LEGAL AID, UNEMPLOYED LAWYERS AND THE JUSTICE GAP

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1 LEGAL AID, UNEMPLOYED LAWYERS AND THE JUSTICE GAP Overview: The purpose of this paper is to address two problems facing the Oregon legal community: the unmet legal needs of the poor in Oregon, and the large number of unemployed lawyers. Specifically, can these two problems find a common solution? From the perspective of legal services providers, what is currently being done by legal aid to address this problem? What can unemployed lawyers and experienced lawyers do to address these problems? The unmet legal needs of the poor.there is a tremendous unmet legal need for low-income Oregonians who are unable to access to the justice system. Recent census data shows that those eligible to receive civil legal services from legal aid (125% of the federal poverty level) has increased by 61.5% in Oregon from But, funding for legal aid has decreased significantly from a number of sources over the past 3 years, resulting in a 20% reduction in staffing and the closure of two legal aid offices. Legal aid programs have resources to meet about 15% of the civil legal needs of the poor---down from 20% prior to the recession. Current funding for legal aid provides one legal aid lawyer for every 9,440 poor persons, far from the target of minimally adequate funding of two legal aid lawyers for every 10,000 poor Oregonians. Oregon s legal aid programs serve all 36 Oregon counties through offices in 17 communities. Legal aid programs work to stretch limited resources through pro bono work, informational websites, hotlines and informational materials. Office work to identify recurring problems and address them in a systemic way. For example, Oregon s legal aid programs address domestic violence by working on systemic advocacy, individual client representation, education and training of law enforcement personnel, working with courts, collaborating with local and regional on community partners on domestic violence issues. Regional legal aid offices work closely with their communities to identify the pressing civil legal needs of the poor. Because resources are so limited, offices must draw a line on the list of priorities and only accept cases that fall above the line. Many important legal needs of the poor go unmet because of inadequate funding. Even in cases that fall above the line, clients are turned away because of the lack of resources. Most agree that the most effective way to increase the availability of low-income clients is to have more legal aid lawyers. Unemployed and underemployed law graduates. Another problem in the legal community is the number of unemployed recent law graduates. Numerous studies and news reports have documented the weak job market for recent law graduates during the recession. Although some surveys show that more than 90% of recent law graduates are employed, other studies estimate that fewer than 60% are employed full-time in jobs requiring a J.D. degree. 1 Many of those unemployed and underemployed lawyers are seeking volunteer opportunities to build skills, network with other attorneys and improve their employment prospects. While the mission of legal aid programs is to efficiently and effectively address the civil legal needs of the poor, legal aid does a play a role in trying to make effective use of 1 See Robbin, Cream and Sugar with That Law Degree? Parsing the Post-Law School Employment Numbers, Oregon State Bar Bulletin, November

2 unemployed/underemployed lawyers and can also have an impact on their training and prospects for legal employment with legal aid. WHAT LEGAL AID IS DOING Pro bono and training programs: There are many pro bono opportunities available for unemployed lawyers through existing programs operated by legal aid organizations. About 50-60% of the volunteers at the Portland Regional Office of Legal Aid Services of Oregon (LASO) are unemployed lawyers, up from a tiny percentage just a few years ago. LASO has responded to this trend by providing enhanced training programs for new lawyer volunteers; substantially enhanced written training materials; and mentor programs to match experienced attorneys with new attorney volunteers. The pro bono opportunities that are available for new lawyers through legal aid offices include a domestic violence project, a senior law project and a statewide pro bono listserv that places cases in a variety of legal subject areas. Legal aid programs screen clients for these projects and refer clients directly to private attorneys for representation. LASO orients volunteers by teaching them about the civil legal needs of the poor, training them on pro bono project protocols, and providing them access to substantive training materials. We have prepared hundreds of pages of written training materials and streaming video presentations on many topics. We coordinate monthly roundtable meetings on topics that are pertinent to our pro bono attorneys and also organize a number of in-depth substantive CLE s each year. LASO attorneys and experienced volunteers are available for mentoring. Depending on the needs of the volunteer and the availability of the mentor, a mentor may provide anything from a single telephone consultation on a legal issue to cocounseling on an entire case. Lane County Legal Aid and Advocacy Center (LCLAC) operates a pro bono night clinic at which pro bono attorneys can interview clients and accept cases. LCLAC also operates and a Senior Law Service clinic on Saturdays. LCLAC provides some mentoring to newer attorneys and has given recent graduates pro bono opportunities and provided appropriate support. The Oregon Law Center s Hillsboro Regional Office (HRO) supports a pro bono clinic for in-house attorneys at Intel and Hewlett Packard. They support a Senior Law project that sets appointments for pro bono attorneys at two senior centers. They are in the process of expanding the number of locations. In addition, the managing attorney meets with any licensed attorney who indicates an interest in doing pro bono work to identify the individual s goals, skills and level of experience. The office has worked with some new attorneys who wanted to gain experience. Since the mission of the office is to serve clients, they ask volunteer attorneys with limited experience to make a time commitment that justifies taking the time necessary to train a new attorney. The HRO satellite office in St Helens has a pro bono clinic once a week where pro bono attorneys meet with clients. St. Helens had one new attorney who wanted to volunteer. The HRO satellite office in McMinnville has a small senior law pro bono project. In addition to these pro bono programs, some legal aid offices also accept unemployed attorneys who volunteer in-house for a significant number of hours per week. The LASO Portland office typically has 3-2

