With the election over, its time to reflect on what kind of person we need to take on the crucial mantle of Larry Tribe and Mark Childress at the DOJ Access Initiative. Its a very important job, and needs a strong leader.
There seem to be three areas of needed skill:
1. Knowing the DC Levers
Mark Childress brought to the role a knowledge not just of how to get a change or policy through, but ultimately more importantly how to embed a change deeply into the system so that it would be reflected in years or decades of future decisions. That is critically important, and is often unseen, even by access advocates. Of course what you hope for is such embedding that goes beyond money to systems that will generate ideas and will develop staff and structures in a wide variety of institutions that will be sympathetic to access concerns.
2. Ability to Draw Public Attention to the Issue
Professor Tribe, because of visibility, as well as the fact that his relationship to the President was well known, brought a unique and surely irreplaceable ability to draw public attention to the importance of access to justice. He was particularly helpful within the court community. See here, for example, his 2010 speech to the Conference of Chief Justices. Since that speech, there has been lots of activity in expanding access commissions, and my own view is that much of that activity was spurred by the speech. Whoever is chosen needs at least some of that crediblity.
3. Ability to See the Big Picture and Advance Transformative Agendas
It is important that this not get forgotten.
In the long term, we are only going to achieve 100% access with some real changes in how we think about all our institutions. And, leadership in thinking about such changes remains desperately needed. While each one of us may have our own list of “big ideas,” and while the most important may well still be awaiting articulation, the more general point is that we need voices in support of at least dialog on possibilities such as non-lawyer practice, court simplification, triage, a research agenda, middle income access, private bar contracting, and the like.
Since no one individual can bring all these skills, the question becomes who can build and lead an office that carries out all three tasks with maximum impact.
Lets hope that by the time of the next election it will go without saying that an office such as this is needed regardless of the party in power. Indeed, part of the job of the next head of the program will be to institutionalize it in just this way.