Press Clips Section of Voices Website Helps Create Momentum About Communications and More

The Voices for Civil Justice website now includes a “Press Clips” section.

This tool lets you see all the significant press coverage about legal aid (broadly defined).  It also lets you filter and sort based on a number of criteria including keywords, formats, casetype, who served, how served, geography, topics, and housing types.

Here is a screen shot:

VCJThis tool has huge potential not just to help us all keep up with the latest news, but for local and statewide programs to track their own coverage and see how it relates to other programs and states.

The tool will also make it possible to make sure that all the segments of the legal aid community, including pro bono and court-based, as well as court-based, are getting appropriate coverage.

Folks are encouraged to send reports of media to Voices.



Posted in Communications Strategy | Leave a comment

Sony Could Make “The Interview” Available For Free and Turn Its Story From a Disaster Into a Triumph for Freedom of Expresion and Access

Supposing Sony, instead of giving in to intimidation and exercising self-censorship, announced it would now make the film available for free to any streaming or distribution system that would make it available to the public without any cost (perhaps acknowledging that it could not guarantee security for a traditional movie-house release). I understand that there is already one online suggestion of Sony using its own streaming platform (mention free pricing possibility).

This would sent out an unbelievably strong message that those who seek to intimidate will only guarantee maximum exposure of that which they wished to suppress.  The film would have a massive audience and overwhelming publicity and momentum, no matter its merits.  It might shame reluctant platforms into following suit.

Sony could also encourage those who see the film to contribute their ticket savings to a fund for democracy, and could start the fund off with its own donation.

It has already been suggested that the film could be screened at the White House – maybe a launching pad for this distribution.

Sony could also say that yes, it might be hurt by future data dumps from the hack, but that is a risk that all have to take.  Transparency and standing up to bullying are more important.  (Almost) all would rally around Sony.

Obviously I do not know the contract arrangements for payment for those who worked on the film, but surely they would be no worse off than they are now — and Sony could really reap the moral  high ground by offering to compensate those who lost — and were not willing to waive their losses as their contribution to this movement.

How much better if Sony had taken this approach from day one.  Its leaders were asleep at the switch, and Sony has not yet been well served by its PR folks (they have now brought in a person who helped HW Bush and Monica Lewinsky).


Posted in Freedom of Expression | Leave a comment

Illinois LegalAidOnline Shows Gives Wonderful Example of Online Fundraising

Like all of us, I get many online fundraising pitches.  And I get occasional requests to use this blog for fundraising.  I almost never do.  But this graphic, from Illinois LegalAidOnline is so wonderful as a model that I can not resist passing it on — as well as the donation link.


Note the creative analysis of how news impacts on usage of data, making us all appreciate the value of this work.

We should surely be doing the same analysis nationally.

Remember too, that good data mining might let us work the other way — using changes in usage to predict changes in need for community-based legal need, something our community has been very poor at, partly because we feel so overwhelmed that it does not matter if need is going to increase in some area.

It is only fair to include the rest of the pitch, and the donation link.

Illinois Legal Aid Online has been #HereWhenItMatters for over 13 years, helping people who can’t afford a lawyer solve their legal problems on their own.

In times of crisis, Illinoisans turn to ILAO to understand their legal options, make informed decisions, and represent themselves in court.

In 2014, over 2 million of your neighbors went to for answers.
For example, when the NFL recently changed its policy and suspended a player who assaulted his fiancé, the number of visits to our domestic violence resources more than doubled.

But there’s more to ILAO than reliable legal information –

After this incident, there was a 62% increase in the number of people who took the next step to secure their safety by completing our interactive Order of Protection form.

We’re here when it matters, providing the necessary tools for people to protect themselves and their families whenever a lawyer is out of reach.

Here is the donation link.




Posted in Funding, Self-Help Services, Technology | 1 Comment

A Fabulous Job Opportunity at Voices for Civil Justice

As most folks know, Voices for Civil Justice has been remaking the way we think about civil legal aid and access to justice.  While on one level it has merely been seeking the best way to talk to policy makers, the public and the profession, at a much deeper level, what it has been finding has put us at the forefront of an unprecedented process of change in how we think about, and indeed organize our movement.

