Law for Veterans website screen shotLast Friday, as folks were clearing out of work and looking forward to a holiday weekend, staffers at the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education were putting the final touches on a new website—one dedicated to aiding veterans and their families.

LawforVeterans.org is a creation of the Arizona Supreme Court, in cooperation with the AZFLS&E and the Military Legal Assistance Committee of the State Bar of Arizona.

The site aims to be a “one-stop clearinghouse for access to legal and other important veteran benefit information,” providing legal information, articles, resources and forms.

The Court explains that the site features 10 specialty subject areas “ranging from identity theft to employment law. There are sections with helpful Q&A topics as well as a place to ask legal questions, find a lawyer, or locate other resources veterans might need.”

The site “will be the public face of a broader support network.” The Court announced that more than 270 volunteer legal professionals will “respond to questions and help match veterans with the resources they need.”

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Hon. Rebecca White Berch

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch says, “Veterans Day 2013 marks the initial public launch of the site, but we realize the site itself is a platform upon which we will build and add content, based on the needs and input of veterans and service providers that stand ready to assist them.”

Polsinelli attorney Kris Carlson is cheered by the website’s creation. He is a former Green Beret and co-chair of the Military/Veterans Group of the American Health Lawyers Association Behavioral Task Force. He views the site as a great resource.

“‘Law for Veterans’ is absolutely fantastic,” Carlson says. “This resource was badly needed.  Transitioning from the military into civilian life can be difficult. Behaviors that kept the service member alive during time of war are not easily forgotten, and some can leave veterans at a disadvantage when re-integrating into civilian life.”

Carlson continues, “The site’s comprehensive approach can provide assistance to Arizona’s men and women veterans in many critical areas as they struggle to leave the war behind them.”

Many veterans struggle with reintegration into civilian life, which can be difficult. As a result, some may become involved in the criminal justice system; claims denials; insurance problems; family law issues; or physical, mental or substance abuse challenges.

Kris Carlson, Polsinelli

Kris Carlson, Polsinelli

AZFLS&E CEO Kevin Ruegg says, “The Foundation is thrilled to have the Supreme Court entrust us with this project and very grateful for the partnership with the Bar’s Military Legal Assistance Committee. We hope to accomplish two things: furthering our mission of promoting access to justice for all Arizonans, and assuring our veterans know that we understand that our justice system would not be here without their fight for this country’s freedoms.”

Staffers at the Foundation who led the rollout effort included Public Legal Information Manager Kim Bernhart and CTO Al Flores, along with Lara Slifko and Dan Hall. Bernhart points to this effort as another in a successful line of sites launched by the Foundation, including Law for Seniors and Law for Kids.

Brigadier General Gregg Maxon (ret.) is a special adviser to the Administrative Office of the Courts, where he assists jurisdictions in their efforts to create veterans courts. The Supreme Court said he was “a key advocate in the planning and development” of the new website.

Among the data he gathered:

  • 2.4 million men and women served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • 1.44 million are now eligible for V.A. health care.
  • 774,000 have obtained V.A. health care.
  • Of those receiving treatment, 52 percent are diagnosed with mental disorders such as PTSD, depression and substance abuse.

“A unified treatment and rehabilitation approach brings better results,” says General Maxon. “Through partnerships with the Department of Veterans Affairs and local, state or national non-profits and community-based organizations, we can honor our veterans with the resources they deserve.”

Vice Chief Justice Scott Bales adds, “Courts and the legal community are recognizing that we can better serve certain populations by tailoring website content and court services to meet their needs. Our veterans deserve this help. We don’t want them hurting, alone or in trouble with nowhere to turn.”

The Court encourages businesses, government agencies, chambers of commerce, associations, and non-profits to add a link to www.LawForVeterans.org.

George H. Lyons, 1947-2013

George H. Lyons, 1947-2013

I was so sorry to learn recently that Phoenix trial attorney George H. Lyons had passed away suddenly, at age 66. You may not have received that news, but the state and the bar are far worse for his death.

His obituary is here. Like the man, the written testament to him is charming and humble. So I should add to the record by enumerating a few of his paths to legal service. Among other ways George stepped up, he was:

“President of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education (2010-2011); Member, Board of Directors of Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education (2006-2009); President of Community Legal Services (2002-2003); Member, Board of Directors of Community Legal Services (2004-2006); Member of the Civil Practice & Procedure Committee for the State Bar of Arizona (2010-2012); Member of the Hearing Committee of the Disciplinary Commission of the Supreme Court of Arizona (1982-1990); Member of the Committee on Rules of Professional Conduct for the State Bar of Arizona (1983-1989)”

That, of course, was just his legal contribution.

