Executive Director of AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly . Involved with MIE.
Oral history details
|Date of interview:||Apr 7, 2015|
|Where relates to:||District of Columbia|
|Topics:||Access to justice and Senior citizens|
|Georgetown Law Library link (possible video):||http://aspace.ll.georgetown.edu/public/repositories/2/archival_objects/374|
Full text of transcriptDownload PDF: Transcript
INTERVIEW OF JAN MAY
INTERVIEWER: ALAN HOUSEMAN
INTERVIEW DATE: April 7, 2015
TRANSCRIBER: HEIDI J. DARST, CSR, RPR, RMR, CRR, TCRR, TMR
Alan Houseman: This is an oral history of Jan May, who’s the Executive Director of AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly. The interviewer is Alan Houseman for the National Legal Justice Library. Jan, why don’t we start with a little bit of your background, where did you grow up, where did you go to college, where did you go to law school. That — that kind of background.
Jan May: Okay. I am — I grew up in rural Massachusetts on the Vermont-New Hampshire line. And I went to high school there, a place called Mount Hermon, and — and then I was fortunate enough to get a scholarship to go to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. And I was very active sort of as a student activist then, and that was fairly tumultuous times, and — as you may remember. And I —
Alan Houseman: What years were that — was that?
Jan May: I graduated from college in ’74.
Alan Houseman: Okay.
Jan May: So Watergate and the winding down of the Vietnam war and — and all that. And I sort of felt that — you know, I thought about law school, but it seemed like sort of a cop-out to me. It seemed like, oh, that’s, you know, a very traditional thing to do. And — and then some of the activists, I got this material about these Cahns in Washington, D.C. that were starting a law school. And that sounds pretty interesting, so — so I applied and they gave me some money, so I said, “Okay, well, this — this place looks like a good — a good fit for me.” So I came to D.C. and went to Antioch School of Law. And that was a pretty wild time. That was between ’74 and ’77. And everyone in my class wishes they had kept a diary of what happened at Antioch in those initial years. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but if I had kept contemporaneous notes, you would have believed me. So I graduated from there. I worked in my third year of law school on a text with regard to elder law. And elder law then consisted largely of wills and estates, age discrimination, maybe Social Security. And now elder law, as you know, encompasses probably 50 different legal areas. So I don’t know if you want me to continue on.
Alan Houseman: No, that’s fine.
Jan May: Okay.
Alan Houseman: So after law school, what did you do?
Jan May: After law school, I saw this — well, what happened in law school is that there was a lawsuit against the local welfare department for the implementation of the SSI program. And there are many public interest lawyers around town who wanted to file this lawsuit. And an entity that was first to the court was a start — a start-up place called Legal Counsel for the Elderly. And so my professor was very interested in getting those pleadings, so I raced down 16th Street and — and — and wanted to get the pleadings from Legal Counsel for the Elderly. And the man said, “Well, we — we have a pretty tight budget here, so I’ll give a copy to you if you make a copy on your own dime and give it back to me.” And I said, “Gee, what kind of shoestring operation is that?” So I — I did that. And Craig is the name of the lawsuit. And basically under the old — with the implementation of SSI, it said basically the state needs to have all the provisions that were in the old aid — aged, aged, blind, aid, disabled state programs had to continue under the federal program. And in D.C., there were the certain housing payments that were not continued under the SSI program, and that seemed to be a violation of the federal law. And so that’s what the basis of that lawsuit was. Anyway, I got that pleadings for my professor and all that. And then lo and behold, by the time I graduated, they — this Legal Counsel for the Elderly place had a staff attorney opening. So I applied for it and — and ultimately got it and started working there. And so I was — there was a director, a managing attorney, and one staff attorney, me. And that was the start of it.
Alan Houseman: For the record, who was the director?
Jan May: The director at that point was Wayne Moore. And Trish Nemore, known — who I guess more well known National Senior Citizens Law Center, was managing attorney. And then we — we had at that point a national training grant on substantive law, and a woman by the name of Paula Heichel headed that up. And so part of my job was handling cases in D.C., the other 6 part was doing national training on SSI and Medicare and SS — and Medicaid and food stamps and whatnot.