Among the key ideas have been the value of thinking about “legal aid,” as a broad phrase that includes “court-based legal aid” services such as self-help centers and forms, as well as the new phrase “community-based legal aid,” which some of us think is the best way to describe the traditional nonprofit legal services community.  Similarly, the initiative has found the great value of focusing on the needs of middle income as well as poor, and a variety of services beyond traditional “full service” lawyering.

So the opening for a Communications Associate at the project, more details of which appear below, is a wonderful opportunity not only to work with some of the most highly regarded experts both in access to justice and in media and communications (BerlinRosen), but also to be a very significant part of this re-conceptualization process.

For a person in the court world, this would be an even more exciting opportunity, in my personal opinion, because while the project has been absolutely phenomenal in getting media coverage about the traditional legal aid sector, it has, so far, found it somewhat harder in the court-based legal aid area.  A wonderful exception is here in this NYT article that covers the whole combined filed.  So the person who has the experience and contacts that can help bring it all together would be a find indeed.

Here is the description of responsibilities and skills required for the position:

Responsibilities and Tasks

  • Develop story ideas and sources for pitching to the media by working with Voices’ extensive national network of legal aid lawyers, court personnel, pro bono attorneys and others
  • Increase the circulation and amplify the impact of successful media placements by using social media, email and other outlets
  • Assist with developing and drafting blog posts, op-eds, social media posts and other written communications
  • Grow and maintain a robust network of legal aid lawyers, court personnel, and other experts and spokespeople by optimizing Voices’ use of Salesforce and integrating it with Voices’ website and MailChimp account
  • Track Voices’ media placements and other significant legal aid media clips and post them to the Voices website
  • Perform other duties as required to accomplish Voices’ objectives of heightened media presence and communications capacity for civil legal aid

Required Education, Experience, Knowledge and Skills

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Strong news sense and knowledge of the media
  • Proficiency in Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as facility in Salesforce (or comparable constituent relationship management software) and WordPress (or comparable web platform);
  • Adept at social media
  • Familiar with and interested in the issues that concern the legal aid sector and the civil courts, including problems of poverty and income inequality, as well as access to affordable housing, employment, health care and education
    Bachelor’s degree or experience in a communications-related field

Its the perfect opportunity for someone.  I hope they take it.  Please spread the word.

Posted in Communications Strategy, Systematic Change | Leave a comment

A Fascinating Access to Justice Day in Pre-Op for Cataract Surgery

Recently, I went through the pre-operative procedure for very minor surgery (cataract removal) at Johns Hopkins.  Two fascinating things happened.

First,, the person told me to expect on the day of the procedure that the nurse would ask me just before surgery to describe what surgery I was there for, and on which eye.  I realized this is just what access advocates urge judges to do, to ask litigants to describe in their own words what has been ordered.  There is then much less chance of error. (The goal is slightly different in the two contexts; in the medical system they are trying to avoid the one with the doctor getting the procedure wrong; in the courtroom, we want to make sure than the litigant really does understand what they are expected to do.  But the issue in both cases is working to remove errors in communication.)

Secondly, and this raises some interesting possibilities, I was told that if the nurse were to fail to ask the question that way — i.e. that the nurse were to ask “are you having cataract surgery in you left eye”, I should in any event explicitly reply with the actual detailed information stated by me.

I loved the acknowledgement that the protocol might not be perfectly followed by the staff, and that, if it was not, it was in my interest to follow it correctly myself — thus also hopefully educating the nurse.  This makes me both a partner in my care, and a partner in ensuring that the best practices are followed.

I am not sure I am comfortable telling litigants to tell judges that when they are asked “do you understand what you are supposed to do,” or “did you understand me,” that the litigants should say “well judge, it is better if you ask me to repeat what you ordered with its details so that you can see if I got it right.”  But maybe it is going to become OK if litigants are suggested that there is the value in saying something like “Judge, can I tell you what I think I am meant to do, so that you can tell me if I have it right?”  It certainly suggests good faith, as well as reducing the risk of error.  And, actually, it is roughly what I do when doctors give me instructions.

Moreover, at a minimum, the litigant might later have a better defense if they failed to understand the order right, the judge failed to catch it and then the order were violated.  On the other hard it would be harder in the future for a litigant to claim lack of understanding as a defense for non-compliance.

