Yesterday Prof. Larry Tribe spoke at LSC to the Board and others.
Here are my own impressionistic thoughts of what for me were the highlights.
News on Replacement: Prof. Tribe reported that the process for replacing him is moving forward, that there is a short list, and that he hoped there would be an appointment in a “short period.”
Restrictions on Participation in Access by Non Lawyers, etc: He mentioned several times the need to look at making sure that the rules do not inhibit flexible and innovative use of non-lawyers, such as well trained students, and court staff, in appropriate roles.
Encouragement of Unbundling: He reiterated the need for encouragement of this cost efficient approach for access
The Need for System Simplification: He repeated the need for looking at the system and eliminating needless complexities, including removing barriers to access, such as the use of opaque language. (He mentioned a sign in a court referring to “unrepresented litigants,” and the suggestion, adopted by the court, to change it to “people without lawyers.”
Pro Bono Untapped Resource: He highlighted the still largely untapped potential pro bono resources (including a reference to one lawyer at a large firm referring to a $100 million unused potential capacity at that partner’s firm alone.)
Senior Lawyers: He highlighted the hugely underutilized and enthusiastic pool of senior lawyers and the pro bono roles they might play, including as mentors, with their great experience.
Law Schools: He referenced a new focus on the role of law students and law schools as a source of access services. (There was a recent conference at Stanford.)
Funding: He joined in bemoaning the cuts indicated in the pending agreed-up Continuing Resolution, in noting the heightened impact because of the problems with IOLTA (despite the FDIC fix, which his office helped ensure), and suggested that thought might be given to longer-term solutuions such as, one day, maybe, taxation of services provided by lawyers.
Restrictions: He focused particularly on the damage and inefficiency from the outside funds restriction.
LSC’s Role: He mentioned the potential role of LSC in using its management and compliance activities to help shape the environment within which its grantees operate, particularly with respect to the kinds of efficiencies and improvements that innovations such as the above could provide.
The DOJ Access Initiative’s Role: He described the Initiative’s sucessful efforts with Federal agencies such as the VA, HUD, DOL, and Commerce (Broadband) to move forward access projects such as those dealing with foreclosure prevention, labor protections, and veterans rights, and the Broadband funding to show the potential uses of technology for access.
Best Practices: He encouraged the identification and promotion of best practices in access.
Access Commissions: He pointed, appropriately, with satisfaction to the passage by the Conference of Chief Justices of the Resolution in support of access commissions, and to the role the Access Initiative staff are playing in encouraging expansion to new states. (I was there, and this was clearly “but-for causation.” Prof. Tribe’s speech led directly to the Resolution, which had not previously been on the Agenda in any form.)
Future of the Access Initiative: He suggested that the Initiative was more likely to survive past the current Obama presidency if organizations spoke up to underline the national importance of the issue. (He told a nice story about how people would stop outside his office to get a photo of the sign, sine it showed that for the first time that there actually was an office at DOJ focused on access to justice.)
All in all, just as reflective and transformative as you would expect from such an intellectual leader.
While we would all have far preferred that Prof. Tribe’s ten months at DOJ would have been far longer, there is so much to celebrate, both in the specifics of what has been achieved, and in the potential of the directions and sense of possibility that have been laid down for the future. Thanks again Professor.