It was just recently that George wrote for the July/August issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine. Our cover story that month was the 35th birthday of the Arizona Bar Foundation. George joined other former Foundation Presidents in sharing his memories of his term. His contribution to that feature story begins here.

Rest in peace.

Arizona Bar Foundation logoOn Friday, I received the announcement below from the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education—or the Bar Foundation, as we sometimes say for short.

I have participated in many of their fantastic programs, where their people are the best in the world. Anyone who signs on as an event planner with the Foundation is bound to have a marvelous time—and do quite a bit of good for Arizona and civic engagement.

The following job posting may describe you. Or it might describe someone you know well. Feel free to pass it on.

Here’s the job:

Great at planning events? Are organization and communication two of your strengths? If yes, we have an opportunity for you!

The Arizona Bar Foundation is looking for individuals with excellent event planning skills to plan, implement and host our We the People: The Citizen & the Constitution competitions and/or Project Citizen showcases. Eligible candidates must have effective communication, organization and logistical planning skills; however, it is not a requirement to be a We the People or Project Citizen teacher.

For more information and to complete a proposal, please visit the Competition Regional Coordinator Call for Proposals here.

For questions, please contact Jennifer.Castro@azflse.org. Thank you!

So what tastes good, confuses Accounting, and celebrates Access to Justice?

A cake, of course.

Here is just a slice of our delicious cake cover for the July/August Arizona Attorney Magazine.

Here is just a slice of our delicious cake cover for the July/August Arizona Attorney Magazine.

The upcoming issue of Arizona Attorney features a history-sharing cover story. We’re pleased to cover the 35th anniversary of the Bar Foundation—currently named the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. To do so, we are publishing the memories of many of their past Presidents.

At the magazine, we brainstormed what an anniversary needs, and of course we thought of a cake.

Search around in online stock art and you’ll see a lot of cakes. But a great sister like the Foundation only turns 35 once, so Art Director Karen Holub and I agreed a real, honest-to-goodness cake was best.

The craftsmanship was done by the talented Tammie Coe. You should see more of her work here.

cake maker Tammie Coe

Tammie Coe

The cake image above reveals a small part of the beautiful creation. I promised Karen I would not give away The Big Reveal. The whole thing will be visible on our July/August cover.

Oh, and the Accounting-confusion thing? Try sending a cake invoice to your Accounting Department coded for “Professional Services” rather than for “Food/Meals.” You’ll get a phone call.

Here was my emailed explanation to them:

“The cake was made as a prop for our photo shoot. Though it was edible (after quite awhile under hot lights), the bakery was hired first and foremost for its design skills and craftsmanship, not for eatin’!”

We try to keep it interesting.

Because I know you like to see how the cake (and sausage) is made, I share an early conceptual drawing for this cake project (below). The final result was quite a bit different, but we’re all about the process!

cake mockup AZFLSE v2

Cake concept drawing

Have a wonderful Independence Day. The blog and I may take a few days off (I consulted James Madison, who urged me to write more, a la The Federalist Papers. But my man Ben Franklin urged relaxation, which I will heed.)

The 2013 luncheon of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education once again recognized some of the finest lawyers in the state for their commitment to access to justice in Arizona.

Attorney Barbara Dawson accepting the Foundation's 2013 Walter E. Craig Award, June 20, 2013, Arizona Biltmore Resort.

Attorney Barbara Dawson accepting the Foundation’s 2013 Walter E. Craig Award, June 20, 2013, Arizona Biltmore Resort.

The following attorneys were honored:

  • Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch: Hon. Mark Santana LRE Award
  • Ellen S. Katz: Foundation for Justice Award
  • Stanley Friedman: William E. Morris Award
  • Barbara Dawson: Walter E. Craig Award

Congratulations to all the recipients.

The State Bar was also represented at the luncheon. Chief Communications Officer Rick DeBruhl led a conversation with CBS5 reporter Dave Cherry. They illuminated the audience on media and law.