There’s a lot to learn from comparing the two systems,


Posted in Court Management, Judicial Ethics, Medical System Comparision | 2 Comments

NYT “Fixes” Column Highlights “Downshift Jobs” as Problem Solver — Consider Legal System Implications

Those who are worried about the emerging trend to use more non-lawyers in the legal system, including perhaps in the courtroom, might be somewhat reassured by the evidence that this approach is being used in other professions.  Indeed, a recent NYT Fixes Column highlights what it calls the “Downshift Jobs” approach to solving problems:

Reading Partners in Charleston, Project ECHO in New Mexico, and Strong Minds in Kampala all rely on task shifting: taking jobs normally restricted to specialized professionals and turning them over to people with far less training in order to reach underserved groups.

At face value, task shifting sounds dangerous. After all, we have professional qualifications for a reason. It takes training and experience to be a good teacher, hepatologist or psychologist. People in those professions have learned things they need to know.

.  .  .

Task-shifting doesn’t necessarily mean second-class care, and sometimes it produces better results than the specialists do. The patients with hepatitis C in rural New Mexico seen by local nonspecialists do better than those seen at the specialist clinic in Albuquerque, possibly because health workers from the same community do better at getting patients to stick to their care plans, and can interact regularly and catch problems early.

.  .  .

Especially when care involves behavioral change, less training can be an asset, not a liability. Who’s better at getting people to improve their eating and exercise habits? A doctor — an authority figure who can spend only 15 minutes and generally learns little about a patient’s life — or a health worker from the patient’s own community, with the same problems, who can visit the patient at home and has the luxury of spending time? Experience indicates it’s the latter.

Task-shifting can be an alternative any time resources are short and people can learn to do a specific activity without the full training specialists receive. Reading Partners succeeds, for example, because it isolated the key components of helping children learn to read, and found a way to teach them clearly and quickly to community volunteers.

Like other forms of task-shifting, this is a money-saver, as volunteers or low-paid workers are stretching the efforts of higher-paid professionals. Such programs also allow people to get access to preventive services, which almost always result in huge savings later. The advantages of task shifting can be summed up in the aphorism: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Anxiety about expansion of what some of us are calling “beyond laywer roles” is often expressed in terms of concern to the client.  What this article demonstrates so powerfully that sometimes a less trained person may be better (or rather often that a person who has less formal training but more experience in the specifics of a matter is better), and then even if they are actually not better, clients usually benefit from having something rather than nothing, someone rather than no-one.

With so many innovations in delivery moving forward, those who would restrict innovations bear a real burden in justifying prohibition of such innovations — which is not to say that all regulations are wrong or unjustified, only that the justification needs to be examined and tested.

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Non-Lawyer Practice, Research and Evalation, Systematic Change, Technology

Webinar on IV-D Funding for Self-Help Services — How to TRIPLE Your Money

Awareness is slowly growing that Federal IV-D  funding has the potential to triple state investments in child support and related activities.  Obviously this funding stream, which is not capped, has the potential to help states build out a very significant self-help capacity, that can ultimately be expanded, with funding from other sources, to include areas beyond IV-D.  This is the model that California followed.

With funding from the State Justice Institute, the Self-Represented Network has developed a manual on the potential of this approach, and how to take advantage of this Federal funding.

In addition, the Network, on December 18, is offering a free webinar on the topic, presented by John Greacen, who surely needs no introduction to those interested in access to justice, and Lee Morhar, who was instrumental in steering California through the process of obtaining the funding stream.

Registration information is here.

In addition, it is very important to point out that HHS has issued proposed changes to the Federal regulations governing IV-D and invited comments due January 16. The SRLN is preparing an analysis of these proposed changes, and they will also be discussed on the webinar.  As a general matter, the changes are likely to facilitate the process of obtaining IV-D reimbursements in this area.

When finalized, I will make the analysis available through this blog.

This is important, and we may well look back nationally at IV-D in ten years, as they already do in California, as the tipping point facilitator for statewide self-help.  Please take advantage of this opportunity to learn more.

Posted in Child Support, Funding, Self-Help Services