4 Scope of the Manual

No treatise can ever be truly comprehensive, and that truism is only more so for a work such as this manual, whose various topics are united only by the fact low-income clients commonly have legal needs in these areas. Thus, this manual cannot address every conceivable legal question that might arise in the representation of a legal-services or pro-bono client. And, even in the areas that the manual does address, the coverage cannot be entirely comprehensive.

In light of these issues, this manual departs from previous versions in two major ways. First, the manual has removed chapters on several substantive areas of law. TANF and Social Security Disability were not included in this update because pro bono representation is unlikely in these areas and SLLS and ALSC no longer use the manual as a primary support for their representation. The Consumer Law chapter in the previous revision has not been included in this edition of the manual because that law is primarily federal and, as such, there are many resources available elsewhere. For the same reason, Bankruptcy and Immigration were removed. 

Bankruptcy and immigration are also areas in which “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” These are specialized areas of law with specialist bars and specialty courts. Because of their unique procedures and rules, it is possible for an attorney unfamiliar with these practices to inadvertently do serious damage to a client’s case. As such, these areas are unsuited to pro bono representation by an attorney regularly practicing in other areas of law without the guidance of an attorney or organization experienced in bankruptcy or immigration. Thus, discussion of bankruptcy and immigration are confined to their intersection with substantive areas of law contained within this revision. In these cases, practitioners without experience in bankruptcy or immigration are encouraged to reach out to specialists as required.

While certain chapters from the previous edition were eliminated, other chapters have been added. Two of these chapters continue a theme begun by the chapter on language access in the 2013 edition. Just as that chapter provides guidance to attorneys representing clients with limited English proficiency, these new chapters are designed to assist attorneys representing clients with disabilities and clients who need to proceed in forma pauperis.

The other new chapters address areas where the unmet civil legal need is particularly great. The first details the procedures for correcting names or gender markers in official records. The procedural mechanism for making these corrections in Louisiana requires filing a petition in civil district court and, in the case of name changes, serving it on the district attorney. Although the suits themselves are typically be decided without any actual litigation, the procedural steps can be complex for laypersons to navigate. This is thus an area where a lawyer providing pro bono representation can do a great deal of good.

The second new chapter explains the process of expunging records of arrest or conviction. The collateral consequences of criminal justice involvement can impose serious obstacles to future success. Unfortunately, the statutory provisions allowing for expungement of prior offenses and arrests can be daunting to parse for a layperson. While the process of filing the necessary papers to obtain an expungement is something that many self-represented litigants can do successfully, determining eligibility for expungement in the first instance can be more complicated. This is again an area where limited-scope pro bono representation can provide a valuable service to the community.

Finally, this manual has added a chapter on legal advocacy for children in public schools, particularly those with disabilities or facing exclusionary discipline. Much of this work occurs at the school, school district, or administrative agency level, forums where procedures may be more informal. Nevertheless, parents seeking to advocate for their children may benefit from the support of an advocate practiced in the arts of oral advocacy and negotiation.

The decision to remove certain topics from this edition is not meant to imply that they are unimportant as many low-income Louisianans have needs in these areas. If a reader would like to get involved in authoring a chapter on an area not covered or updating an existing chapter in the manual, they are encouraged to reach out to the Gillis Long Center, which welcomes participation from practitioners in maintaining the manual as a resource for all who work for justice in our state.

Disclaimer: The articles in the Gillis Long Desk Manual do not contain any legal advice.