Access to Justice Headlines – December 2, 2013

Happy Monday, ATJ Enthusiasts.  I hope you had a joyful holiday weekend, and that you were able to gather with loved ones to share turkey or turkey-like vegetarian and/or vegan food products.  My modus operandi is to create a Thanksgiving plate with a 90/10 ratio between mashed potatoes and “other things that will complement my consumption of mashed potatoes,” so the fowl or its substitute matter little to me.  In any case I had a delightful dinner, and I was glad for the food and company.

I have used past Thanksgiving-time newsletters to ruminate on what I’m thankful for.  This year, though, I find myself focused less on that and more on how I relate to the poor and impoverished people with whom I share my neighborhood, grocery stores, city buses, and so many other fixtures in my everyday life.  My focus has been driven by two things:

I’m writing here in my personal capacity, and I don’t necessarily endorse any/all of the views offered in these writings.  But the writings, which I happened to read in the same sitting, offered a reminder that market capitalism, despite its many virtues, will often produce poor outcomes for some people.  As someone who’s implicitly entered into a social contract to live in our society, I feel a responsibility – or perhaps an “ownership stake” if we’re to keep it in free-market vernacular – in ensuring that those on the lower socioeconomic margins have 1) support structures in place to prevent them from falling into poverty, and 2) opportunities for empowerment and advancement.  And if you who read this newsletter don’t fight – regardless of your personal motivations – toward those ends, who will?  Well, it turns out this is a rumination on thankfulness after all: Thanks for all you do.

The recent news, in very short:

  • maximizing online and other triage systems for self-represented litigants to access courts;
  • the difference in how some states, and the federal courts, treat cy pres awards;
  • funding cuts force office closure at Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Legal Services Association;
  • new TN legal-aid project to aid those catching up on child-support payments;
  • important research on how the voting public perceives “civil legal aid”;
  • new law-school incubator at NY’s Touro Law, and some pushback on idea of incubators as ATJ solutions;
  • the relationship of pro bono and direct-services delivery in narrowing the justice gap;
  • Watch this great “Giving Tuesday” fundraiser clip from the NC ATJ Commission;
  • Arkansas ATJ Commission releases recommendations for supporting pro se parties;
  • Q&A on relationships between corporate social responsibility and pro bono;
  • Maryland ATJ Commission produces new self-help videos for pro se parties;
  • New legal aid project in Missouri to serve the mentally ill;
  • Delaware to launch U.S.’s 31st ATJ Commission;
  • New online resource on how courts use (or can use) social media;
  • NY State Bar launches pilot program offering reduced-fee services to vets;
  • MUSIC!

The summaries:

  • December, 2013 -  a new paper from the National Center for State Courts and Self Represented Litigation Network explores how courts and legal services providers can use technology to support pro se litigants: “The modest goal of this paper is to introduce a framework of triage protocols to improve the litigant experience, expand access to justice and offer new efficiencies to courts and legal service providers. The protocols are designed around the concept of web portals, which are becoming a central tool for courts as they plan how to respond to the growing number of SRLs even while facing shrinking budgets. In addition to enabling on-line document assembly and e-filing, web portals offer a tremendous opportunity for providing high quality legal education and access to appropriate legal service providers.”
    • Critics rave: “For enthusiasts of ‘triage protocols for online litigant services’, this is Grisham meets Turow meets Rice!!!”
  • 11.25.13 – this National Law Journal looks at how “[s]tate and federal courts have diverged in their treatment of cy pres awards. States are trending toward statutory or rule-based systems that designate legal services organizations as appropriate cy pres recipients. In contrast, federal courts, operating without the guidance of any rule for designating cy pres recipients, have struggled to protect class members and have, therefore, established an increasing number of conditions on cy pres awards….  To date, at least 11 states have amended their class action rules or enacted statutes mandating or encouraging cy pres awards for legal aid…  (Full article, including the laundry list of states, here.)
  • 11.22.13 – an office-closure announcement from a Pittsburgh-based legal aid provider: “Continuing reductions in state and federal funding are forcing legal aid societies – including NLSA – to do more with less. Much less. Sadly, Neighborhood Legal Services is faced with closing our Butler office effective today, Friday, November 22, 2013.”
  • 11.23.13 – in cooperation with a county courthouse, Legal Aid of East Tennessee is expanding its services to juvenile court in order to offer advice and counsel to those who are trying to catch up on child-support arrearages.  (Story from the Times Free Press.)
  • 11.21.13 – ATJ blogger Richard Zorza shares the latest on the civil legal aid “communications hub” project being launched by both the Public Welfare and Kresge foundations: “I am honored…to post the communications research conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Torrance Group on civil legal aid and access to justice for the new Communications Hub funded by [PWF and Kresge].  Here’s a link to a report summarizing the polling and analysis which will drive the communications initiative, and it’s well worth reading Richard’s takeaway.