And Incoming Bar President Whitney Cunningham brought the specifics when he urged five strategies on attendees who want to give back but are not sure how to begin:

  1. Take a pro bono case via one of the established legal aid organizations.
  2. When you cannot take on an entire case or matter, provide limited-scope representation.
  3. Ghost-write legal papers for an unrepresented person.
  4. Sign up for the Modest Means Program.
  5. Become a Foundation Fellow.

    Incoming State Bar President Whitney Cunningham, June 20, 2013.

    Incoming State Bar President Whitney Cunningham, June 20, 2013.

Cunningham included two fascinating statistics in his presentation:

  • If every lawyer in Arizona provided only half of the pro bono time recommended by Rule 6.1, its value would be greater than the $80 million cut from the Legal Services Corporation budget.
  • Becoming a Foundation Fellow (which nonlawyers may do too) will cost you $16.67 per month. That is approximately equal to one double-shot soy latter per day. Cunningham claims to have lost 20 pounds since he signed on.

The luncheon remains a high point in the Convention. Well done to all involved.

Morris Institute for Justice LogoEthics and justice combine in a seminar next Friday, May 31. I heard about it via a great colleague over at the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education. Let me pass on some of the details.

The legal education seminar is being offered by the Morris Institute for Justice, and the presenter will be Geoff Sturr on the topic of ethics and conflicts.

Lawyer Geoff Sturr of Osborn Maledon

Geoff Sturr, Osborn Maledon

Geoff is a partner at Osborn Maledon, and I asked him to provide some more detail on what he’ll cover:

“Thanks for your interest. The seminar will focus on three areas:  conflicts, confidentiality and candor (which will include, among other things, conduct in negotiations). It will provide an update on recent decisions and opinions, and pending or anticipated rule changes. The primary target audience will be civil practitioners, but I hope to cover issues of interest to criminal and government lawyers.”

In case you don’t know them, the Morris Institute describes itself as “a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the rights of low-income Arizonans.” Read more about them and their work here.

As you may surmise, CLE credit will be offered for the event, which will be delivered in person at the Phoenix office of Lewis and Roca, and in a live simulcast at their Tucson office.

RSVP by May 29 to Ellen Katz at eskatz@qwestoffice.net or 602-252-3432 ext. 2.

All the detail is provided below.

Morris Institute CLE flier

The annual awards luncheon of the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education always highlights the lawyers and judges who have stepped up to make a difference. Thursday’s event was no different.

The event had moving remarks by all the speakers: AZFLSE Executive Director Dr. Kevin Ruegg, Hon. Roxanne Song Ong and soon-to-be Bar President Amelia Craig Cramer.

Out of those remarks, let me share just two quotes that helped define the great work the Foundation does. 

Amelia Cramer quoted Cornel West: “Justice is what love looks like in public.”

And Todd Lang: “Our democracy is an illusion to those who find out courthouse doors closed.”

Here are photos of the winners.

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Arizona Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch speaks at the We the People competition, Jan. 6, 2012, at Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, Ariz.

“What I don’t know is a lot,” ran through my head many times last Friday. That’s when I sat as a volunteer judge in the state finals of the We the People competition.

WTP is a remarkable program put on by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education. It brings together a large group of high school students, who compete on school teams to demonstrate their stuff in regard to the United States Constitution.

On Friday after the judging was complete, I remarked to a high school teacher (whom I later noted had coached the top team) that the kids were amazing and truly talented—so much so that I was feeling a bit unschooled as the long day wore on.

If you’re ever feeling the slightest bit apprehensive about the depth of today’s youth, stop by WTP. That’ll fix ‘ya.

At lunchtime, the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, Rebecca White Berch, stopped by to praise the kids and to remind them of the state’s Centennial. In that effort, she said, the Court had helped create “Behind the Laws & Decisions,” a DVD box set that includes documentary series detailing Arizona’s history and court cases. The project was made possible by the Arizona Supreme Court, McCune Television, National Bank of Arizona and the Foundation.

More information on the DVD set is here.

I have posted some more photos at the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

What’s the best antidote to the slow stew you feel when your desk is overloaded and there’s no end in sight?

Get up from your desk, of course. Leave the office. And volunteer at an event hosted by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education.

That’s exactly what I did last Thursday, and I’m still living off the residual good karma.

We the People is an incredible program in which schoolkids demonstrate their grasp of difficult, thorny constitutional issues. It requires months of study and teamwork, and it culminates in front of mock panels of Congressional leaders. That’s where I and others come in.