Alan Houseman: Well, Legal Counsel for the Elderly has evolved a great deal, so I want you to talk a little bit about that evolution including when you became director. But it’s evolved, and so I’d like you to explain sort of what happened at Legal Counsel for the Elderly, how it evolved into — into what it is today and describe what it is today.
Jan May: Okay. Well, Legal Counsel for the Elderly is, the hallmark of what it has done is to develop systems for delivery, innovative systems, and, two, to leverage volunteers to the extent possible. And obviously, we are — our — our mission is to empower older people to either solve their legal problems or help them solve those legal problems. So initially when I started, we received a grant, one of I think about 40 demonstration delivery systems grants from the Legal Services Corporation. And as you know, these were — this was a test to figure out which kind of delivery systems made sense. And so there was pro bono models, there was adjudicator models, I think a variety of different models around the country. And 7 then we did that from around ’77 to ’80, I guess it was. And there was a fairly rigorous examination of those programs under the delivery systems study. And they rated programs on the basis of client satisfaction, with regard to impact that it had, with regard to cost per case. There were certain things about, you know, files and file maintenance even. There were a number of different categories.
Alan Houseman: Right. Quality was the fourth.
Jan May: Quality, yeah.
Alan Houseman: Yeah.
Jan May: How could I forget. And as a result of that study, we came out on the top or near the top in virtually every category. And so of the 40, I think there were roughly maybe 10 that were continued in their funding from the Legal Services Corporation, and we were one — one of them. I think it was mainly pro bono programs that continued to receive Legal Services Corporation funding.
Alan Houseman: That’s correct.
Jan May: San Francisco Bar Association, Boston Bar Association, New Hampshire volunteer lawyers project, a number of others.
Alan Houseman: Right.
Jan May: So we did that, and then, you know, we sort of grew the — the volunteer lawyers project. And there — there are a variety of different developments. We at one point became the long-term care ombudsman program for the district monitoring quality of care in nursing homes, board and care homes, and now assisted living and home health care. And so that expanded our purview. And also, our experience was that ombudsman programs are a virtual Mount Vesuvius of needs for systemic reform, and so that provided a lot of fodder for that. And then in around 1985, we had experimented for a few years with regard to just trying to deliver services over the phone to the extent possible and you got a paralegal working on that. And then what we did in ’85 was to choose a archetypical American city, and at that point anyway Pittsburgh filled the bill. And so we started up what was called a legal hotline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to provide information, advice, and some brief services to anybody who was 60 years of age or older. And it was a free-standing service; that is, if a person needed to go to court or whatever, all that the hotline could do was refer them to a legal aid office in that area. They didn’t provide representation. But it was amazingly popular and it was set up to sort of measure every conceivable aspect of the program. And because of its success, we — two years later, we said, okay, let’s take this hotline concept and let’s use it as an intake system for a legal services program. So I was tasked with the responsibility of taking everything that Monica Kolasa, who was the managing attorney in Pittsburgh, did there and figure out how to make that applicable in — in D.C. as an intake system for legal services program. And it was — it was a tough job. Part of the problem was you advertised for a hotline attorney, nobody knew what that was or what — you know, what to do and what type of criteria you would use. And we found ultimately that at least initially parents taking care of small children were ideal because they wanted to keep involved in the law and — but they also wanted a part-time job, and part-time jobs in the legal profession are pretty rare in this town. So we ultimately got it staffed fairly well. Our experience, as well as Pittsburgh, was once word got out, there was an explosion of — of interest and — and — and the volume was — was fairly incredible.
Alan Houseman: And the hotline in D.C., who was eligible for it?
Jan May: What we decided to do was rather than screen people out for income, we took all comers with regard to information and advice assuming we had the competence to deliver appropriate legal advice. And we did not advertise in affluent neighborhoods; however, we did not deny services if people called regardless of their income. For the most part, it’s continued to attract low and moderate income individuals. Additionally, and one thing that we did way back then which is receiving some notoriety now for strange reasons is that for those callers who needed more than advisory services, needed representation but who were over our income guidelines, we set up a reduced-fee panel and basically just advertised for private practitioners to charge no more than, I can’t remember what it was then, maybe $60 an hour. We contracted with them, and they agreed to represent clients that we referred to them who were over the income guidelines. Nowadays, everybody is agog about — about the notion of low bono and reduced fee and all that. It’s nothing new. We’ve been doing it for 30 years, you know. But — and I — I have always felt that those individuals get the short end of the stick because they can’t afford market rates and typically are not eligible for legal services. So that’s — that is one way to deal with that — with that issue. Obviously if the person needed more than advice and were low income according to our definition, then we scheduled them for appointments with our staff attorneys or referred to our pro bono panel.
