This blog is happy to welcome Chuck Greenfield, newly appointed Chief Counsel for Civil Programs at NLADA for a NewsMaker Interview.
Zorza: So, first of all, congratulations. You obviously come well prepared with your long background at LSC and in a variety of positions in the field. Could you start by telling us how you see the access to justice environment as having changed in the last few years?
Greenfield: Thank you Richard. I appreciate your kind words. My sense is that the access to justice environment has significantly changed over the last five years in three major areas: (1) the continued emergence of ATJ Commissions, now in 26 states, with the involvement of a broader base of people and entities working on expanding access to justice. In many states, justices from the highest state courts, bar officials, private attorneys, corporate counsel, pro bono attorneys, legislators, human services officials and others are jointly working to improve access; (2) the painful realization that it is absolutely essential that there be more stable and broader diversification of funding sources for legal services. Relying on variable interest rates and yearly Congressional votes does not create the type of solid foundation that is needed to expand access to justice in this country; and (3) the awareness that something needs to be done about the incredible number of self-represented people, particularly in state courts, that has spurned self-help representation projects, including courthouse-based efforts, limited-scope representation, community education, etc.
Zorza: Thanks, what do you think will be your highest priority, and why?
Greenfield: I have two priorities. One is to provide relevant, timely and accurate legal advice and assistance to civil legal aid programs, upon their request. The other is to help establish a program quality and enhancement project that both adds value to, and is in high demand in, the civil justice community.
Zorza: I was particularly pleased to see that part of your job description will be to play a “lead role in a new initiative at NLADA aimed at developing a research capacity for civil legal services as well as improving quality and program effectiveness.” Can you give us an early idea about what that will mean? What will you actually be doing, and what areas will you be focusing on?
Greenfield: NLADA’s new program quality and enhancement project will involve developing a research capacity. It is too early to say exactly what areas the research will be focusing on. Our civil team, including Lydia Watts (Director of Quality and Program Enhancement), Don Saunders (Vice President, Civil Legal Services), Camille Holmes Wood (Director, Leadership and Race Equity), Alan Houseman (Executive Director, Center for Law and Social Policy), and myself will be working with others in the civil justice community to identify areas where research can help inform effective advocacy – advocacy that achieves maximum results for clients and client communities. This may very well involve more than an access to justice approach. It may involve looking at access to a just result. In addition, NLADA is working on how research and data intersect with its leadership and race equity initiatives. How can civil justice leaders use research and data to further the goals of their programs? We know that the use of research and data gathering is critical to race equity efforts. How can those efforts be encouraged and supported?
Zorza: For the first time, there is obviously starting to be significant research into legal aid outcomes. What do you think are the implications of this research, and how do you see relating to them in your new role?
Greenfield: It is exciting to see the emergence of research into outcomes and legal services delivery approaches. For example, the recent studies by Harvard Law School professor Jim Greiner of what effect an offer of attorney representation in housing eviction cases in two different courts in Massachusetts has on the outcomes in cases, helps guide legal services providers in deciding how to most effectively use limited resources. My new role is to make sure I understand what research has been done, is currently in process, and what new research would be most helpful to legal aid programs.
Zorza: What about “quality and program effectiveness?” What does that mean to you?
Greenfield: I realize that quality and program effectiveness can mean different things to different people. We are looking at how we can best encourage legal aid programs to engage in high-quality and effective advocacy for clients and client communities. Advocacy that is strategic. Advocacy that is highly impactful. Advocacy that has a direct and lasting result.
Zorza: Funding is obviously an issue at the top of leaders’ minds these days. Any thoughts on long term solutions, and NLADAs role in creating such solutions?
Greenfield: IOLTA has really been a wonderful vehicle for funding, but the dramatic interest rate decline has been acutely felt during the last few years. Likewise, state legislative funding and LSC funding is subject to annual or biennial votes. I favor increasing funding structures that involve court filing fees and/or other fees and fines. Income from state filing fees has increased dramatically over the last several years. In 2010, $45.3 million came to LSC grantees from state filing fees; $67.9 million came to grantees from IOLTA. NLADA has a long history of advocating for the expansion of funding for legal aid programs, including increased funding from LSC, IOLTA, VAWA, HUD, etc. I expect that NLADA will continue that role and be actively engaged in working with others to develop new funding sources and expand existing resources for legal aid programs.
Zorza: You have been at LSC in a time of some real changes. Can you tell us your sense of where the Corporation seems to be going, and what we should be expecting in the next year or so?
Greenfield: LSC is just emerging from a transition in leadership. The board of directors and President Jim Sandman are beginning to put into place several initiatives that will play out over the next year or so. First, LSC’s Fiscal Oversight Task Force, a group of outside persons with experience in fiscal oversight chaired by two members of the LSC board of directors, issued a report in July that made a variety of recommendations aimed at improving LSC’s fiscal oversight over grantees. Included was a recommendation to restructure the organization to encourage internal sharing of information and cooperation. While the LSC board is still considering the task force’s recommendations, I anticipate that the board will approve most, if not all, of them. I expect that much of 2012 will be spent by LSC in making changes to improve fiscal oversight. Much like the LSC case counting controversy in the late 1990s steered LSC’ agenda for many subsequent years, a fiscal oversight emphasis may guide many LSC activities for several years to come.
Second, the LSC board has created a pro bono task force comprised of attorneys, judges, executive directors of legal aid programs, and others, to identify best practices for enhancing pro bono services in rural and urban areas and through technology, to examine the obstacles that hamper or discourage pro bono services, and to formulate big ideas for pro bono services. The task force’s report is due during 2012. NLADA plans to play a role in expanding pro bono as well. The goal of NLADA’s new Public-Private Action (PPA) program is to usher a new era of pro bono representation by promoting the development and implementation of new and innovative models for public-private partnerships that have a significant, measurable impact on providing access to justice. The effort, as well as the quality and program enhancement initiative, is part of NLADA’s Blueprint for Justice, connected with NLADA’s centennial.
Third, the board is undergoing a strategic planning process. Input has recently been sought from LSC grantees, grantee board chairs and client eligible members, LSC staff and others. I suspect that the strategic planning process will involve a discussion about outcomes and grantee data reporting. President Sandman has made clear that he would like to see improvements in the type of data LSC collects from grantees, but with the goal of avoiding additional time-consuming reporting requirements. LSC’s strategic plan is expected to be completed in 2012.
Zorza: In your role at LSC you have seen lots of innovations. Which do you think have been most transformative, and which do you hope to see most broadly adopted in the next few years?
Greenfield: The various innovations involving the use of technology immediately come to mind. The I-CAN E-File! program alone helped bring in over $203 million in tax refunds and credits, including over $52 million in earned income tax credits for the 2010 tax year. Another example is the use of A2J Author software for intake and assistance with form completion and Hotdocs document automation software. LSC’s TIG program has played a critical role in encouraging the development of technology-based solutions to advocacy challenges.
Zorza: Looking back to your years as a project director, what do you think directors and boards can do to invigorate their programs and the delivery system?
Greenfield: One thing that programs and boards can do is to focus decisions around what is best for clients and client communities. Invite people outside the program that are working on issues that adversely affect the client communities to seek their suggestions. What issues are they seeing? How best could legal aid assist which the problems they see? The needs assessment process offers a wonderful opportunity to obtain information about needs that may be present when a potential client calls or walks into a legal aid program. It also offers the opportunity to build partnerships with others in the community working on similar issues.
Zorza: Thanks again for your thoughts. Good luck in your new role.