Yesterday, Tuesday, was a White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. LSC and the White House were the co-hosts. Some of the highlights for me — all showing what a different time this is, both in terms of support from national leadership, and the innovation-orientation of the access community:
Hearing Vice President Biden describe how he left a large firm to become a public defender after winning a case against a worker — something like “I told them that I was on the wrong side of this business.”
Hearing Attorney General Eric Holder talk with strength about his commitment to the Access to Justice Initiative at DOJ, and the value of the work they do, including the inter-agency roundtable.
Hearing Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson talk about the value of including all points of view in access to justice commissions, and his appointing a conservative justice — deeply committed to access — as the Court’s ex-officio member of the state access Commission.
Hearing New York Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman describe his commitment to early pilots in non-lawyer practice, his belief that the idea represents no threat to the organized bar, and his reporting finding much support for the concept.
Hearing Laurel Bellows, ABA President, respond positively in terms of her belief that there are many non-legal skills that can help clients, and that there have to be solutions to cost and access issues.
Hearing Jim Sandman, LSC President, say that in some ways legal aid technology was ahead of the private bar.
Hearing Robert Grey, LSC Board Member and co-chair of the LSC Pro Bono Report Implementation Committee, talk about the plans to gather and distribute a Best Practices Toolkit for pro bono.
Hearing Steven Croley, Deputy Counsel to the President, draw together some conclusions from the afternoon, including the need to tailor services to need, the need to develop practical assistance mechanisms, the need to develop new kinds of capacities, and the importance of uniformity in rules, forms, all facilitating economies of scale for access. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he encouraged the idea of new court procedures, analogous to, but beyond small claims and summary jury trials.
This was more than a show and tell. There is some important signaling going on here — innovation is on the march, and it has the support of national and judicial leadership.