Alan Houseman: And is it mostly elderly, or do you have an age criteria at all?
Jan May: Yeah. Much of our funding comes from the D.C. Office on Aging, which is — which has funding from Title III-B of the Older Americans Act which specifies that age is 60 or above. And so in order for us to get credit for purposes of funding from the Office on Aging, we impose the 60 years of age or older criteria.
Alan Houseman: Explain a little bit about how your volunteer lawyers worked and, you know, some — I mean, obviously that was one of the things you were funded under the delivery system study, but let’s talk about sort of today. If a person needs legal assistance and is low income, where would you refer them and would it depend on the type of case or, you know, how does that all work?
Jan May: Well, it works in a variety of ways. Because we’ve been around for a long time, the big firms generally know who we are and what we do. We occasionally do dog-and-pony shows to sort of remind them. What we started early on was actually a faxing system whereby we would list the cases available and then do blast faxes to both solos and small firms and big firms with regard to the cases available. That morphed into, of course, with e-mail and all that that once a week, we send out, you know, e-mail blasts to firms. For straightforward and simple stuff, we try to get at least the larger firms to make bulk commitments; in other words, don’t do just one will and one power of attorney, how about take — how about agreeing to represent 20 clients with wills and powers of attorney, stuff like that. So we’re a household word now — name now with regard to most firms in town, but I guess the — the fax and the e-mail and the development of — of, you know, people’s e-mail addresses and whatnot are the way we generally get the word out.
Alan Houseman: And how — how do you decide which goes out to the firms and which stays in-house with your staff attorneys?
Jan May: Well, for the most part, our — our estate planning work goes out to pro bono attorneys. Basically that’s an easy assignment, it only takes a few hours typically. And we’ve — we’ve made the decision that we would rather staff attorneys concentrate on more in-depth work. Other stuff that goes out depends a lot on — on, you know, what the pro bono attorneys decide that, you know, if they say they’re interested in a specific thing, there’s one firm, for example, that wants taxes. Your know, we have a lot of, you know, tax cases. We’ll send them to that firm. Other times, there’s just staff attorneys who get cases that they say, you know, this is not something, you know, I’m competent to handle, I need help on this, you know, and they will give those cases to the — the pro bono panel. So it’s — it’s kind of a — a mix and match depending on supply and depending on demand. I think that there was some notion early on that what you do is you provide all your cases to the pro bono attorneys and then, you know, what they don’t take, you give to the staff attorneys. And then I think there’s other notions common around the country that all the garbage cases go to pro bono and the staff attorneys, you know, cherry pick. Neither one of those systems has worked in — in — in my view. And so it’s — it’s very much a kind of ad hoc decision-making based on what you have and what you have — what you have for clients and what you have for your pro bono attorneys.
Alan Houseman: You at Legal Counsel for the Elderly developed some other innovations, at least in my view innovations within the legal services world.
Jan May: Uh-huh.
Alan Houseman: Brief service unit is one, but there’s others. Could you talk about some of those?
