Access to Justice Headlines – January 27, 2014

512px-Toronto Skyline by John Vetterli

photo by: john vetterli

Happy Monday, ATJ Enthusiasts!  The Chicago cold became too much yesterday, so I fled town.  To Toronto.  This has proven a tactical failure.  Actually I am here for a meeting sponsored by the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.  In recent months both the Canadian Bar Association and the National Action Committee have produced comprehensive reports diagnosing ATJ barriers and calling for large-scale solutions.  The National Action Committee’s report, around which today’s meeting is centered, includes a recommendation to establish provincial and territorial ATJ Commissions.  I hope to be able to offer insight on the U.S.’s ATJ Commission movement, and especially the momentum around it: no formal Commissions 20 years ago, 3 Commissions in year 2000, and today: 31 and growing.

Before the ATJ news, two items for your consideration:

  • as the dust settled on the new $1.1 trillion federal budget, the New York Times published this helpful look at the cost of certain line items per U.S. resident.  For instance: military spending = $1802/person; Medicare: $1591/person; veterans health care: $174; Smithsonian funding: $3.  It’s not on the NYT list but my rough math says that the Legal Services Corporation figure would be about $1.15.  Not a bad bargain.
  • 1.21.14 – food banks throughout the US are strained, and preparing for the impact of anticipated cuts to the federal food stamp program.   (New York Times.)  While it may take time for this upcoming round of cuts to be felt, in NYC “[n]early half the city’s soup kitchens and pantries say they ran out of food at some point in November, the month [when prior food stamp cuts kicked in].  (Crain’s New York Business.)

The ATJ news in very, very short:

  • new federal budget boosts LSC appropriation and funds pilot pro bono program;
  • a disaster-recovery legal aid clinic continues, 15 months after Superstorm Sandy;
  • West Virginia ATJ Commission releases 2014-16 strategic plan;
  • A longer-term look at how the civil legal aid community has weathered funding cuts;
  • New video short from OneJustice on the power of legal aid to help families stay afloat;
  • Should ABA law school accreditation standards include stronger calls for student pro bono;
  • Incubators, incubators, incubators;
  • New study in Indiana highlights large number of self-represented litigants;
  • New research starting on medical-legal partnerships to serve military vets;
  • Pro bono in Tennessee – lots being done, more needed;
  • Law firm marketing professionals can help legal aid providers;
  • Mass. ATJ Commission report on engaging new funders outside the legal community;
  • a big civil-right-to-counsel development in Hawaii;
  • Wisconsin ATJ Commission’s January newsletter;
  • 2013 was a good year for ATJ in Pennsylvania;
  • civil legal needs study in New Mexico;
  • MUSIC!

The summaries:

