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October 2001
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Web Watch

Web Sites Support Poverty Lawyers

By Robert Ambrogi

Web Sites Support Poverty Lawyers FOR LAWYERS who work on behalf of the poor and disadvantaged, the Web provides critical support. Whether offering occasional pro bono services or full-time services to public interest law, lawyers can use the Web to find practice guides, advocacy tools and legal updates.

Last month's column explored broad, national sites; this month we survey sites that focus on particular areas of practice, such as housing, welfare and mental health. But we just scratch the surface in both. Check out the comprehensive set of links to these sites on Maine's Pine Tree Legal Assistance.

Housing to Welfare

The National Housing Law Project is a national housing law and advocacy center based in Oakland, Calif.

NHLP's Web site provides information in five primary categories: public housing, Section 8 housing, H.U.D. rental housing, housing preservation, fair housing, and rural housing

Each of these categories, in turn, includes three types of resources: general authorities and information, information packets, and recent developments. The last of these offers current reports on legislation, litigation, regulations, H.U.D. notices and recently issued reports.

Mental Health

A virtual tool chest for mental health lawyers is the best way to describe the Web site of the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, a legal advocacy center working on behalf of people with mental disabilities. Named for the judge whose decisions helped pioneer mental health law, it is brimming with practical help for advocates. There's current legislative and case law alerts to how-to handbooks. Its many resources are organized under key categories -- Americans With Disabilities Act, aging, children, fair housing, mental health care, and more.

The National Immigration Law Center is a national support center for advocates who work on behalf of low-income immigrants and their family members. NILC staff specializes in immigration law, and the employment and public benefits rights of immigrants. The center conducts policy analysis and impact litigation and provides publications, technical advice and training to legal aid agencies, community groups and pro bono attorneys.

The Native American Rights Fund is a non-profit organization that provides legal representation and technical assistance to Indian tribes, organizations and individuals nationwide. Its site offers updates on pertinent cases as well as a court watch forpending matters. Sponsor of the National Indian Law Library, it offers a searchable version of the library's catalog, with descriptions of the more than 11,000 items in its collection. Through the library, the Web site provides various full-text materials designed to assist tribal courts and advocates involved in Indian affairs. The site includes two full-text periodicals, Justice, NARF's newsletter, and NARF Legal Review, its journal reviewing current legal developments.

Consumer Fraud

Lawyers involved in consumer fraud, debt collection, consumer finance, energy assistance programs and sustainable homeownership programs can find support at the Web site of the National Consumer Law Center.

Affiliated with Boston College Law School, the NCLC provides legal answers, policy analysis and technical and legal support to legal services and private lawyers, state and federal consumer protection officials, public policy makers and others. For lawyers, NCLC's site provides information on its publications, newsletters and legal-education programs. It also has information on the support services available to lawyers from NCLC.

The National Health Law Program is a public interest law firm that seeks to improve health care for America's working and unemployed poor, minorities, elderly, and people with disabilities.

The site's strongest suit, overall, is current awareness, with each topical section having a unique set of links to current news stories and legal and regulatory developments. Its various sections focus on advocacy, child health, consumer resources, immigrant health, managed care, Medicaid, Medicare, public accountability, racial and cultural issues, reproductive health, and state and regional issues. Within each section is a collection of full-text articles and links to related resources elsewhere on the Web.

A national advocacy group, the National Senior Citizens Law Center works to promote the independence and well being of low-income elderly individuals, as well as persons with disabilities, with particular emphasis on women, and racial and ethnic minorities.

Among its projects is a technical assistance program for legal services, public interest and pro bono lawyers seeking to enforce federal rights against state governments and agencies. It provides a monthly review of significant cases on enforcing federal rights, with brief descriptions of each new case. Its library describes periodicals and publications available for purchase from the center, and includes an online selection of articles organized by subject matter.

The New York-based Welfare Law Center works to ensure that low-income people receive adequate, publicly funded income support to the extent necessary to meet basic needs and foster healthy human and family development.

Its site monitors developments in welfare litigation and provides brief summaries of case developments from throughout the U.S. The site also includes a docket describing litigation in which the center is involved, although it had not been updated since November 2000. The site offers other useful materials, including selected litigation pleadings and a collection of analytical articles.

Membership Organizations

A membership organization of lawyers providing civil legal services and criminal indigent defense, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association has a Web site that is an informative resource for lawyers representing the poor.

On the civil side, it tracks developments in Washington related to legal services, and reports on recent cases involving IOLTA programs nationwide. The Civil Brief, an electronic newsletter, is updated every two weeks. On the criminal-defense side, NLADA offers a selection of full-text publications.

The site includes articles from NLADA's periodical, Indigent Defense, published six times a year, although no issues had been added since October 2000. The site also describes publications for sale through NLADA and lists future conferences and training programs.

Whether you are a potential client looking for an attorney or a lawyer wanting to volunteer your help, you will find help at the site of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service.

For lawyers, this ABA committee offers a comprehensive list of pro bono programs, organized by state. A resource library provides materials on developing pro bono programs, while another section, empty as of our most recent visit, promised information on promoting pro bono programs. The site also contains information on pro bono conferences and related ABA services and publications.

The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Sites on the Web Robert J. Ambrogi is author of The Essential Guide to the Best (and Worst) Legal Web Sites, available through

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