3 5 of these new lawyer volunteers at any given time. 2 The LASO Pendleton office attorney currently has a volunteer attorney who has been routinely doing intake, interviewing new clients and providing brief advice to clients while he tries to either find a job or set up his own practice. The office mentors him in that work. Other offices such as Albany, Lincoln County, and Central Oregon have had new lawyers volunteer in their offices while they are also trying to find a job or build a sole practice. The Central Oregon office also operates a bankruptcy clinic staffed by pro bono attorneys and has provided training and mentoring for volunteers when needed. The Center for Non-Profit Legal Services in Medford also utilizes pro bono attorneys, including new attorneys. They recruit new volunteers through their local bar association. Oregon s four legal aid programs are also collaborating on a statewide foreclosure legal assistance project that includes a pro bono component. New attorneys interested in handling foreclosure cases receive training and mentoring on foreclosure law. Attorneys must commit to providing pro bono advice to homeowners facing foreclosure but can also negotiate arrangements for on-going legal representation for a sliding scale fee. The foreclosure project is especially interested in recruiting additional volunteer attorneys outside of Oregon s metropolitan areas. Paid Fellowships:Legal aid sponsors new law graduates for public interest fellowships such as Skadden Fellowships and Equal Justice Works (EJW) fellowships.skadden Fellowships are funded by the SkaddenArps law firm in recognition of the need for greater funding for graduating law students who wish to devote their professional lives to providing legal services to the poor (including the working poor), the elderly, the homeless and the disabled, as well as those deprived of their civil or human rights. The aim of the foundation is to give fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work. Skadden fellows create their own two-year projects at public interest organizations. EJW is a non-profit organization that provides paid public interest fellowships to law school graduates to provide legal assistance to underserved populations and causes. Law firms, corporations and private foundations sponsor EJW fellows. The fellows design two-year projects in conjunction with nonprofit organizations that serve as hosts, providing office space, training, supervisionand other support. Legal aid programs in Oregon regularly apply to sponsor graduating law students for fellowships and have hosted EJW and Skadden fellows. Seeking to increase staff attorney positions: Legal aid programs are looking at ways to increase funding for legal aid so that we can increase the number of legal aid lawyers. There are currently about 90 legal aid lawyers in Oregon, down from 110, nearly 5 years ago. The recent Task Force on Legal Aid Funding is working hard to double the revenue for statewide legal aid programs in order to reach levels of minimally adequate funding for legal aid. Some legal aid lawyers qualify for law school loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs). Although LRAPs make it easier for debt-burdened law 2 Legal aid programs invest significant resources in training and supervising these in-house volunteers and have limited capacity to house and supervise larger numbers. There is also a concern about diversion of resources. When these new lawyers leave for paid employment soon after their initial training (a not uncommon occurrence), scarce resources have been diverted from providing legal assistance to clients into providing training for new lawyers, with little return on the investment of resources. 3

4 graduates to work for legal aid, they don t increase the number of positions available at legal aid programs so they don t reduce the justice gap or the number of unemployed lawyers. In order to reach the goal of minimum adequately funded legal aid programs, legal aid will seek increases in all sources of existing funding, including state funding and through the Campaign for Equal Justice s annual fund drive. (Currently about 3,000 lawyers contribute $1.2 million each year to support the Campaign, with about half of that funding coming from large and mid-sized Oregon law firms.) Seeking resources to expand pro bono programs:legal aid programs are trying to leverage resources to increase capacity. Programs have sought grant funding to hire additional staff to expand our pro bono programs. WHAT NEW LAWYERS CAN DO Enroll in law school clinical programs to obtain practical skills before graduating from law school. Gain experience and help the justice gap by volunteering for an existing legal aid pro bono program. Apply for the Oregon New Lawyers Division Practical Skills through Public Service Program. WHAT EXPERIENCED LAWYERS CAN DO Join the OSB New Lawyer Mentor Program. As part of the mentorship, work on a pro bono case with the new lawyer. Contact an existing legal aid pro bono program and volunteer to mentor a new lawyer. Participate in the OSB Lawyer to Lawyer Program to share expertise with new lawyers. Contribute to the Campaign for Equal Justice so that legal aid can increase its capacity to train more volunteers and to hire more lawyers to meet the legal needs of the poor. Or, join a Campaign for Equal Justice committee and join with other lawyers trying to raise money for legal aid. WHAT LAW FIRMS CAN DO Hire deferred associates and place them with legal aid programs. Lend administrative and support staff to legal aid programs to help expand capacity forexisting pro bono programs (requires a long-term time commitment to be cost-effective). Establish a pro bono program or set law firm pro bono policies to encourage lawyers to give. Set a law firm matching policy for contributions to the Campaign for Equal Justice thereby encouraging lawyers in the firm to participate in the Campaign. WHAT LAW SCHOOLS CAN DO 4

5 Provide additional practical skills training and mentoring for law students and new attorneys. WHAT ALL OREGON LAWYERS CAN DO Help support paid positions for attorneys addressing the justice gap by supporting the Campaign for Equal Justice. Help support administrative staff for existing legal aid pro bono programs by supporting the Campaign for Equal Justice. 5

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