Greenfield, executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. "We already know there's a lack of available resources and there is a desire to coordinate collaboratively to address the problem."
The new study will update a 1993 report by the Spangenberg Group that found that less than 10 percent of low-income families in Hawaii had their civil legal needs met.
To read the article in its entirety, click here.
(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.)
Legal Aid Rescues Woman from Avalanche of Medical Bills
When 62-year-old Betty Simmons was rushed to the hospital after suffering a near-fatal heart attack, medical bills were probably the last thing on her mind. Before long, she would be able to think of nothing else.
"The numbers are staggering by almost anyone's standards," begins an article on InsideBayArea.com, which tells Simmons' story. After being discharged from the hospital following nearly two weeks of constant surgery, Simmons was presented with a series of bills for various services. Grand total: $701,995.
Though she was grateful for the excellent care she received, the unemployed, uninsured Simmons simply had no way of coming up with the better part of a million dollars-what it would take to pay all the doctors and medical groups who treated her. To add to her stress, each doctor billed differently, on different timetables, using different collections agencies. Before long, she was being pursued by six different agencies while trying to recover physically.
"The entire experience was devastating," Simmons told an InsideBayArea reporter. "I was being bombarded with bills. I was trying to recover. I was in pretty bad shape. It was just very stressful."
Unable to find a solution on her own, Simmons went to Legal Services of Northern California, where attorney Jodie Berger helped her apply for financial assistance programs that would pay most of her bills. Berger also filed suit against Solano County, arguing that it was obligated to cover the medical bills of indigent patients. The county eventually agreed to settle and covered the remainder of Simmons' bills.
Simmons told the reporter that she does not know how she would have navigated the financial maze without the help of Berger and Legal Services of Northern California.
"It was easy to see how people could get lost in the shuffle and not have any idea how to get help for themselves," she said.
To read, "Financial mess followed heart attack," from InsideBayArea.com, click here.