LEGAL SERVICES GUIDE - Harvard Law School

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LEGAL SERVICESGUIDEA GUIDE TO PURSUINGWORK IN LEGALSERVICES/LEGAL AIDKIM SCHROER, SUMMER FELLOW 2013ALEXA SHABECOFF, OPIA DIRECTOREARLIER EDITIONS:KAREN MARCHIANO, SUMMER FELLOWKRISTEN NELSON, SUMMER FELLOWHarvard Law SchoolBernard Koteen Office of Public Interest AdvisingWasserstein Hall 4039Cambridge, MA 02138 (617) /opia/ 2013 by the President and Fellows of Harvard CollegeLegal Services Career Guide 1

Table of ContentsAcknowledgments . .Page 3Section 1: Introduction to Legal Services . .Page 4Section 2: What’s It Like to Be a Legal Services Lawyer?.Page 6Section 3: Recent Funding History of Legal Aid .Page 9Section 4: Salary and Hiring Trends . .Page 12Section 5: Preparing for a Legal Services Job . .Page 13Section 6: Finding a Position . .Page 16Section 7: Personal Narratives . .Page 20Section 8: Legal Services Websites. .Page 31Section 9: Extracurricular Activities at HLS .Page 32Section 10: Academic Paths at HLS . Page 35Legal Services Career Guide 2

AcknowledgmentsThis guide is structured to give readers an overview of legal services and directions for how to get fromthe halls of Harvard Law School and other law schools to the “trenches” of legal services. It containspersonal narratives from HLS alumni enthusiastically working in legal services. It lists HLS courses andextracurricular activities of interest to those planning to pursue careers in legal services. Finally, it listssome legal services websites to use as a starting point in identifying potential employers.Kim SchroerPublic Interest FellowSummer 2013Alexa Shabecoff, Esq.Assistant Dean for PublicService, OPIA DirectorKristen NelsonPublic Interest Fellow1998-2000Karen MarchianoPublic Interest FellowSummer 2000Acknowledgements: A big thank you to all of the legal services attorneys, scholars, and professionals whogenerously gave their time to speak candidly about the legal services field. Without them, this guidewould not have been possible. They are: Jeff Purcell, Greater Boston Legal ServicesJess Rosenbaum, D.C. Access to Justice CommissionNina Datsur, Union Settlement AssociationKristin Small, Empire State Justice CenterSarah Mattson, Legal Assistance of New HampshireLevon Henry, DNA People’s Legal Services in ArizonaAmy Chen, Bay Area Legal AidProfessor Jim Greiner, Harvard Law SchoolProfessor Russell Engler, New England School of LawRichard Zorza, coordinator of the National Self Represented Litigation NetworkMeredith McBurney, ABA Resource CenterJim Sandman, President of the Legal Services CorporationThanks also to the Harvard Law School graduates who took the time to write the narratives we haveincluded with this Guide —Greg Schell ’79 of the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project, Dan Lindsey ’90of LAF Chicago, Beth Harrison ’03 of the Legal Aid Society D.C., and Nicole Dooley ’09 of the Legal AidJustice Center in Virginia — their words say more than we could ever describe.Legal Services Career Guide 3

