Law School for Interpreters: A Success!

Bright and early Saturday morning, 77 people were driving into downtown Columbia to attend the SC Access to Justice Commission’s LEP Work Group “Law School for Interpreters.”

Meanwhile, the sponsors were all busy opening the facility and readying the room and registration tables for each of these interpreters.

At 8:45 a.m., seats filled and the LEP Work Group provided an overview of the day and the program began.

The Agenda:

  • Registration and Breakfast 8:00 a.m.
  • Welcome & Overview 8:45 a.m.
  • Pretest 9:00 a.m.
  • “Oh the Places You Can Go and the People You Can Meet” (Overview of the SC Judicial System) 9:15 a.m.
  • South Carolina State Court Interpreter Certification Program 9:45 a.m.
  • BREAK
  • Circuit Court 10:30 a.m.
  • Family Court 11:15 a.m.
  • Magistrates Court 12:00 noon
  • Catered Lunch
  • Court Process 1:45 p.m.
  • BREAK
  • Panel Discussion & Q&A: Reality Check 3:15 p.m.
  • Post-test, Wrap-Up, & Evaluation 4:45 p.m.

The excitement in the room was palpable. Interpreters greeted one another with hugs, and sometimes questions of “which language do you speak?” And the excitement was not limited to interpreters and translators. Many of the event sponsors were thrilled with the turn-out, especially on a Saturday. Languages represented included Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Chinese, French, and Urdu as well as a few others.

And we’re all excited about the prospect of an additional pool of qualified and certified interpreters and translators in the South Carolina Court System.

Thanks again to our sponsors, speakers, and participants!

~RFW

It’s official – Poster and FAQs online – en español

Good News!  ¡Buenas noticias!

The South Carolina Courts’ Self-Help Page now offers FAQs (General Questions, Circuit Court and Family Court) and an explanation about what court staff can and cannot in Spanish!

And many thanks to student volunteers with the USC School of Law’s Pro Bono Program and the kind folks at HABLA!

-RFW

Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly Released

Today the Supreme Court of South Carolina released the Report of the Task Force on State Courts and the Elderly.

It is well worth reading, if only to note how South Carolina demographics have changed over the years and to see predictions for our future.

Well done!

-RFW

Massachusetts Releases Interim Report on Access to Justice

Just last month, the Massachusetts Court System released its  Interim Report on Access to Justice Initiatives (Massachusetts), specifically initiatives in the Trial Court. This initiative is not to replace the work of their Access to Justice Commission, but to enhance it, as noted in the report itself.

Much of their work mirrors what we in South Carolina are doing.

They are reviewing progress in other states:

  • looking at developing forms and interactive websites for self-represented litigants;
  • reviewing implications and feasibility of limited scope representation aka unbundled legal services;
  • exploring ways to develop court service centers;
  • increasing access to the courts for those with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

They are reviewing challenges within their current system:

Their consensus? Action toward providing:

  • services for court users with limited or no English language skills, including staff who can speak and read other languages,
  • instructional materials in other languages, and court forms in other languages;
  • technology, including wireless (internet) access in courthouses, MassCourts public access, and court forms that can be completed on-line;
  • self-help centers and materials; and
  • child care centers.

What’s fascinating? This came about through a survey to court personnel. Often we hear that the government is full of bureaucratic red tape.

What’s encouraging? That this very government is working to make the process easier for us to navigate – during a time of economic crisis.

Kudos Massachusetts! We’ll be watching your progress and wish you well throughout the process.

-RFW

Legal Services: 5 Tips to Tap into Grants

Historically, legal service organizations have not been a large beneficiary of grants from community foundations.  At the last South Carolina Access to Justice Commission meeting, Tom Keith from Sisters of Charity Foundation of South Carolina (Sisters of Charity) and Mac Bennett from United Way of the Midlands  (UWay) provided insight into this practice as well as information to change it.

One obstacle for many legal service providers is geography.  Sisters of Charity is the only statewide community foundation in South Carolina.  Most community foundations in South Carolina limit the grant award to specific geographic regions.  This presents a problem for entities that provide statewide legal services.

Another reason for the lack of funding from community foundations is the failure to ask.  According to Tom Keith, in the last 10 years, Sisters of Charity has received only 10 requests from legal service organizations. 

Despite the prohibitions for statewide legal service providers, the need for legal services is currently on the rise. 

Mac Bennett reported that United Way of the Midlands recently interviewed approximately 1500 people in a local Bi-Lo parking lot to learn how the economy was affecting them and what they were struggling with the most.  The 3rd highest indicator of need with people earning less than $25,000 a year was the need for legal services.  This survey reflects a need for legal service organizations to more effectively communicate to community foundations when seeking grants. 

