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Pro bono districts hire new plan administrators

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With almost half of the pro bono districts losing plan administrators since mid-2009, it is not going to be an easy job to replace the institutional knowledge of the outgoing plan administrators. Districts 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, and most recently 7 have been forced to tackle that task.

District 2, based in South Bend and also known as the Volunteer Lawyer Network, was able to find its replacement in-house. A previous plan administrator had stayed on as a staff member and has again taken over the responsibilities of the job.

As for the other five districts that have lost plan administrators in the last two years: District 3 based in Fort Wayne, also known as the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana, hired its current plan administrator in late 2009; District 6 Access to Justice, based in New Castle, hired its current plan administrator in summer 2009; District 7 Pro Bono Corporation, based in Terre Haute, is in the process of searching for a new administrator; Whitewater Valley District 9 Pro Bono Commission, based in Richmond, reports being close to hiring a new plan administrator; and Legal Aid – District Eleven, based in Columbus, just hired a new plan administrator who started Jan. 24.
 

Monica Fennell Fennell

While it’s never easy to lose someone, especially if that person has the institutional knowledge to know exactly which volunteers are willing and able to take on specific types of case, or who among the other plan administrators has the expertise to help with specific cases, clients, or volunteers, Indiana Pro Bono Commission executive director Monica Fennell said she has been impressed with the caliber of new plan administrators.

“No one gets into it for the money. These are good, hard-working people who are used to working with people who are low-income,” Fennell said. “They often are attorneys or have legal experience, and if they don’t, they already have experience in social services or volunteer work.”

To get them up to speed, Fennell said she works closely with the new plan administrators as soon as possible. For instance, she met with the new plan administrator for District 11 and executive director of Legal Aid – District Eleven, Alaina Sullivan, during her first week in the office.

“As soon as a district lets me know they’ve hired someone new, I go and meet with them,” Fennell said.

Among the discussion is Rule 6.6, which oversees the pro bono districts. She encourages new plan administrators to read and study this rule if they haven’t already.

She said they then go over a calendar together to discuss when reports are due, when budgets and grant applications are due, and when funds are allocated. That is especially important this year because budgets are being distributed on a quarterly basis instead of all at once.

Fennell also offers the IPBC’s help in terms of public relations and marketing. Plan administrators, she explained, sometimes need coaching on how to talk to their local media outlets “to get their stories out there” about what the volunteers are doing. She also provides information about pro bono plan administrator retreats, and she encourages plan administrators to work and communicate with each other regularly. Fennell refers plan administrators to others who she thinks would be a good resource when questions or complicated issues surface.

Plan administrators are also encouraged to consider volunteers they would like to nominate for annual awards given by the Indiana Bar Foundation, to participate in the ISBA’s annual Talk to a Lawyer Today event, to have IPBC or IBF representatives speak to local bar associations about what the pro bono districts do, and to learn other ways to recruit attorneys to volunteer.

“We also talk about intake,” she said. “When someone calls, you need to make sure you know the income eligibility guidelines, the kinds of cases you can take, and the kinds of cases you don’t take. If you can’t take a case, what are their other options?”

Sullivan, who interned for the IPBC when she was in law school and her last name was Byers, said Fennell has been helpful in answering her questions and that she is looking forward to the opportunity.

“I learned about the position on the state bar website and I applied that day,” she said. “The real reason I chose to apply for this job was I went into the law to help people, and I feel as an attorney I’m honored to work for an agency that gives access to the legal system for those who can’t pay for an attorney or don’t understand their case or legal system. I think it’s important for lawyers to understand that role.”


Scott Wylie Wylie

R. Scott Wylie has served as a co-plan administrator for District 13, based in Evansville and also known as the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Southwestern Indiana, since 2006. He voiced similar reasons for wanting to be a plan administrator.

“It’s such a privilege to have this kind of job. Everyone in the legal system admires what you do. You are their charity. When it gets difficult, especially in times like these when we’re cutting back, the work is something to be proud of and that gives you motivation. … Even attorneys who don’t know me well, because of what I do, they respect me for that and are proud of this work,” he said.

Wylie observed that with the decrease in budget, attorneys have continued to step up to volunteer, perhaps more so than in the past.

In mid-December, District 13 had almost a dozen cases left to assign. After Wylie sent an e-mail, “in one day, in one day, we placed every remaining case,” he said. “If I had 20 wills, I could have placed 20 more wills. If I had five more guardianships, I could have placed five more guardianships.”

While he said he could have probably placed those cases normally, having such an instantaneous response made it the “best day of placement we ever had.”

Another newer plan administrator, Terry McCaffrey of the Volunteer Lawyer Program of Northeast Indiana, also said he has felt welcome since he started in late 2009.

As for advice for new plan administrators, McCaffrey said, “When you’re new, you inherit the reputation of the program. If things need to be changed, you look into what could be done … to try to make it better and easier for the volunteers and the clients.”

McCaffrey and Wylie said Fennell and the other plan administrators are always supportive of each other, as are their boards and attorney volunteers.

“Due to the changes in staffing and how many hours staff members are working, I imagine this will be a fairly unstable period until we get bigger interest rates and more funding as a result,” Wylie said, adding the IPBC has been “supportive to keep things as stable as possible.”

Sullivan expressed some concern about the current budget but is remaining optimistic about the future of her program.

“I have no doubt things will come back around and we’ll work our way through it,” she said, adding the board has also been helpful in working with her.

“I look forward to working with the attorneys in these five counties, meeting individuals in the community, and getting our organization more widely recognized,” she said. “I’m really excited to be here and can’t wait to see what the next few years bring.”•

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  1. I have been on this program while on parole from 2011-2013. No person should be forced mentally to share private details of their personal life with total strangers. Also giving permission for a mental therapist to report to your parole agent that your not participating in group therapy because you don't have the financial mean to be in the group therapy. I was personally singled out and sent back three times for not having money and also sent back within the six month when you aren't to be sent according to state law. I will work to het this INSOMM's removed from this state. I also had twelve or thirteen parole agents with a fifteen month period. Thanks for your time.

  2. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  3. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  4. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  5. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

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