September 2014

This October, the Practising Law Institute (PLI) is hosting trainings on a variety of subjects that will be especially helpful for pro bono and legal services attorneys. These programs are an essential element of PLI’s commitment to providing attorneys with the skills and training to feel confident taking on pro bono cases (and to win them!). These events will be held in PLI’s San Francisco Center; unfortunately, I don’t think I will be able to wrangle a flight out to San Francisco so I’ll have to watch via the live webcasts available on PLI.edu.

Before delving into the program details, we want to highlight two other ways PLI supports legal services attorneys and the larger access to justice movement. PLI’s Pro Bono Privileged Membership program provides approved non-profits with “an all access pass to attend ANY PLI seminar” for free without having to submit scholarship applications. The Privileged Membership is an easy, convenient, and free way for non-profits to stay-up-to-date on crucial legal issues. Interested organizations can apply by contacting PLI’s Pro Bono Membership Services.

If your organization does not qualify for a Membership, make sure to take advantage of PLI’s generous scholarship program for nonprofit and public interest attorneys, law clerks, professors, low-income, and unemployed attorneys. Applying only takes a few minutes and the scholarships grant you full access to both in-person trainings and webcasts.

We would also like to thank PLI for championing the need for pro bono as one of Pro Bono Net’s Bronze Sponsors since 2011. In addition to sponsoring us, we thank them for generously inviting us to some fantastic events over the past few years.

And now on to the programs:

October 2nd: Representing the Pro Bono Client: Advocacy Skills for Administrative Hearings 2014

The need for pro bono assistance with administrative hearings has never been higher. The trend of employers increasingly challenging all Unemployment Benefits claims combined with the explosion of Unemployment Insurance claims during the recession and court system and legal services budget cuts have created a “perfect storm” for public assistance recipients. As a result, families face the very real possibility of hunger, homelessness, and overall family instability.

This free training is designed to help mitigate the crisis by providing attorneys with a basic understanding of common issues and strategies in providing assistance with administrative appeals. The program will focus on California law, but will also cover many topics such as due process and other rights that apply nationwide; therefore advocates from other forums would benefit from the information and attending the program. Register with PLI to attend online or in person.

October 8th: California Special Education Law 2014 

Close to 700,000 California students (10% of the state’s total public school enrollment) with disabilities receive special education services. The California Special Education Law 2014 program will provide attendees with a targeted look at a number of hot topics and cutting edge issues affecting the practice of special education law:

  • Transition Planning: Trends and Strategies for Students with Individual Education Plans
  • Understanding School Discipline for Special Education Students
  • How to Leverage the IDEA to Assist Children with Disabilities and their Families in Obtaining Child Care, Early Education, and After-School Care Opportunities
  • How to Effectively Get Services for OHI Children Under IDEA and Section 504

The free program is appropriate for both new and veteran practitioners, both as a live classroom training and via PLI’s webcast platform.

October 20th: California Trial Evidence 2014 

Mastering the complexities of California evidence often can be the difference between winning and losing at trial. Recent case law and statutory developments in the law of evidence render this mastery critical in modern litigation and trials. This program is designed to give you the most up-to-date information on California evidence standards including admissibility of electronic evidence, demonstratives, expert witnesses, and more!

All civil and criminal trial attorneys who want to hone their evidence skills and stay on top of recent developments in the field should attend. The program will be especially valuable for newer attorneys trying their first few trials as well as for experienced courtroom advocates who will stay abreast of recent developments. Registration and more information is available at PLI.

At the end of July, my colleague Adam Friedl and I attended the Practising Law Institute’s (PLI) 16thAnnual Supreme Court Review. We want to thank PLI, a Pro Bono Net Bronze Sponsor since 2011, for inviting us (again) to the always-fascinating event. The daylong session kicked off with the themes and key decisions of the October 2013 Term. The diverse panel included law professors, practitioners, and journalists who provided a comprehensive and insightful (and occasionally controversial!) overview of the term, with a focus on some of the most noteworthy topics such as the ACA birth control mandate, unions and labor law, and warrantless searches of arrestees’ cell phones. It was a term of narrow decisions that leaned in a conservative direction and may set the stage for more sweeping changes in the future. Many of the panelists agreed that several of the cases were “proxy skirmishes” that avoided the wide ideological gulf on the Court. Adam and I left the program with a much better understanding of the 2013 Term and where the Court is going in the future. We cannot wait to return next year!

Throughout the day, three of the panelists (and the two conference co-chairs!), Joan Biskupic of Reuters, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of University of California Irvine School of Law, and Professor Martin Schwartz of Touro Law School, were kind enough to sit down with Adam and me to discuss the 2013 Term and the evolving pro bono landscape.

Joan Biskupic
Joan Biskupic

We sat down with Ms. Biskupic for a quick chat before the day’s action began. She has chronicled the history of LGBTQ litigation, and in particular same-sex marriage cases, and recently wrote an article observing that BigLaw pro bono support has been exclusively on behalf of LGBTQ advocates. She traced her coverage of the cause back to a 1993 Washington Post article about contemporary gay rights cases, with a focus on a Hawaii Supreme Court ruling that “opened the door to gay marriages.” From there, she noted that the legal community became increasingly supportive of gay-rights – often before the rest of the country. In the landmark 2003 case Lawrence v. Texas, the ABA and O’Melveny & Myers came out in support of LGTBQ rights with amicus briefs and throughout the rest of the 2000s, the BigLaw community increasingly lined up on the side of progress. This culminated in pro bono support for the plaintiffs in last term’s key same-sex marriage cases. Ms. Biskupic speculated that demographics and the legal profession’s collegial and inclusive atmosphere contributed to the early support for gay rights.