But those amazing performances are preceded by some pretty impressive foundational work by their teachers. In fact, to have your class take part in the grueling competition, the schoolteachers have to go through it themselves first.

That’s what last week was about. We Congress-folk listened, cajoled and questioned the teachers, who had spent a lot of their free time learning what We the People takes. And they were terrific.

Their performance makes me look forward even more to the school year, when some of the best of Arizona’s youth will show their chops in regard to the U.S. Constitution.

Thanks to the Foundation for letting a law geek like me take part. As always, it was a privilege.

Click here to see some more pictures on the Arizona Attorney Magazine facebook page.

Former Bar President Bob Schmitt speaks after receiving the Walter E. Craig Distinguished Service Award, June 16, 2011

Last Friday, hundreds of State Bar of Arizona convention attendees thronged a Westin ballroom to hear what Juan Williams had to say. And that is understandable, as we wonder about the view held by those from lofty vantage points.

But if there is a heart to a convention—and to an entire profession of lawyers—that heart was found the day before. In a ballroom not so different—though not quite as filled—the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education hosted its own luncheon. There, it honored a variety of commitment that may be less ballyhooed but that is just as noteworthy. For the Foundation luncheon honored lawyers who had brought it—and when I say “it,” of course, I mean justice. These individuals had stepped up for years and years when there was no limelight and no microphone. When their only payment may have been a quiet moment in their drive back home late at night. When the more common response to a dire legal problem—walk away—would have meant devastation or worse to a person or a family.

At the luncheon, then-President-Elect Joe Kanefield delivered what may be described as one of the briefest keynotes in history (that bodes extremely well for his presidential year!), but he used his time wisely.

He took well-earned pride in the fact that Arizona lawyers recently exceeded the $1 million mark in voluntary donations via their dues statements. And he spoke eloquently about how access to justice was not merely his passion—and one of his year’s goals—but that it was a “critical component to the State Bar’s mission; and now it has been made a part of our mission statement.”

As a concrete part of his own commitment, President Kanefield was re-initiating the Bar’s Access to Justice Task Force.

He also related—via Foundation Executive Director Kevin Ruegg—a “typical day in the life of an Arizona legal services provider”:

  • 434 people had their questions answered and their hope restored.
  • 47 attorneys volunteered their time.
  • Even after all that, more than 750 had been turned away, either because they exceeded the laughably low cutoff for someone who is “too well-off” to receive free legal assistance, or because there were insufficient resources to serve them.

The facts were bleak, but Joe’s words were inspiring. And they were followed by the awards themselves:

  • John Bouma: Foundation for Justice Award
  • Hon. Daniel Barker: Mark Santana Law-Related Education Attorney of the Year
  • Ben Smith: William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award
  • Robert Schmitt: Walter E. Craig Distinguished Service Award

Many of the award winners, as well as the distinguished people who introduced them, took the opportunity to remind the audience about the role each of them could play.

In the years that lawyer Ben Smith has stepped up to provide pro bono services, he has assisted more than 1,800 people.

That is not a typo: 1,800+

But that massive number is only a fraction of the need, Smith said.

“It epitomizes the dimensions of the problem we’re all trying to help people with. There are thousands and thousands of people with no access to the justice system.”

Cleans Elections chief Todd Lang, who introduced Ben Smith, put it more bluntly: “We all believe mightily in justice, and yet access to justice languishes.”

Throughout the event-packed convention, a profession winced, and knew not why.

In the video tribute leading up to Bob Schmitt’s award, a friend said, “Bob simply won’t say no to any request, no matter how demanding, as long as it helps someone.”

Yuma lawyer (and former Bar President) Larry Suciu said, “If every lawyer in Arizona practiced like Bob does, this would be a much better profession.”

Schmitt himself hearkened back to his old 1992 President’s column in Arizona Attorney Magazine (thanks for the shout-out, Bob!), where he “preached the 3 Ps”: pride, participation and professionalism.

All the words spoken by the honorees were nice, of course, and much appreciated. But they were unnecessary, as every one of them had lived what they preached.

Next year, if you have the opportunity, pony up the modest fee so you can attend the Foundation luncheon. It’ll help remind you why, when practiced with compassion and commitment, a trade can be transformed into a profession. 

Here are some more pictures from the event.

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