Section 1Introduction to Legal ServicesLegal services programs, often called “legal aid societies,” provide direct civil representation, for free orat a reduced cost, to low income and elderly clients. Legal services attorneys ensure equal access to thejustice system for people who could not otherwise afford attorneys. Much of a legal services lawyer’swork involves individual client contact, and attorneys take on cases in which a client’s fundamentalrights and needs are in jeopardy.Although legal services attorneys takecases from a variety of issue areas, some ofthe more common areas of practice arefamily law, housing, consumer law, andemployment disputes. Family law ofteninvolves situations of domestic violence, andcases can include divorces, custody battles,or advocating for women whoneed protection from an abuser. Housingusually involves protecting families orindividuals in eviction defense, advocatingfor access to affordable housing, orhandling foreclosure cases. Consumerissues vary, but can include predatorylending or other deceptive practices.Source: LSC Grant Activity Reports – 2012.Finally, attorneys working on employment cases fight employers that withhold wages from their workers,advocate for healthy and safe working conditions, and represent clients in wrongful termination cases.While many legal services organizations are organized by subject matter with staff lawyers that specializein one area of practice, others have lawyers who are generalists and handle the spectrum of cases thatfall within their program’s mandate.There are two types of legal services organizations: those that receive funding from the federal LegalServices Corporation (LSC), and those that do not. LSC-funded programs receive a significant portion oftheir funding from the LSC, although this percentage has declined in recent years because of budgetconstraints in the federal government. Programs that receive LSC funding also have to abide by certainrestrictions in their legal practice, as LSC-funded organizations are prohibited from engaging in classaction litigation and substantive lobbying. In addition, they also are restricted from opposing welfarereform and representing undocumented immigrants. Organizations that do not receive funding from LSCare free to engage in these forms of advocacy and tend to rely heavily on funding from the private barand other donations. Because of recent funding shortages, however, the distinction between LSCLegal Services Career Guide 4

organizations and non-LSC organizations has become more ambiguous. All legal services organizations,including those that historically relied heavily on federal funds, have been forced to diversify theirfunding sources. In fact, many LSC-funded organizations now receive more money from other sourcesthan they do from the LSC. For more information on funding sources for LSC programs, please see thegraph on page 9 of Section 3.While there is typically more information about LSC-funded organizations available to students, they donot comprise the majority of the legal aid organizations in the country. In fact, most legal aidorganizations do not take LSC funding, as seen in the graph below. It is important that students examineall of their options before focusing on specific legal services organizations for employment. Althoughnon-LSC funded organizations may be more difficult to locate and research, they are currently the morecommon type of program for legal assistance and have more diversified funding sources whencompared to LSC-funded organizations. For more information on how to find these programs, seeSection 8, which contains websites to assist you in beginning the search for jobs in legal services.Civil Legal Aid Programs by Type(50 States)Misc 4 (1%)LSC-funded 129(24%)Specialty 186 (36%)Non-LSC 2 M 44(8%)Stand-alonePro Bono 103 (19%)Non-LSC 2 M 34(6%)Advocacy/Support 32 (6%)This pie chart was developed by the ABA Resource Center for ATJ Initiatives* from funding data collected annuallyfrom LSC, state IOLTA programs, other state-level collectors of civil legal aid data, and individual legal aid programs.There are almost certainly programs that have been overlooked.*The American Bar Association Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives is a project of the StandingCommittee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants.Legal Services Career Guide 5

Section 2What’s It Like to Be a LegalServices Lawyer?Legal services attorneys are expected to handle a large amount of responsibility very quickly, and areoften accountable for their own cases from start to finish as soon as they are sworn into their state bar.Lawyers working in legal services have intensive client contact, a varied work load, and spend a greatdeal of time in court or in administrative law hearings. They often manage as many as 40 to 60 activecases at one time. Legal services lawyers also frequently collaborate on larger projects, such ascommunity education or complex cases. However, the heart of legal services work lies in helping oneperson at a time.Despite the tumultuous funding history of legal services, many legal services attorneys still proudlyproclaim that they have “the best job in the world.” As Greg Schell (HLS ‘79), Managing Attorney of theMigrant Farmworker Justice Project in Florida explains, “I can’t imagine a better job. I love to get up andgo to work. Ninety-nine percent of my clients are wonderful, wonderful people. . . I would do it again in aheartbeat.” Lawyers in legal services enjoy casual, non-hierarchical and collegial work environments andthe opportunity to make a significant positive impact on individuals’ lives. They also appreciate theopportunity to directly represent their clients in meaningful cases. When asked to describe the best partof being a legal services lawyer, Dan Lindsey (HLS ’90) of LAF Chicago explains that, “It always comesback to working with individual clients and the satisfaction of helping people with really significantissues who may not get help otherwise.” Schell shares the same enthusiasm: “I’ve found the workchallenging and meaningful for 20 years. I can’t start to tell you how exciting it is.we are right, and mostof the time it still matters. We beat Goliath nine times out of ten. That’s pretty neat.” Lawyers in legalservices get personal satisfaction from seeing the immediate results of their work and often feel asthough they are making a real difference with their law degree. LSC President Jim Sandman echoes thissentiment, encouraging law students to pursue a career in legal services because, “It embodies what somany people go to law school with the hope of doing: making a difference in human terms to otherpeople using what you’ve been trained to do.”Legal services attorneys welcome the great autonomy and responsibility they are given almostimmediately upon arrival. One misconception about legal services work is that it becomes repetitiveover time, as attorneys begin to see the same kinds of issues in case after case. However, most legalservices attorneys find their work both intellectually stimulating and challenging on a daily basis. As GregSchell states, “You have to be a much better lawyer today to be good in this business. The work is legallychallenging and we deal with tough judges. You have to be smarter and work harder to win cases andcreate tangible changes in the system.”On the downside, some legal services lawyers find the large caseloads and quick turnover of casesstressful. Many legal services lawyers also express frustration with the limited funding and resourcesLegal Services Career Guide 6

