LSC UPDATES | NOV 2020

MEMBERS OF CONGRESS AND FCC CHAIR JOIN LSC FOR VIRTUAL ACCESS TO JUSTICE FORUM

(L-R) FCC Chair Ajit Pai, Rep. Bill Foster (IL-11)

Reps. Bill Foster (IL-11), Joe Kennedy III (MA-4) and Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai joined LSC on October 15 for a virtual forum on ways of expanding access to justice for low-income Americans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

LSC Board Chair John G. Levi delivered welcoming remarks and Vice Chair Father Pius Pietrzyk interviewed Chris Arnade, author of “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America.” His work looks at the resilience of what he calls “America's Back Row”—those who lack the credentials and advantages to get ahead. 

Following that, experts from business and law discussed how the “digital divide” results in unequal access to justice and what solutions exist for bridging this gap. The panelists included Geoffrey C. Blackwell, Chief Strategy Officer and General Counsel, AMERIND; Larry Irving, President and CEO, The Irving Group; former Colorado Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Love Kourlis, Founding Executive Director, Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System; FCC Chair Pai; and Kate White, Access to Services Manager and Attorney, Legal Aid of West Virginia’s Charleston Office.

Reps. Kennedy and Foster both shared why access to justice is so important to their constituents. Daniel E. Kimble, Director of the West Virginia Access to Justice Commission, and Dean John E. Taylor, West Virginia University College of Law, also provided remarks during the forum. 

A second panel focused on the challenges of providing legal services during COVID-19 to individuals affected by opioid use disorder. Civil legal issues frequently arise for the more than two million Americans suffering from these disorders and their families. These include problems related to child support and custody, child abuse and neglect, guardianship, domestic violence, housing, health benefits and employment. The panelists included Brandon George, Director, Indiana Addiction Issues Coalition; Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Loretta H. Rush; Lois Vance, MAT Clinic Manager, Cabin Creek Health Clinic; and Brendan Wood, Equal Justice Fellow, Legal Aid of West Virginia. 

LSC Board Member Frank Neuner provided closing remarks for the forum.

Watch the forum

LSC AWARDS NEARLY $4 MILLION IN TECHNOLOGY GRANTS

In October, LSC announced that it was awarding Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) to 24 legal services organizations totaling $3,941,298. The TIG program funds technology projects that provide greater access to high-quality legal assistance and information for low-income Americans.

Many Members of Congress congratulated legal aid organizations in their districts for receiving TIG funding.

“Kansans who are struggling financially have a great advocate in Kansas Legal Services, and this grant will help low-income Kansans have greater access to information and resources to navigate complicated and challenging legal systems,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (KS), Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. 

"I am thrilled that Legal Services of Alabama was awarded the Technology Initiative Grant that will allow them to expand access to their legal services throughout Alabama," said Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-7). "Technology is vital in providing high quality legal counseling in today's world. Legal Services of Alabama plays a crucial role in providing free civil legal aid for Alabamians in need. This grant will provide critical resources to increase their outreach in helping low-income people resolve their legal problems."

Among the funded initiatives are several projects that will improve organizations’ online self-help resources. Several organizations will use TIG funding to create more intuitive, mobile-first websites. Other projects will bolster existing case management and online intake systems to allow legal services providers to more effectively serve clients.

See all the TIG-funded projects

LSC RELEASES PODCAST EPISODE ON COVID-19 AND THE COURTS

Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, Michigan Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and ABA President Patricia Lee Refo joined LSC President Ron Flagg on an episode of Talk Justice, LSC's new podcast, to discuss how the COVID pandemic is transforming the courts and the practice of law.

Many innovations are being used to respond to the pandemic, including remote hearings, virtual mediation and arbitration and virtual jury trials. The speakers discussed the many challenges COVID-19 poses to the justice system and to low-income Americans, particularly in the area of housing. But they also noted that many of the changes to how courts and attorneys operate may be lasting ones with positive implications for access to justice. 

"The new normal will not be the old normal," predicted Chief Justice McCormack. "We've seen too many of the benefits to transparency, to efficiency and to accessibility.”

Other recent episodes of Talk Justice have looked at the challenges of delivering legal services to rural and tribal communities and how legal aid lawyers can help address the housing crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. Talk Justice is available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher and other popular podcast apps.
Listen to Talk Justice

LSC RELEASES REPORT SHOWING TRENDS IN LEGAL AID 

LSC recently released “By the Numbers: The Data Underlying Legal Aid Programs.” The report provides an annual overview of the work undertaken by LSC-funded legal aid organizations around the country in the prior year. It includes data on the number of cases closed, details on the types of legal services provided, client demographics and more. The report includes both national and state-level data and allows for comparisons over time and across different geographic areas.

“By the Numbers includes illuminating data on the wide array of assistance legal aid programs funded by LSC provide to low-income Americans in their areas of most pressing needs – housing, family issues, income maintenance, consumer protection, and health,” said LSC President Ron Flagg. 
Read the report

NEW RESOURCE FOR LSC GRANTEES ANNOUNCED

LSC has overhauled its Best Practices Corner to focus on vetted, evidence-based content from LSC grantees and rebranded the section "Model Practices & Innovations" (MPI). LSC published its first MPI posts this month, focusing on the different ways civil legal aid providers are tackling the problems posed by the pandemic. One post offers case studies from LSC grantees who have started COVID-19 hotlines. Another shares case studies from grantees who have used their websites to reach clients remotely and to share timely information.

Have questions or ideas for new model practices or innovations? Contact LSC’s MPI coordinator, Airey, at aireyj@lsc.gov.
See MPI page

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