  • 1.23.14 – “The $1.1 trillion dollar federal spending bill signed into law late last week increases funding for the Legal Services Corporation by $25 million, including support for a new…Pro Bono Innovation Fund.  The $365 million allocated to LSC in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2014 represents an overall increase of 7 percent from FY 2013.  The spending bill raises basic field grants by more than 6 percent to more than $335 million and also includes  $2.5 million for the pro bono fund, which will support new and innovative projects that promote and enhance pro bono initiatives throughout the country.” (LSC media release.)
  • 1.23.14 – in New Jersey, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice is continuing its Disaster Legal Response Program some 15 months after Superstorm Sandy hit the Jersey coast.  This is a good reminder that the need for disaster-related legal aid continues long after the actual occurrence.  (
  • 1.22.14- the West Virginia Access to Justice Commission has released a three-year (2014-16) strategic plan, which focuses on building new resources (both physical, telephonic, and online) for self-represented litigants, boosting pro bono, educating key ATJ stakeholders and the general public, identifying ATJ barriers, and bolstering legal aid funding.  (Here’s some coverage from the Charleston Gazette.)
  • 1.20.14 – this well-reported National Law Journal piece notes that, even with the War on Poverty’s efforts to bolster the civil legal aid infrastructure as a key resource for poor people, decades later that infrastructure remains much too small to meet client demand, which is attributable in large part to a series of cuts to the Legal Services Corporation.  Nonetheless, funding shortages from traditional sources have led to innovation as legal aid providers have sought new funding partnerships and developed creative means to serve clients.
  • 1.20.14 – the good people at OneJustice released this video which powerfully conveys how legal aid can make all the difference in keeping families from plunging into economic despair.
  • 1.19.14 – in the wake of New York adopting a pro bono requirement for admission to the bar, some are now urging that law school accreditation standards be revised to more strongly promote pro bono. From the Nat’l. Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law: “[The] National Center and Equal Justice Works, in separate Comments submitted on [Jan. 17], urged the ABA to modify the Standards concerning pro bono service by law students.  NCAJ’s Comments…urge the ABA to require law schools to establish a 50 hour pro bono service graduation requirement for all…students. Equal Justice Works’ Comments…urge the ABA to encourage law schools to set an aspirational goal of 50 hours of pro bono service for students.”
  • 1.17.14 – incubators, incubators.
  • 1.15.13 – “In his…State of the Judiciary address, Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson highlighted the results of a recent study looking at Hoosiers who don’t have access to affordable legal services, calling the data shocking.  Dickson says the court system completed a study two weeks ago looking at all civil lawsuits in Indiana for 2013.  About 63 percent of parties in those suits did not have a lawyer.In family law cases alone, 60 percent of people went unrepresented.”  (Indiana Public Media) I can’t find the mentioned study yet but am looking into it.
  • 1.14.14 – “The connection between legal help and medical…outcomes for veterans has been observed anecdotally…. Now, for the first time, a study will be undertaken to quantify those results with the hope of embedding more free legal services in veterans’ facilities across the country….  The Connecticut Veterans Legal Center, the first legal organization in the U.S. to set-up shop in a VA setting, and the New York Legal Assistance Group will embark on a two-year study financed by nearly $700,000 from the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation.  [The study] will follow the legal experiences and outcomes of 400 veterans with mental health and/or housing problems who are being served in [Connecticut and New York] sites.  (Hartford Courant.)
  • 1.10.13 – this Tennessee Bar Journal piece highlights the power of Volunteer State pro bono work while noting a continuing need for the private bar to contribute to serving poor clients.  Also highlighted is the central role of the state’s Access to Justice Commission in promoting pro bono.
  • 1.15.14 – from Atlanta, an instructive tale from a law firm director of client development about how firms can offer an array of professional services – not just lawyer pro bono – in helping the legal aid community.  In this case Geoff Frost joined Georgia Law Center for the Homeless’s board and has used his marketing expertise to help GLCH highlight its profile in the business and funder communities, update GLCH’s brand, and produce a strategic plan.  (Daily Report.)
  • 1.10.14 – the Massachusetts ATJ Commission has released a preliminary report on its exploration of how to boost legal aid fundraising outside of the legal community.  The report “includes a narrative account of how the Commission conducted a study of the feasibility of mounting a statewide fund raising campaign focused on major donors who are not lawyers. The report also evaluates the success of the project, specifies a number of challenges faced and lessons learned, and includes documents that may be useful to commissions and legal services leaders in other jurisdictions.”
  • 1.6.14 – good civil-right-to-counsel development: “[T]he Hawai‘i Supreme Court has [unanimously] ruled that indigent parents have a constitutional right to legal counsel in cases where the State seeks to place their children into the foster care system. Prior to this decision, the State could remove children from their parents’ home, and parents who could not afford an attorney were often left to their own devices to challenge the removal.”  (Summary from Hawaii Appleseed, and here’s the Court’s opinion.)
  • January, 2014 – the Wisconsin ATJ Commission’s January newsletter highlights Commission support of a proposed Judicial Code amendment granting judges more leeway in interacting with pro se litigants, as well as the Commission’s October, 2013 report on how to support low-income, pro so litigants.
  • January, 2014 – highlighting the recent creation of a landlord/tenant court self-help center in Philly, as well as a statewide series of hearings on ATJ issues in Pennsylvania, Pepper Hamilton Pro Bono Counsel Joe Sullivan identifies institutional collaborations – between the bar, the courts, the legislature, and legal aid – as a key to ATJ achievements, and calls 2013 a “breakthrough” year that could lead to new achievements in narrowing the justice gap.  One of those, I’m happy to note, may be establishing and Access to Justice Commission.   (Piece first published by The Philadelphia Lawyer.)
  • Fall, 2013 – the New Mexico Commission on ATJ and its partners published a report on the civil legal needs of low-income New Mexicans.  (Here’s the executive summary.)

Music!  Let’s stay with the Canuck theme: here’s Neil Young’s “I’m the Ocean” (featuring Pearl Jam).  Have a great week.

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