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    Wisconsin Lawyer
    May 01, 2017


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    Insights into Public Interest Law in Wisconsin


    The March Wisconsin Lawyer was compelling in its multifaceted presentation of public-interest law in Wisconsin. Two things stood out to me. First, that every lawyer profiled in Dianne Molvig’s “Profiles in Public Interest Law” spoke about their passion for the work, which conveyed how they feel deeply, every day, that they do indeed make a difference. Second, that Jeff Brown’s ”Moving the Needle,” in which he surveyed the state of public-interest service provision and funding in Wisconsin, so clearly showed the long odds against making a significant and lasting difference.

     Brown gave insights on innovations in public-interest law that Wisconsin would do well to adopt (such as offering loan forgiveness to lawyers working in underserved areas), but political will must get behind these adaptations. If this does not occur, we will find ourselves as Wisconsin lawyers and courts in the same compromised position of health care reform efforts, facing the lethal cost of not coping appropriately with the uninsured or underinsured. That said, I appreciated the depth of analysis of the articles. I was able to meet on paper many unsung heroes in justice and gain knowledge about the wider context of their work.

    I’d like to add one more resource to the list of providers of free specialized legal services. LOTUS Legal Clinic, based in Milwaukee, provides free legal services, regardless of income, to all Wisconsin victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking. LOTUS welcomes attorney volunteers for all aspects of work – trauma-informed legal services, policy, education, and survivor empowerment. More information is available at our website (, or those interested may contact me at

    Rachel Monaco-Wilcox
    CEO and Founder, LOTUS Legal Clinic, Milwaukee

    Here’s What you May Have Missed

    Not connecting with us online? This month we highlight readers’ comments posted to online articles. Let’s hear what you have to say. Post comments to WisBar News, InsideTrack, and Wisconsin Lawyer articles or respond to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter posts. Or simply email the editors at

    Nonprofit Legal Services also Serves Low-income Residents

    needle pointing to gains

    I am writing about Nonprofit Legal Services’ inadvertent absence as a reduced-fee provider from the “Serving Wisconsin’s Low-income Residents” and “Profiles in Public Interest Law” articles in the March Wisconsin Lawyer.

    I work at Nonprofit Legal Referral Services (NLRS), an organization that was created as a referral service for legal aid and reduced-fee providers. Nonprofit Legal Services-Central (NLS-C) is currently the only member of NLRS. Attorney Joe Neterval is the attorney at NLS-C. He serves not only Milwaukee County but also the seven surrounding counties. I formerly served as the attorney at NLS-East (which serves Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, and Kenosha counties) for the past three years. Due to having a young child, I decided to change positions to NLRS (the referral service) to better promote NLRS and NLS, while Joe continues representing low-income residents.

    Nonprofit Legal Services was not included in the March articles despite the following facts:

    1) The articles mentioned the need for legal services for clients at 100 percent of the poverty line. NLS provides representation at $25 per hour for those at 100 percent of the poverty line. NLS’s sliding-fee scale goes up to 300 percent of the poverty line. In addition, it serves those with even higher incomes who are not eligible for the sliding-fee scale. The fees generated from these higher income clients help subsidize the sliding-fee-scale clients.

    2) The Trump administration has proposed eliminating funding for the Legal Services Corp. With this new reality, low-income litigants are in even greater need of providers like NLS because we are self-funded. The legal aid groups’ ability to provide services to poor people is dependent on the whims of each administration. Now, these legal aid groups are in jeopardy and so are poor people’s access to their services. NLS is not subject to the changing political tides and not highly dependent on funding, like legal aid groups are. NLS is immune to funding variations and serves poor people no matter what the funding climate may be. Civitas, like NLS, is mostly self-funded. Civitas was included in the articles when NLS was not.

    3) One of the articles mentioned the “challenge of doing more with less.” This is exactly what NLS does. We have minimal overhead so that we can make our services as affordable to our clients as possible. Clients pay for our representation according to their ability. We don’t have fancy offices and other frills because that’s not what our clients need or want.

    4) NLS provides services to Milwaukee County residents, and to residents of the surrounding counties (Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, Racine, Kenosha, Walworth, Jefferson). Not only are there no legal aid services in some of these counties, but NLS is often the only reduced-fee provider that serves poor people in the area.

    Jessica Y. Koo
    Ceo, Nonprofit Legal Referral Services, Milwaukee

    Funding for Civil Legal Aid Removed from Governor’s Budget Proposal

    Legal Aid Defender logo

    In “Take Action: Crisis Looms for State’s Low-income Citizens and Their Lawyers” (WisBar InsideTrack, April 5, 2017), Joe Forward described a federal budget proposal to defund the Legal Services Corporation, a major funding source for two longstanding legal aid organizations in Wisconsin, which would hurt low-income veterans, domestic abuse victims, and other Wisconsin residents.

    In the article, Forward noted that the proposed 2017-19 state budget includes $1 million, from a federal block grant, to fund civil legal aid to domestic violence and sexual assault victims. After publication, the author learned the following:

    The Department of Administration (DOA) submitted an errata letter on April 4, 2017, requesting a number of budget corrections. Highlighted in that letter, the DOA indicated that the
    $1 million in funding allocated in the Governor’s budget proposal for civil legal needs was made in error. The DOA is now asking that the money for civil legal needs be removed from the Governor’s budget proposal.

    Joe Forward
    Legal Writer, State Bar of Wisconsin

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    Wisconsin Lawyer provides a forum for members to express ideas, concerns, and opinions on law-related subjects. Send comments to (include “Letters” in the subject line), or mail to Wisconsin Lawyer “Letters,” P.O. Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158. Limit to 500 words. Writing guidelines available.

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