As we build out state level access to justice leadership that does beyond information sharing to project leadership and the building of an integrated system, it is great to see two new state level initiatives that are building the needed foundation.
Demonstrating the leadership power that comes with grant-making, the California ATJ Commission has recently announced the awarding of four grants worth $185,000 in total. They were the first in a new Modest Means Incubator program that funds groups to train lawyers to create sustainable law practices providing affordable legal services. The guidelines for the RFP process are here. Reading them will show how such an RFP process can guide collaborations, evaluation and other important aspects of access innovation.
I believe that all Commission should be exploring such competitive and guideline-driven grant-making, even it it means going out and raising the money to do so. (In this case the funding came from the Ford Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation and the California Bar Foundation). For Commissions to become real leaders, they have to get beyond the idea that they just help raise money that then gets distributed on formula. Such a system is one of the ways we discourage leadership through our institutional structures. Local as well as national money will be needed.
Similar good news out of Florida. The State Supreme Court has not only given broad publicity to the creation of its new ATJ Commission, reflecting its commitment, it has also announced plans to broadcast over the Internet its first meeting at this link. The meeting will be this Friday Jan 16 at 12:30 PM, Eastern. The agenda is here. While the whole agenda is important, particularly interesting will be the keynote, given by Texas Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, scheduled to be delivered at 1:10. Those interested in the expanding role of Commissions may also be particularly interested in remarks by Melissa Pershing to be given at 1:40, immediately following CJ Hecht.
It should be noted that I understand that Florida found that the announcement of the ATJ Commission got more media attention that any prior Florida Supreme Court release. This suggests that Voices is getting through in changing the thinking of media folks. It is also particularity nice that NCSC is using its communications systems to spread the word about Commissions, legal aid, and access to justice. I very much hope that we will soon see the same increase in media attention to court-based legal aid that we are already seeing to community-based legal aid. This is something we can all help happen by suggesting stories to Voices for Civil Justice, and by making sure that local court media people are aware of, and connected to, its activities.