Aside from the access value of the idea itself, the news provides yet another example of how a Chief can use his leverage and “bully pulpit” to put and keep access to justice on the public agenda.
How does the CJ do it? He takes very specific actions, like getting money for legal aid, imposing requirements on foreclosure plaintiffs, or now, imposing pro bono requirements. He does so with the public support of important stakeholders, such as the Attorney General, banks, hospitals, etc. He makes sure that the media gets the word out, and he places the steps in a broad context of the urgency of the need.
Some Chiefs are nervous about seeking the limelight, or being too “political.” CJ Lippman seems to have avoided these problems by focusing directly on the courts and on access to justice. He brings to his agenda a long history in the courts, in many roles, during which time he has developed many relationships that have surely been helpful in this more public role. It as also not hurt that he is operating in a relatively progressive political environment. But it is also noteworthy that Chiefs in different environments, such as the one faced by Texas Chief Wallace Jefferson, have been able to make similar progress using similar techniques.
It should also be noted that CJs Lippman and Jefferson, and indeed others, are merely part of an emerging new generation of Chiefs more willing to be more assertive in their roles. Particular credit must be given to retired CJ John Broderick of New Hampshire, who has long explicitly urged such roles on his former colleagues.