Jan May: Yeah. Well, brief services unit was an attempt to free up the hotline attorneys to — so that they didn’t have to do brief services because that typically clogged the hotline. You know, if they do — if they only, you know, spend more than like a half an hour on a case, then suddenly the pipeline gets very backed up. So the notion was we would focus a group of people on — on brief services work and see if that worked. And a number of programs have picked up on that idea. Quite frankly, we’ve found that it doesn’t work; that is, it’s very difficult to figure out from the outset what’s brief services and what is not. And so our brief services unit has largely evolved into public benefits and — and — and consumer matters because those tended to be the things that we thought would be brief services, but if you’ve ever handled the Social Security overpayment, you know that it’s hardly brief. It can take, you know, literally years to — to — to — to develop. So — so I would say that brief services, we learned a lot, we learned some things about how to empower clients to solve problems on their own, but it largely, you know, at least for us has not worked. One — one program that we have — that we have done for many years, and that is that we’ve always had a cadre of senior or retired attorneys who volunteer by coming into the office. And, you know, we’ve written a manual on that. We’ve done national training on that. I think that the greatest generation post World War II or the people who were sort of World War II generation were very good at that, especially in this town. There were just loads of especially government attorneys who retired and were starting their office, and they said, “I’m going to volunteer here,” and they volunteered here for 10, 15, 20, in some cases 25 years. And they were great attorneys and I learned a great deal from them. Some of them were administrative law judges, some of them worked for the regulatory agencies. I just learned a great deal. However, they largely no longer volunteer because they, you know, passed away or they’re just physically not able to come to the office. And so we were hoping that because 40,000 lawyers are supposed to be retiring every year for the next 10 years according to the ABA, we thought around 2008 there’d just be an explosion of retired attorneys who’d be knocking on our door. That didn’t happen. And I’ve sort of decided that the baby boomers are not like their parents. They are not sort of long-term volunteers. Many of the people we thought would volunteer end up taking jobs. They want sort of paying jobs. And their idea of a sacrifice is going from a, you know, $800,000 large law firm job to working for a non-profit or working for the government at a hundred, $150,000 a year. They’re not, you know, the people that we — we knew as — as volunteer attorneys. So that’s been kind of a disappointment. One — there’s a couple of areas that are very exciting right now, and that is in the last couple of years we hired a very experienced attorney to grow the pro bono program into getting the larger law firms to work on systemic reform issues. And so this attorney, Rochelle Bobroff, who some of you may know, she identifies systemic issues and then she develops them and then she packages them and then sends them out to big firms to say would you help on this issue. And when we started on this a couple years ago, I said, you know, if we’d get eight or 10 of these big things out the door to big firms, that would be great. Well, I’m here now, it’s not quite — it will be two years in September, and we have over 60 such projects out there. In fact, some of them are finished now. And it’s been amazingly successful. There’s a big thirst by big law firms to take on bigger things. Oftentimes Rochelle will push the button and then count the minutes before some big firm picks it up, and then oftentimes there’s competition between the firms. But, you know, we’re sort of working out exactly how to deal with that diplomatically. But that has been a huge success. Another area that’s been very successful, and if you read the Washington Post about a year and a half ago, you know about this. For years, a problem plaguing our clients and plaguing older clients throughout the country, at least in many states, is the notion of losing your house to a tax sale; that is, you’ve paid off the mortgage or the mortgage and the tax are separate and there’s some screw-up with regard to your paying your taxes. And people would lose their homes over the fact that a few hundred dollars of tax had allegedly not been paid. And we tried all sorts of things to deal with this situation, doing mass mailings to clients who were on that long list that are in the paper. You know, we tried negotiating with the office and whatnot. But what happened was a staff attorney, our supervising attorney in our consumer unit went to a hearing that was on D.C. income tax situation. And you may remember that D.C. income tax office took quite a bit of heat a few years ago. And she said, “I’m going to testify about the real property tax situation because that’s worse than the income tax situation.” And she did. And there happened to be a Washington Post reporter there who said, “Hey, that’s an interesting idea.” And then the Post began an investigation for months and months and months on the real property tax situation in the District and then ran — came out I think the Monday — it was on the Sunday after Labor Day. And it ran a front page above the fold story for several days in a row and some follow-up front page stories as well. And the — the council, the D.C. council changed the law I believe within nine days of the first story running in the Washington Post. And so it was a big aha moment for — for me that, you know, you can do all the litigation you want and you can do all the organizing you want, but the press if they’re on your side can move mountains that seem immovable. And that was a temporary law, but then in the spring of the year, the following year, they changed the law fundamentally and incorporated virtually every suggestion that we had with regard to making it more consumer friendly. So…
Alan Houseman: Just so we get on the record, how many staff do you have and how large is your organization and et cetera?
Jan May: We have a staff of around 50 employees. 22 of those individuals are lawyers. A significant portion of our staff is a staff at a long-term care ombudsman program. For the most part, they are not attorneys, but they’re very much advocates both on an individual and a systemic level. Our budget is somewhere around six million.
