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Boston-After giving birth to its first satellite training campus this month, a Boston-based training organization for legal aid lawyers plans to use a $50,000 prize for its trial advocacy work to expand its national reach. Legal Aid University spun out of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Inc., a statewide advocacy group for legal services organizations, to pursue its national aspirations. Yet even before its official January launch, the university slowly built an Internet training program over the past two years by offering small group classes that connected participants through Web-based conferencing. To date, the university’s Internet program has reached about 100 lawyers in 35 states. “There are huge parts of the country where they don’t have [legal aid] training,” said university director Ellen Hemley. Legal aid programs in New England subsidize the costs for local residents, but the Internet courses, and training programs outside the region, range from about $500 to $750. The university plans to use the Emil Gumpert award money from the American College of Trial Lawyers to produce new videos for its online courses on such instructional and theoretical topics as “How to Prepare For and Argue a Motion to Dismiss” and “Sovereign Immunity and the 11th Amendment.” Reaching far-flung audiences through regional campuses dotted across the country is also part of the strategic growth plan. A pilot course at Seattle University School of Law earlier this month drew about two dozen participants from a half-dozen states, said Ada Shen-Jaffe, a public interest practitioner in residence at the law school. Shen-Jaffe, a 29-year veteran of the legal aid world, said legal aid training is often elusive in rural states that cover an extensive geographic area. “There’s gross inequities” in training, said Shen-Jaffe. The university hopes to make its next landing in the hurricane-wracked Gulf Coast. Negotiations to train call center staff at several Mississippi legal services programs and staff of Alabama Legal Services are in the works. “They had small legal services staffs to begin with and the area’s legal problems have been exacerbated beyond anyone’s understanding,” Hemley said. The university bested 66 other competitors to collect the second annual Gumpert award, said American College of Trial Lawyers award committee chair Joseph Steinfield of Boston-based Prince, Lobel, Glovsky & Tye. Federal government cuts in legal aid funding amplifies the need for high-quality outside training, Steinfield said. “Legal services lawyers are often young and their organizations are undoubtedly strapped for money,” Steinfield said.

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