April 8 – Another Important Day for Access at the White House

It’s becoming a wonderful tradition.  A White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice, at which the administration’s commitment to access to justice is highlighted, hardworking partners are honored, and stakeholders get to network about future ideas.

I plan to blog in more detail abut some aspects of the Forum in the next few days, but want quickly to get out a summary of the headlines.

As before it was great to hear senior administration officials highlight the President’s and First Lady’s commitment.  This time it was Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel, Kathy Ruemmler, Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, and Tony West, Associate Attorney General.  Interestingly Verrilli put the issue in the context of the debate about income inequality (and sounded more radical than the legal aid folks.)  He urged what he carefully called an “expectation” of lawyers giving 10% of their time to pro bono, and reported that he had always tried to so so when in private practice.  I have to admit it was great to hear Ms. Techen talk of what the President was focusing on “this afternoon in the Oval.”  It was like being in West Wing.

Counsel Reummler announced the very important seventeen agency Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable and its Toolkit.  The Toolkit includes various materials on potential federal funding sources for legal aid, broadly defined, including court and community based access services.  Much more on this later.  Note now the critical importance of the fact that the Toolkit is introduced with a Message from Attorney General Eric Holder and
Director of the Domestic Policy Council Cecilia Muñoz. This is much more than a message to the reader, it is a signal of administration policy priorities to those who labor in the funding agencies, and its long term importance can not be overstressed.

A panel expertly chaired by LSC President Jim Sandman on corporate pro bono partnerships brought out the lessons of pro bono and highlighted the need for additional research into those lessons.

Glenn Rawdon, LSC’s Program Counsel for Technology, building on Board Chair John Levi’s introduction talked brilliantly of the coming “Access to Justice Convergence, and how the technology strategies adopted at the Summit would help guarantee that all who could not afford access services would obtain “some form of effective assistance,” a phrase that I expect we will be hearing much of in the future.

Finally Tony West, Associate Attorney General, remembered earlier remarks by prior Attorneys General on legal aid (described at link), and underscored the administration’s commitment.

I will follow up with more detail and reflections in the coming days.  Remember, if you want to get e-mail notices of my blogs you can sign up in the right panel of the blog site.  You can get twitter notifications by subscribing to my @rzorza feed.


About richardzorza

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