Alan Houseman: Okay. Your organization has been, in the legal aid world, known as one of the innovators around hotlines. And we’ve talked about —
Jan May: Uh-huh.
Alan Houseman: — the hotline —
Jan May: Uh-huh.
Alan Houseman: — and you’ve talked about it at some length. What do you think is the future of — of hotlines, and — and what do you see as some potential problems in hotlines, and what do you think the long-term future, the next five years? We can’t predict probably more than that, but…
Jan May: Well, you know, the — the thing with delivery systems is there isn’t one system that’s good and one system that’s bad. A whole lot depends on what the processes are, you know, and which work. I mean, there are good staff attorney programs and there are bad staff attorney programs. There are good hotlines and there are bad hotlines. And obviously, you know, quality is a — is a big part of that. So how well trained your hotline attorneys are, how much facts they — they develop, is somebody else reviewing that to ensure that quality advice is given, that’s a big component of it. The second thing is that I think that we’ve found that follow-up is very important for the hotline; that is, there are those individuals who are relatively well educated and articulate and can follow through basically if the hotline attorney explains what they need to do. However, there are a lot of clients, and a lot of these are in our clientele, who for whatever reason, physical or mental or educational level or whatever, need reinforcement of that hotline advice. And some hotlines have found that good to send out material that basically confirms what they’ve said over the phone. We have found that one inexpensive way to do that and one less time consuming is to recruit volunteers who are specifically trained and who follow up hotline calls and — and tell the individual maybe a few weeks or a month later, you know, how’s it going, did you go to small claims court, what problems are you having, is there anything you didn’t understand and that sort of thing. One thing, the clients are very appreciative of that service; and, two, it really results in much better results because sometimes people lose — you know, they lose this paper or they forgot the number or what exactly am I supposed to do or whatever. So I think follow-up’s import- — is key on a hotline. Another thing is just determining what is appropriate for the hotline to deal with and what needs to be passed on. You know, there may be difficult clients, it may be a difficult situation, it may be factually intense, it may be a lot of documents need to be reviewed. That — those type of situations are probably not good for a hotline and they need to, you know, be scheduled for an appointment with somebody who can look over the documents or whatever. Now, with regard to the next five years, obviously technology changes with each passing hour. And so it seems to me that there are all sorts of possibilities with regard to, you know, self-help materials and — and — and, you know, document assembly software and whatnot that might be added on to a hotline. Again, it’s the same old thing in terms of, you know, what is the quality control like, is the client able to handle that, what kind of follow-up do you use, and do you have any study to see whether or not the clients are actually getting the outcomes that they’re — that they’re looking for. But just offhand, those are some of the things I think would go into the next five years.
Alan Houseman: That’s good. Let me turn to a couple of other things and we’ll come back to some more general questions. You’ve been a leader in D.C. among the various legal aid providers here. And as I understand it, you were chair and one of the founders of the Consortium of Legal Service Providers in D.C.
Jan May: Well —
Alan Houseman: So could you talk a little bit about, just to paint the picture of what we have in D.C. and also what the Consortium does and is trying to do?
Jan May: Well –
Alan Houseman: If you want to get into the Access to Justice Commission too, that’s up to you.
Jan May: Well, the — the — D.C. has a lot of lawyers. Some claim it’s got more lawyers than people. And the — there are also a number of legal services programs, but many are very boutique services. They’re — you know, they’re representing one very small aspect of — or one very small clientele. You know, there’s a — there’s an Employment Justice Center, there is a — there’s a center that largely focuses on Spanish-speaking clients, there is, you know, Legal Counsel for the Elderly and whatnot. Before the Consortium started, I barely knew who the directors of the other legal services programs were in D.C. In fact, many of them I hadn’t ever even met before. And so MaryEva Candon who had been director of the Legal Aid Society, recently appointed back then, she decided to bring everybody together. But once we got everybody together, we had to figure out what is it — what is it we’re going to do. And, you know, when you look into the literature on coalition building, there’s kind of, you know, a pyramid; that is, you can sort of share what you do and how you do it, and then you can maybe get involved in some joint activities. And then I guess at the top of the thing is actual collaboration or even merger. I think that we have found that some of the stuff at the bottom of the pyramid is pretty easy to do. It’s a little hard to get up to the top of the pyramid. And — but there have been a number of collaborative efforts. I mean, one thing that we have done, which I’d recommend for all legal services programs, is that we have established ourselves as a player with regard to the election of the board of governors and the president of the Bar. So those individuals get questionnaires on public interest stuff, and then the Consortium ends up endorsing or not endorsing various candidates for those positions. And it’s clear that every president of the D.C. Bar over the last 10, 15 years knows about legal services, knows about the Consortium, and knows about issues that are important to us. And I think that’s real key because I think before then, I don’t think the private Bar and the leadership of the Bar really paid much attention to — to legal services. And then, of course, another development that’s happened here as well as around the country is that there has been a Access to Justice Commission formed. And one of the most important things that they have done is been successful in getting the D.C. council to allocate money specifically for legal services which has significantly increased the pot and increased the number of attorneys doing legal services in D.C.