  • 11.20.13 – a new law school incubator at Touro Law School on New York’s Long Island: “The Community Justice Center provides onsite space for 10 Touro Law graduates to launch their solo practices for a period of 18 months. Much like medical internship and residency programs, Touro Law’s program will help strengthen the professional skills of its members through mentoring and practical ongoing training while also assisting them to learn how to develop solid solo or small firms that are both financially and professionally satisfying.”  The clinic was founded by Fred Rooney, who’s new to Touro but is regarded as the progenitor of the incubator movement.  (Story from The Jewish Voice website.)
  • 11.21.13 – this piece from the UK-based Legal Voice explores the role of pro bono work in narrowing the justice gap (at a time when the UK is exploring legislative changes that could greatly shrink the legal-aid infrastructure).  “…[P]ro bono cannot in practice fill a meaningful part of the growing access-to-justice gap left by legal aid cuts. The firms with real expertise in the relevant areas of social welfare law (immigration, welfare benefits, housing, debt, and so on) already do a substantial amount of pro bono work (although they typically do not call it that) and have little or no capacity to do more; the large commercial firms generally lack expertise in these areas of law.”  Pro bono plays an essential role in narrowing the justice gap, but pro bono providers rely on the support of direct-services providers in order to perform.  An important point.
  • 11.20.13 – “In order to raise money for Legal Aid of North Carolina and Legal Services of Southern Piedmont, the two organizations, along with the NC Equal Access to Justice Commission, have produced a great new video calling for financial investment in the state’s legal aid infrastructure.  The video is short, the message is direct, and it’s all-around well produced.  Great work, especially as a tool to reach younger supporters.
  • 11.19.13 – “The Arkansas Access to Justice Commission has released a comprehensive set of recommendations for addressing the legal needs of the growing number of Arkansans who are unable to afford to pay for representation in civil cases that deal with such basic needs as family stability, health care, and economic security. Funded by a 2012 technical assistance grant from the State Justice Institute, the study was completed earlier this year by Greacen Associates, LLC.”  (Here’s the full ATJ Commission announcement on its recommendations for supporting self-represented litigants.)
  • 11.19.13 – a Q&A with longtime pro bono and CSR champion Madeline Schachter focuses, naturally, on “Exploring The Intersection Of Global Pro Bono And Corporate Social Responsibility.”  (Interview from the Metropolitan Corporate Counsel.)
  • 11.6.13 – “The Maryland Judiciary has launched a series of videos to help people who represent themselves in court.” The first four videos in the series, which is being developed by the Maryland ATJ Commission, are now available to view on the Judiciary’s website. The are:
  • 11.14.13 – “the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at “Legal Services of Eastern Missouri’s new program to serve disadvantaged and chronically mentally ill adults in St. Louis….  The program is funded by a three-year, $86,000 grant from the St. Louis Mental Health Board, which administers public funds for behavioral health and children’s services for city residents.”
  • 11.13.13 – the First State is launching the nation’s 31st ATJ Commission.  By Supreme Court Order dated 11/13/13, the Delaware Access to Justice Commission will come into being on 1/1/14.  Here’s the press release, and here’s the Order creating the Commission, which will exist for an initial term of two years.
  •  November, 2013 – our friends at the National Center for State Courts have launched the Social Media and the Courts Network. “This site compiles information on how courts are currently using social media and provides resources for courts just getting started. We also provide information on the impact of social media on the courts, including the impact on juries, judicial ethics issues, and HR and policy issues.”
  • November, 2013 – the NY State Bar Association (NYSBA) is rolling out a pilot program to offer discounted legal help to vets:  “The Veteran Referral Panel was established by [NYSBA] to provide free phone consultations and lower-cost legal help to veterans statewide.  The Richmond County [and] Westchester County Bar Association[s] are among the local bar[s] participating in the pilot program….  Participating lawyers will provide free phone consults and offer a 25 percent discount on their legal fees.”  (Story from the SILive news website, serving Staten Island.)

Music!  This morning we shall be loud and Ohioan.  Here’s the late-great New Bomb Turks with “End of the Great Credibility Race.”  The song is about battles between rock bands trying to make it big, how “selling out” and “staying true” are perceived, and ultimately how the race to be purer-than-thou doesn’t lead anywhere.  Great closing line, which I think has application well outside of that specific context: “The checkered flag’s white at the end of the great credibility race.”

Enjoy, have a good week, and if funds permit think about Giving Tuesday.

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