Pro bono law efforts at the campus level are expected to boost in the coming months after the University of Wisconsin Law School announced its receipt of federal funds to bolster its mission.
The Pro Bono Program at the Law School announced in a statement yesterday it received a grant from a chapter of AmeriCorps that will give it a staff member to perpetuate and build the program’s mission.
The program gives pro bono attorneys at social justice organizations a chance to pair up with a UW law student to work on cases, Pro Bono Program director Ann Zimmerman said.
AmeriCorps Vista Program Director Stephanie Jung said her organization places a person in a program – like the Pro Bono Program – that AmeriCorps believes will fight poverty and economic disparity.
“Basically, we try to contact community partners that are addressing issues that recruit attorneys, and we offer to partner students with pro bono attorneys so more attorneys will take it on and students will address poverty issues,” Zimmerman said.
What the Vista position will aim to do, Jung said, is strengthen the ties between the groups that have lawyers doing pro bono work for more disenfranchised groups in society and the law students who can assist them in the program.
In the past, the pro bono program has teamed up with groups that work on disability rights for prisoners in Wisconsin, domestic abuse prevention and intervention and immigration issues, Zimmerman said.
Max Han worked in the Pro Bono Program while in the UW Law School and said his experience helping the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups was memorable.
UW is not the only university with a member of the AmeriCorps Vista chapter, and not all of the Vista workers deal with the law, Jung said.
The UW Law School group was not the only program with good financial news. Several state agencies, including the Department of Justice, received a $2.5 million grant from a federal agency called NICs Act Records Improvement Program, according to a statement from the Office of Justice Assistance.
Last year, the same agency only awarded Wisconsin $980,000. This year, the Office of Justice Assistance was able to put together a more comprehensive, competitive application, which is why the awarded grant more than doubled, Office of Justice Assistance spokesperson Tami Jackson said.
Jackson said the money is going to help the different state departments update and expand data-sharing projects.
The funds will try to make data-sharing in the criminal justice system easier, according to the statement from the OJA. Some of the funded projects will include a space to determine a person’s eligibility to borrow a firearm and also update the current software, which keeps and shares rap sheets.
“A lot of different state and local agencies having access to data and this money will go further several projects that will lead to better data-sharing and better data-system improvements,” Jackson said.