Alan Houseman: Let me turn to the management information exchange —
Jan May: Okay.
Alan Houseman: — of which you’ve also been a leader. Describe what MIE, as it’s fondly known, is. And —
Jan May: Uh-huh.
Alan Houseman: — describe a little bit about what the journal does. And — and describe also while we’re at it your role in — in — in MIE and, finally, what you think its importance is.
Jan May: Well, MIE stands for management information exchange and is — I think it is best described as kind of a co-op; that is, it largely exists on the volunteer power of individuals across the country in legal services programs who help in one way or another other programs. There is an executive director and she has a part-time assistant, but other than that we’re all volunteers. We produce a journal four times a year and we — we talk regularly in conference calls to put together that journal. Typically, each journal issue has a special feature on a particularly compelling topic and — and — and we try to make that as timely as possible, and then recruit anywhere from six to ten articles on that particular topic. I am generally quite amazed at the willingness and the quality of the articles that we generally get. And so I think it is — is something that the field looks forward to as a — a sort of continuing ed in the area of legal services management. And, you know, there are — there are aspects of the journal such as introducing new executive directors to the rest of the community. I’m reading — I’m reading one now, editing one now for a man who is director of Micronesia Legal Services. Well, he actually got on a boat and took his family on a boat from California out to Micronesia before he started legal services directorship in Micronesia. So I mean, there’s all sorts of fascinating sort of personal interest stories as well. So on the board, I am chair of the journal committee. Also, I think one of the most important functions that MIE performs is training for managers, for supervisors, for new directors, for experienced directors, for fundraisers. And, you know, one of the earliest articles I wrote is called Barely Managing Attorney. And when you think about it, most people in legal services are lawyers and they went to law school for three or four years, they took a bar examination or two or three or four, they practiced for many years, they probably trained other lawyers, and then they become director of a legal services program and find that most of what they do isn’t law but is management. And typically, they haven’t had any management experience or any training in that regard. And so I think that MIE fills that need very well in some of the supervising legal work training and the new executive director training, middle manager training and whatnot.
Alan Houseman: And just so we’re clear, who funds the training?
Jan May: Who funds the training?
Alan Houseman: Yeah.
Jan May: The — well, the — there — there is — with regard to the new executive director training, that is funded by the NLADA, or that is subsidized at least by the NLADA insurance group. Training — all the trainings have a price tag, and programs that are part of MIE pay a reduced price for — for the individual training. I donate my time two or three times a year, for instance, to MIE to — to do the training.
Alan Houseman: So it’s — it’s run by volunteers, it’s not funded by a foundation or LLC or anything like that?
Jan May: No, no, no.
Alan Houseman: It’s all self-funded and it’s run by volunteers?
Jan May: Right, right.
Alan Houseman: And it’s pretty extensive?
Jan May: Yeah. I — we — we have —
Alan Houseman: I mean, just take in a year and talk a little bit about what kind of trainings you have.