Here are the FIVE TIPS from Tom and Mac:

  1. Educate the foundation throughout the year.  Do not wait until it is time to ask for funding to notify the foundation about who you are.  Send the foundation newsletters, brochures, links to websites—anything that will introduce your organization to the foundation before the funding request is due.  Foster a relationship with the foundation PRIOR to your request.
  2. State measurable outcomes in your request.  Community foundations want to know that their money will make a tangible difference in the life of your organization and those you serve.  The more numbers you can track and report,  the better.
  3. Clearly state the need.  Be specific about the need(s) the grant will address.  Clearly state who you are going to serve and the impact their dollars will make. 
  4. Make requests geared towards a specific program or project.  Community foundations are often hesitant to fund salaries and/or operational costs because they do not want an organization to become dependent on their funding from year to year just to keep their doors open.  They prefer to fund projects and programs that will have a specific impact on the community.
  5. Make sure your mission matches the mission of the foundation.  Community foundations are mission driven.  Be clear about how the mission of your organization is in line with the mission of the foundation.  Pay attention to the funding priorities of the organization so you don’t waste your time or theirs. 

-Allie

Friday Wrap 5.29.09

All the week’s “atj” newsworthy items wrapped up

Friday Wrap Friday Wrap

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Recognize Major Contributors to Texas Legal Aid

Chicago, Illinois – ABA Invites Obama to it Annual Meeting

Washington, D.C. – 2nd ABA National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities (Hurry for the EARLY BIRD special because after June 1st the registration increases)

United States Supreme Court – President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (For more news links, click here. For blog coverage, click here.)

Brooklyn, New York – A Call for Pro Bono at Boro Hall

Lexington, Kentucky – Interview with a True Change Agent

Nashville, Tennessee – New Legal Advice Clinic to Help with Debt Issues

Richmond, Virginia - LINC Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

Public Justice Center – Donor Inspires Us with $10,000 Gift 

Ventura County, California – New County Program Helping Low-Income Families Adopt

 Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Practical Paralegalism: Paying it Forward

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Credit Card Reforms Could Help Statements

Fairfield, Connecticut – Hard Times Force People Into Family Court “Solo”

Honolulu, Hawaii – Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher Supports Access to Justice Commission

Australia – Pro Bono Work Good for Law Students

New York, New York – Pro Bono Recruitment Drive

San Diego, California – Law Made Public: Legal Research Class for the Self-Represented Litigant

-RFW

Welcome Allie Bullard!

The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is pleased to present our latest pro bono addition, Allie Bullard! Allie is assisting the Commission this summer as a pro bono law clerk. She is a rising 2L at the USC School of Law and we are thrilled to have her on board.

And, she’s agreed to be a blogger from time to time.

Welcome Allie!

Allie Bullard - 1st day

-RFW

Give it up for the Big TENNESSEE!

I am very pleased that Tennessee has joined the ranks of states with Access to Justice Commissions. On Friday, the Tennessee Supreme Court announced the creation of a new statewide Access to Justice Commission to help address the growing civil legal needs crisis in Tennessee.

To view the Order, click here.

For a biography of the Commission members, click here.

To view the 14 minute video, click here. To view the transcript of Chief Justice Janice M. Holder‘s announcement, click here.

The Commission Chair Margaret L. Behm’s remarks are here.

Congratulations and welcome to my old home state!

-RFW

More SRLs: Are Lawyers too Costly or Simply Sign of Hard Times?

That’s the question coming out of Connecticut this week, see Connecticut Law Tribune article here. Whatever the answer, the numbers of Self-Represented Litigants or SRLs is on the rise. The trend isn’t limited to Connecticut either. Recent conversations with family court judges, clerks of court and masters-in-equity have indicated that South Carolina is also part of the trend.

The challenges faced by other court systems also mirror what is happening in South Carolina. SRLs are not familiar with procedures to meet minimal requirements such as notifying the other party or service of process. Even if they meet procedural requirements they may not understand some of the documents themselves. They may not even complete all the necessary forms.

Additionally, attorneys have a reputation for using their own language, also known as legalese. The phrases in legal documents often are in Latin, not English. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is working with the courts to ensure that court documents are written in Plain English whenever possible.

Clerks of Court in South Carolina have also noted the rise in SRLs. Members of the public often ask for forms, then ask for help completing them. Or they may ask for advice from the clerk of whether to bring the action. Clerks are wary of responding – not because they don’t want to help, but because they don’t want to overstep into the practice of law – the unauthorized practice of law. In South Carolina, there are established laws indicating that only attorneys licensed in South Carolina may practice law in South Carolina. Legal advice is considered the practice of law. The South Carolina Access to Justice Commission is also working to address this question by developing signage clearly indicating what clerks can and cannot do. And the Commission is working with a clerk of court work group to educate clerks and the general public about the fine line between advice and information.

Judges note that they too have ethical dilemmas. When SRLs appear in their courtrooms and miss relevant pieces of their cases, the judges want to help but they too have boundaries. They may not help one side to the detriment of another.

SRLs have arrived and South Carolina is working to address the issue of increased numbers of SRLs in the courts.

But it may take a little while.

Thanks for your patience.

-RFW

Musings of Justice with a little help from George Washington

Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government,

I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our

Country, and to the stability of its political system; hence the selection of the fittest characters to expound

the law, and dispense justice, has been an invariable object of my anxious concern.

~ George Washington,in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Edmund Randolph (1789)

On the first day of March 2009, it seemed only fitting to reach back to our first President, George Washington. When I saw this quote, it reached out to me.

How fitting it is to see that early government was concerned with administration of JUSTICE within the judicial department; and how comforting that the Access to Justice Commission was established by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

-RFW