A couple of years ago, I blogged about what a state capacity for access to justice might look like. Folks might find this post useful to start to talk about evaluation of the progress of their state’s ATJ Commission (or justification for lack of one).
I thought it might now be time to think about what the capacities for national Access to Justice focusing and initiating of activities are needed, particularly when new areas of opportunity arise.
I am not here suggesting how these functions might be fulfilled, or whether or how they should be integrated or divided, rather I suggest them as a way of assessing whether our community is doing all it should in focusing and opportunity-taking terms.
Before the list I would also point out that filling in the gaps in this list, and making sure there is some form of linkage between the elements, would provide many opportunities to emphasize and leverage the bipartisan nature of support for legal aid, broadly defined, and access to justice generally.
So here is my initial list, with some explanations:
Communication Capacity to public and policy folks. This we have in Voices for Civil Justice thanks to Public Welfare and Kressge funding
Strategic Planning Component. The idea that some group is really doing long term strategic planning for access to justice. Not sure this is happening.
Idea Factory. I like to think that SRLN does this is most areas, but surely we need more.
Operating Foundation. A group that has the resources to move in quickly to fill gaps and exploit opportunity without a long term fund-raising lag. Right now, the Public Welfare Foundation plays an amazing role doing this, but perhaps we need more
Lobbying capacity (presumably non-tax-exempt). Various groups lobby for specific issues such as LSC funding, but the approach is inevitably fragmented, particularly for innovations initiatives.
Research Capacity or Agenda. Similarly, there is as yet no integrated access research agenda or body — although work by the Department of Justice and NSF, about which I hope to be blogging soon, may fill, or show the way to fulfilling, this role.
Pilot project capacity. Where is the non-ad-hoc capacity for pilot projects — particlarly if they can not be considered as technology projects eligible for LSC TIG funding?
Communication Capacity for Innovation Within Legal Aid and its Components (community-based legal aid, courts, bar, etc). By this I mean the ability to get the word out within the network and build internal enthusiasm and momentum. While Voices is fulfilling some of this function as a byproduct of the innovation component of its public communications strategy, this is still only a partial overlap. An example would be what is being done through the evaluation of “roles beyond lawyers” that Public Welfare is funding and encouraging.
Educational capacity for long term professionals. While many organizations provide training for their own specific constituency, there is no LLM on access to integrated access to justice, or judicial education on access generally (beyond the SRLN curricula)
Crisis Intervention Capacity. When the VA crisis erupted a few months ago, and when Ferguson/Baltimore re-focused us on the complex role of courts, there was no infrastructure for for an integrated leadership response for the role of legal aid, broadly defined.
Support for Integrated data capacity. Who is making the argument for integrated data across components of legal aid, broadly defined. The DOJ/NSF process described above might help with this.
Nationally Developed Software Platforms and Sustaining Strategy. Compliments are due LSC for their Technology Summit Report and integrated portal plans. SJI (with LSC) has played a role in the past in supporting a national document assembly platform used by both court-based forms legal aid and community based legal aid.
Supporting Local Capacity. The ABAs work in this area has been greatly strengthened by the support of the Public Welfare Foundation. NCSC has been particularly helpful in supporting the creation of new ATJ commissions.
I am sure I have forgotten many important contributions to meeting these needs. But I think they illustrate rather than undercut the argument of the need for more analysis of these focusing and initiative taking needs.