Claudia Johnson Blogs on the Equal Justice Conference

I have been lucky enough to have been in almost every single Equal Justice Conference since 2002. My first EJC was with Tanya Neiman—she gave me the opportunity to come with her and do a workshop on holistic advocacy while I was working with her. Tanya taught me how to enjoy EJC—I recall that months prior to the conference, the fax machine at work would be in hyper mode—with fax proposals flying in and out. EJC is my favorite conference because it brings a diverse group of doers and thinkers—and it is a forum where the challenges that legal nonprofits are faced are explored, along with the pro bono community at large. In the past three years, courts and librarians have started to come and now with the necessary advent of the Access to Justice Commissions—we have ATJ Commissioners contributing to the discussion and sharing of ideas.

This year, to me, the informal theme of the conference was “Who moved my Cheese”. This book by Spencer Johnson,  is a team of two  2 mice and 2 humans, who live in a maze and have an apparently never ending supply of cheese A short video  can be found here:

Over time though, conditions change, and the book is about how people adapt to the dwindling of the cheese supply. In the legal services community, courts, pro bono world, an even for big firms and attorneys in private practice, the cheese is dwindling—if we consider the cheese to be analogous to resources and the traditional way of providing legal services.  In the story, there are two characters, “Sniff and Scurry”– once they realize the cheese is dwindling go out and in search of new cheese. They had noticed the cheese going down, and so they were ready to go out and search for new cheese, so they did not waste time crying over the diminishing cheese. The other two characters are two human like characters, “Hem and Haw”. At first both of them are angry over the loss of cheese, but eventually Haw goes out to search for new cheese. Hem stays at the cheese less station and refuses to go out and look for new cheese. Eventually Haw finds a new cheese station that has the same type as the old cheese and more excitingly new types of cheese. Haw learns some lessons along the way, which are:

Change Happens

They Keep Moving The Cheese

Anticipate Change

Get Ready For The Cheese To Move

Monitor Change

Smell The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old

Adapt To Change Quickly

The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese


Move With The Cheese

Enjoy Change!

Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!

Be Ready To Change Quickly And Enjoy It Again

They Keep Moving The Cheese.

At EJC there were certain workshops that were about the cheese that got moved. For example, the discussion on Turner v. Rogers, is a discussion of a change in circumstances that can be perceived as positive or negative—nonetheless it is an important change in the law that will eventually affect all self-represented litigants—even those who are represented—in child support cases.

There were workshops about new cheese, for example the workshops on research and outcomes, and the workshops on hotlines and evaluation—all of these workshops were about trying to figure out where the new cheese may be, or coming up with better tools to find the new cheese or measure how long the old cheese will last and when it will go stale.

Some of the sessions were about new cheese, and in these sessions the new cheese was described and tips where shared on how to find it—for example the sessions on technology, Limited English Proficiency, and online forms as venues for reform, as well as pro bono session on how to recruit volunteers, how to fundraise, federal funding, etc. I heard many discussions about how the practice of law has to change, how we need to bring other disciplines to help people develop the skills and aptitudes to problem solve before problems get to the point where they need a lawyer’s advice or more. I find this willingness to consider that in some cases other methods and types of interventions and disciplines can play a role in the continuum of services, exciting.

The Innovations Award to Richard Zorza—reflects that our community recognizes that showing the community new sources of cheese and the value of innovation and questioning the status quo in the system and practice of law are valued. In the past 10 years or maybe more, Richard has asked the hard questions about judicial education, court re-engineering, the responsibility courts have to serve the public, how courts and legal aid groups collaborate and should collaborate going forward, from a court user perspective, and has created a network of hard working people helping move and document the change that our legal system needs to complete—despite this financial down time. While some people will act like Hem and stay where the old cheese are and feel threatened, angry, maybe even scared—coming back from EJC I am excited to know that a large number of attendees were willing to think about the new cheese and were looking for new ways to delivery legal services using new tools, new models, bring in metrics/outcomes to guide new practices, and not get stuck in the part of the maze that is empty and does not have enough cheese to meet demand.

Across the spectrum different programs and states are in different parts of the cheese maze—some are just realizing the change, some are angry at the change or afraid that the change will diminish their valuable work or water down their identity or importance of their work, some are looking for better metrics to predict the change or to measure the new cheese, some are adapting to change, and some are learning to enjoy the change. As always EJC does not disappoint. EJC was a wonderful venue to interact with many groups in these different stages—and thus I am thankful to the ABA and NLADA for putting together such a well-integrated set of panels and workshops.

In retrospect, I think that Tanya was like “Sniff and Scurry”—she was one of those persons who could see the next step in the right direction in the pro bono realm. I come back to my work reassured that there are many others like her and Richard in the community and many others like Haw—who will adapt to this restructuring of our legal practice and system, and who will learn to enjoy the new cheese, and will better monitor the supply of cheese so that the next time the cheese is moved—we all can be ready to find new ways and opportunities to respond to change. Until the cheese is moved again!

(Richard Note:  Claudia is a regular guest blogger on this blog, so this is posted by me with no edits and some embarrassment, but thanks Claudia.)


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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