Dean Erwin Chemerinsky
Dean Erwin Chemerinsky

At lunch, we spoke with Dean Chemerinsky and Professor Schwartz about how the Supreme Court affects the need for pro bono and the Court’s evolving understanding of technology. Last year, Dean Chemerinsky suggested that Shelby County v. Holder would create new demands for pro bono litigation. He echoed those comments this year, saying that without Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act or a new act of Congress that requires designated jurisdictions to get preclearance from the Justice Department, election system challenges must go through Section 2 – a far more resource intensive process. In addition, Professor Schwartz commented on the need for pro bono efforts to challenge the subsequent rush of voter ID laws.

On a more Pro Bono Net, technology-centric subject, we asked if they agreed with the New York TimesFarhad Manjoo’s contention that this Term showed the Court to be tech-savvy. They commented that clerks often explain technology to the justices, for example Aereo, but that in Riley v. California, which held that police need a warrant to search a cell phone, the Court relied on high-quality amicus briefs and perhaps most importantly, their own experience. The Justices own cell phones and can appreciate how much information we put on them!

Professor Martin Schwartz
Professor Martin Schwartz

We concluded by asking how UC Irvine and Touro encourage pro bono in their student bodies. Touro has a 50-hour pro bono graduation requirement, which is separate from the 50-hour rule for admission to the New York State Bar. Similarly, UCI requires students to go through a clinical experience, supervised by a faculty member, before being eligible for graduation. In 2013, 92% of UCI students performed pro bono service and the average was over 100 hours. The school also provides 10 fellowships a year to assist graduates who are interested in public interest jobs. Dean Chemerinsky and Professor Schwartz hope that these programs and the spread of innovative pro bono and public interest service delivery models will help increase access to justice in 21st century America.

In April, in collaboration with the American Bar Association (ABA) and Polaris Project, Pro Bono Net unveiled the new Human Trafficking Legal Access Center. This exciting new initiative connects pro bono lawyers with non-profits who serve human trafficking survivors.

Human trafficking is one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world. While the number of trafficking survivors in the US is largely unknown, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of US citizen minors are at risk of commercial sexual exploitation. 12.5% of endangered runaways reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in 2012 were likely child sex trafficking victims and 68% of global human trafficking victims are victims of forced labor.

Human trafficking survivors have a tremendous need for legal services, yet the complexity of their cases often prohibits pro bono attorneys from becoming involved. “There is still a lot of knowledge that needs to be gained about what human trafficking looks like,” explained Audrey Roofeh, Training and Technical Assistance Coordinator at Polaris Project. “The experience for human trafficking survivors might not be something a pro bono attorney is familiar with from other cases.” One survivor may have immigration needs, a criminal conviction, family law concerns, and more – easily too much for one attorney to handle. The new site eases these barriers and involves more pro bono lawyers in the human trafficking field.

The site stemmed from past ABA president Laurel Bellows’ keen interest in helping human trafficking survivors with their legal needs. As Bellows entered the final year of her presidency, the ABA sat down and looked at key collaborating organizations in the human trafficking field. They discovered that local organizations across the country were identifying the plethora of legal needs that survivors encountered but were often unable to provide legal assistance. “We saw that having access to a lawyer would be essential to survivors,” explained Vivian Huelgo, Chief Counsel on the ABA’s Task Force on Human Trafficking.

The primary purpose of the site is to serve as a matchmaker between lawyers looking to donate their time and service organizations looking for lawyers to help survivors. Both Roofeh and Huelgo also expressed additional goals for the site beyond the central matching services. “We want to promote the good practices of some of the great organizations that are doing this work,” explained Roofeh. Local organizations have made great strides in determining the best practices for helping survivors overcome a variety of obstacles and Roofeh hopes that these practices will now be shared with the greater community.

The site also highlights the need for more human trafficking service providers. In their research prior to developing the site, the ABA discovered both a lack of providers and available funding. The lack of experienced and dedicated attorneys prohibits more pro bono attorneys from volunteering in the field, as there is no one to mentor and train them on the complexity of human trafficking cases. The site is working to increase the supply of training and support, allowing more attorneys to get involved. A calendar feature on the site help people discover trainings held by partner organizations and the site will also connect people remotely to experts.

The site has excited the anti-human trafficking community due to its potential to increase awareness about this pressing issue and ability to help more survivors gain access to the resources they need.

This past August, Pro Bono Net partnered with LSNTAP to produce a webinar on online intake in legal aid. Moderated by Claudia Johnson of Pro Bono Net, the webinar reviewed online intake, what it is and how it fits in the delivery of legal services continuum, in addition to sharing two different program model implementations.

Joan Kleinberg, Director of CLEAR/Private Bar Development at the Northwest Justice Project kicked off the webinar by sharing how they developed their online intake in Washington State and the lessons they learned from the experience. Breckie Hayes-Snow, Deputy Director at the Legal Advice & Referral Center followed-up with an example from New Hampshire. Both programs made great recommendations on how to maximize the potential of online intake projects.

Next, Bob Aubin, a paralegal and self-employed developer, discussed technology nuts and bolts of online intake, and what legal non-profits need to consider and be aware of (from a technology perspective) before they start an online intake project.

Ed Marks, Executive Director at New Mexico Legal Aid wrapped up the training with an example of how to use intake data to facilitate and support regional resource allocation and collaboration across agencies as a way to promote systemic regional advocacy and effective resource allocation.

A worthwhile resource for those considering online intake projects and those already doing online intake, materials from this informative webinar are available on the SWEB Support Site. Be sure to join us for the next LSNTAP/PBN webinar!