allocated to their offices. Recent funding declines have forced many organizations to implement salaryfreezes or lay off attorneys at a time when demand for legal services is at an all-time high. Others feelthat their work does not have enough of a large-scale impact, and are frustrated that the individualclient approach may be a “Band- Aid” solution to larger societal ills. In response to these challenges,many lawyers have found ways to both provide direct services to clients as well as work creatively toimpact groups on a larger level. As Dan Lindsey explained, “I am satisfied using legal tools to helpindividuals on a day-to-day basis. I can help on a micro level and take advantage of opportunities tohave a larger impact by working to influence the state courts and consulting with people about bills orother policy issues at the state level.”One of the more challenging aspects of a legal services career is that legal services lawyers must live withthe fact that many of their clients’ problems are much bigger than a lawyer can solve. As Beth Harrisonof the Legal Aid Society of D.C. explains, “It is frustrating to see the larger issue of poverty and howpeople struggle with so much pain in their lives.” Legal services attorneys work with people whose dailylives are in crisis, and whose fundamental and critical human needs such as income, shelter, and safetydepend on the performance of their attorney. To keep themselves from becoming overwhelmed, manylegal services lawyers stress the importance of keeping an emotional balance. As Harrison states, “Youhave to be careful to maintain some sort of emotional balance. To work with individuals in poverty everyday, you have to be able to care and be empathetic without becoming so attached or emotionallyinvolved that it becomes unhealthy.”Because legal services lawyers tend to be very passionate about their work, many of them say thatdeclining cases from eligible clients is another difficult challenge. Dan Lindsey explains that, “One of themore frustrating parts of the job is that we want to take more cases so we wouldn’t have to turn peoplethat need help away.” There are now more people eligible for legal services than ever before and thenumber of cases continues to increase. In response, there has been a corresponding rise in various formsof “limited representation.” Pro-se clinics, assisted self-help resources, and the development of do-ityourself document preparation tools, all prepared by legal services lawyers, have been crucial to theeffort to manage the increased demand for legal services. One of the most important challenges facinglegal services attorneys going forward, according the LSC president Jim Sandman, is learning how tomanage their resources in a way that will allow them to provide as much meaningful assistance to asmany clients as possible. As Sandman states, “It’s an important challenge to legal services programs tolearn to make the most informed decisions possible about what resource allocations they should bemaking in deciding what level of service to provide to who.” Learning how to allocate their limitedresources in the best interests of their clients will be an important feature of legal services work goingforward.Although legal services lawyers could take on endless numbers of cases from those in need, mostorganizations make a sincere effort to ensure that their attorneys have the opportunity to maintain ahealthy work/life balance. Most legal services lawyers find that there is little pressure to work long hoursLegal Services Career Guide 7