Jan May: Well, I think that the — the — the supervising legal work training is really a gem that not a whole lot of people I think have talked about. But it — it — it, you know, discusses supervision, the elements of supervision. It allows people to do role plays on how to have difficult conversations with people, how to tell them what they’re doing right and — and more importantly what they’re doing — ought to be done a little better. Those — those are tough things and — and people for the most part don’t naturally know how to — how to undertake that. The new executive director training we do in two days and we have refined and refined and refined that and try to do a soup-to-nuts overview of everything from, you know, a mission statement to strategies to delivery systems to funding to administrative hassles to financing to, you know, quality control and whatnot. So it’s — it is only two days, but it — it really crams a whole lot into that time. I think another aspect of MIE is that there are roundtables at both the Equal Justice and NLADA conference as well as embedded in most of the trainings. A roundtable is an opportunity for people in a confidential manner to talk about a particular issue in their program. They get to talk about this in a safe environment and get to the cumulative knowledge of the people around the table as to how best to solve that problem. And so often directors feel a little isolated, and there may be, you know, personnel or other issues that they can’t discuss with anybody on staff. And MIE provides this forum for them to tease apart these issues with — with people who perhaps have encountered similar situations.
Alan Houseman: And you also do fundraising training —
Jan May: Right.
Alan Houseman: — a week every year?
Jan May: Yes, it’s every year, yeah. So…
Alan Houseman: It’s — it’s quite well known as well.
Jan May: Right. A number of years ago, they — they used to be what was called I think the fundraising project. And that merged with MIE, oh, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years ago.
Alan Houseman: Yep. So I guess my final set of questions would be do you have any thoughts about the future of civil legal aid that we haven’t talked about that you’d like to share?
Jan May: Oh, gosh.
Alan Houseman: Or any ideas about things that we ought to be doing that we’re not, or something we just haven’t covered that we ought to, since we’re talking to you about not only your work with Legal Counsel for the Elderly but with MIE and the Consortium in D.C.?
Jan May: Well, I think that there is — I mean, there are pockets of opportunity in a lot of different places. I — I would guess that in terms of systemic reform, utilizing the resources of larger firms on pro bono stuff is — is not tapped nearly as much as it could be. So if we’re really talking about systemic reform and we’re looking for resources to do that, I think that’s — you know, that’s a significant part of the answer. I am frustrated by the federal funding stuff at legal services. And we were, as I said initially, part of the demonstration delivery systems study. And we received what we thought was permanent funding from the Corporation from roughly 1980 to the purge of ’96. And then we no longer received that money, and that was a significant hit financially for us. However, what it also did was liberate us from LSC regulations and these restrictions. And I think these restrictions coupled with the erratic funding and low funding of — of LSC makes me very — very frustrated with the whole notion of federal funding for legal services. So I don’t know if that’s the future, but I — I — I think that — I think that we need to look to other places for — for — for funding for legal services and for growth of legal services because I don’t — I don’t put a lot of faith in — in the federal system.
Alan Houseman: Okay. One final question. Why did you go into this work? What motivated you to do that? Was there a religious basis? Was there a social basis? Why did you do that?
Jan May: Well, I — I am from a single-parent, low-income family. And I had the opportunity via scholarship to go to a very high power New England prep school. And then I went off to Ivy League for four years. And in my hometown around this time of year, the sap is running on the trees. And maple syrup is a big — is a big industry in that part of the country. And so I was watching maple syrup being made. And I don’t know if you know, but you have to boil down 40 gallons of sap, roughly, to make one gallon of maple syrup, so it’s a rough job. You have to collect a lot of sap. And there was an old guy who was showing me how to do it in his sugar house. There is a scoop, and the scoop has a sort of sieve. It’s like a screen. Like a — like a scoop with a screen.
Alan Houseman: Right.
Jan May: And you take that scoop. And as the sap is boiling, there’s this scum that appears on top. And you have to get rid of that scum to make sure that your syrup is pure. And he said to me, he said, “Now, you go to all those fancy schools and you know that cream floats on top.” He says, “I’m here to show you scum floats on top too.” And what I realized is that, you know, having grown up in fairly low-income circumstances, but having been exposed to, you know, a high quality but, quite frankly, elitist high school and college experience, that, you know, there’s nothing intrinsically better about rich people as opposed to poor people and that poor people get the shaft in our society. And so I think that’s been my — my motivator to be involved in legal services.
Alan Houseman: Great. Well, if there’s — do you have anything else to add to what we’ve talked about that we missed?
Jan May: I’m sure I missed a lot of things, but I think I better stop now.
Alan Houseman: Yeah, great. Well, thank you very much. This has been terrific.
Jan May: Thank you.