or weekends, because legal services organizations create an environment that respects people’s livesoutside of the office. Since legal services work is often emotionally taxing, a conscious effort is made toensure that attorneys don’t get burned out from the stress created by their cases. As Greg Schell explains,“If you last in this business, you have to have some sort of balance, or you will burn out. Our attorneysmake it clear that they expect to be able to do things outside of the office.” Legal services organizationsoften offer generous vacation time and flexible schedules depending on the needs of their attorneys.Despite the challenges of legal services work, many legal services lawyers cannot see themselves workingin any other setting. They emphasize the difference in atmosphere between private firms and legalservices organizations, stressing their preference for direct client interaction. They also truly believe in themission of legal services. As Greg Schell states, “How many people can say that they love to go to workevery day? I love this job. I can’t believe I get paid to do this. I would do this for nothing. I represent hardworking clients who truly need our help.” HLS Dean Martha Minow, who serves as the Vice Chair of theLegal Services Corporation, shares this enthusiasm for legal services and emphasizesthe role of law students in continuing to fight for access to justice for the poor:My roles as Dean of Harvard Law School and as Vice Chair of the Legal Services Corporation bring me in frequentcontact with judges across the nation who describe the crisis of poor people —military veterans, survivors ofdomestic abuse, individuals with disabilities —trying to navigate courts and bureaucracies without legal guidanceor help. With radical cuts in federal and state funding for legal services, rights are routinely sacrificed andunscrupulous practices go unchecked. What is at stake is nothing less than our society's compact with millions ofits citizens and everyone's faith in the principle that justice cannot be rationed and served only to people ofmeans. At this critical time, law schools and law students play a crucial role in remedying the widening gap inaccess to legal assistance.Legal Services Career Guide 8

Section 3Recent Funding History ofLegal AidBecause funding plays such an important role in the everyday operations of legal services organizations, itis important for students to know about the field’s recent funding history as they consider a career inlegal aid. Before 1994, most legal services organizations received the majority of their funding from theLegal Services Corporation (LSC). However, substantial congressional budget cuts that year forced legalservices programs to reevaluate their sources of funding. Most organizations were able to continuerunning because of revenue from IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts), which was seen as aninnovative way to ensure that legal services programs would continue to receive the funds necessary tokeep their doors open. Throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, many legal services organizationsdiversified their fundraising to include a higher percentage of funds from state legislatures and donationsfrom the private bar.However, the economic recession severely compromised legal services organizations’ ability to maintainprevious levels of funding. The IOLTA accounts that were supposed to be a constant source of revenuedeclined rapidly as federal interest rates reached an all-time low. State legislatures made dramatic cuts inlegal services funds while funding from LSC continued to decrease in the wake of the financial crisis.Donations from private law firms also declined. Many organizations were forced to lay off attorneys orimpose salary freezes despite thefact that demand for legal serviceswas rising at an unprecedentedrate. From 2007-2011, legal aidcenters found themselvesscrambling to help as manypeople as they could with verylimited resources. The recessionsimultaneously forced legalservices organizations to cut backon staff and resources at a timewhen the population eligible forlegal assistance was increasing ata rapid rate, creating a perfectstorm that has forced the field toreconsider their role in increasingaccess to justice to those thatneed it most.10 Source: LSC Funding Tables and Grant Activity Reports – 2012. LSC Grants and Related Support includes LSC basic fieldgrants, interest/investment income, attorney fees, publication income, carryover funds, and other LSC funds. Other FederalGrants includes HHS Grants, Older Americans Act, Violence Against Women Act, HUD grants, and other federal grants.Legal Services Career Guide 9

The severity of the recession also created a new type of client for legal services organizations. Manymiddle class people who had previously lived comfortably above the income level necessary to qualify forlegal aid were pushed below the poverty line following the economic crisis. Some legal servicesorganizations began to see more cases from the “new poor,” which included suburban clients dealingwith debt or housing issues. These clients differed from the traditionally urban population familiar tomost legal aid societies, and many organizations expanded into more rural and suburban areas to offerassistance to this new class of people. However, most legal services programs still focus on serving the“poorest of the poor,” or people who have lived in poverty for most of their lives and often requireassistance for multiple legal issues.In response to this funding crisis, m

Legal services programs, often called “legal aid societies,” provide direct civil representation, for free or at a reduced cost, to low income and elderly clients. Legal services attorneys ensure equal access to the justice system for people who could not otherwise afford attorneys. Much of a legal services lawyer’sFile Size: 800KB

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