The recent Research Workshop was sponsored by NIJ (National Institute of Justice) and ATJ (Access to Justice Initiative) within the Department of Justice, and by the National Science Foundation (NSF). Attorney General Loretta Lynch both spoke and blogged about it here. Obviously it is very important for the future that she said this in the post:
Through the Access to Justice Initiative, we’re building partnerships across the country to expand legal aid and rethinking policies that reduce its impact. Thanks to the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which ATJ helped launch in 2012, more than two dozen federal grant programs—involving health care, citizenship, post-incarceration reentry, housing for veterans, and other federal priorities—have now been clarified to allow funding for legal services to further program goals. And under the Department’s recently-expanded Pro Bono Program, any DOJ employee can now use up to 30 hours of administrative leave for pro bono work that takes place during work hours, such as court appearances and mediations.
With the work of the Civil Legal Aid Research Workshop, we are taking another important step toward identifying strategies that will help us improve the ways we serve those who look to us for help. Among its important contributions, the workshop highlighted new research that shows how legal aid interventions can significantly improve lives and respond to critical civil justice needs. It put a spotlight on innovative cross-disciplinary tactics, such as combining medical and legal services under one roof. It also furthered the Department’s commitment to an evidence-based approach that will produce better outcomes for individuals in need of assistance.
Federal participants also included Jon Gould and Helena Silverstein, Co-Directors of the Law and Social Sciences program at NSCF, Fay Lomax Creed, also from NSF (Social Behaioral and Economic Sciences Director), Amy Solomon, Director of Policy at OJP, AAG Karol Mason, Lisa Foster, Director of the ATJ Inititive, Karen Lash, Deputy Director, Maha Jweied, Deputy Director, Roy Austin from the White House Domestic Policy Council, Jennifer Park, Senior Statistician at OMB, and folks from Office for Victims of Crime, Elder Justice and NIJ at DOJ, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Its a huge achievement for access to justice that a group such as this takes us seriously.
That achievement comes in part from the years of hard work that the ATJ Initiative has put into developing the relationships, but, more importantly, developing and making the case that access to justice/legal aid, are integrally intertwined with the missions of the groups listed above. Thus when they heard from international experts like Alan Patterson from Scotland (and head of the International Legal Aid Group,) and Suzie Forell from the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales, they knew it related to their own work.
Similarly, when they heard from US researchers and legal aid advocates, our work was becoming real in the context of theirs.
The history of how we got here is laid out in Karen Lash’s recent blog post describing the history.
As Stanford Law Professor Deborah Rhode wrote in the Journal of Legal Education . . ., “The [ATJ] office’s interest in building bridges to legal academics prompted a meeting at Stanford University in 2011 under the sponsorship of the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, the American Bar Foundation and the Harvard Program on the Legal Profession. One result of that meeting was the creation of a Consortium on Access to Justice. The mission of the consortium is to promote research and teaching on access to justice.”
Building on the Stanford convening, ATJ then hosted a series of meetings that led to a National Science Foundation (NSF) workshop led by principal investigator and American Bar Foundation (ABF) Fellow Rebecca Sandefur. The December 7-8, 2012 ABF workshop . . . , entitled Access to Civil Justice: Re-Envisioning and Reinvigorating Research, was designed to identify key unanswered questions in access to justice central to both scholarship and practice, to open a conversation about partnerships on specific research projects and to launch a durable, national Access to Justice research program. The workshop, coupled with inspiration from NSF’s March 13, 2013 Dear Colleague Letter – Stimulating Research Related to the Use and Functioning of the Civil Justice System, contributed to the successful applications of four joint practitioner/researcher NSF applications on a range of topics such as studying outcomes from self-help strategies and representation in housing and small claims courts.
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All of this combined explains why this administration—and the Justice Department in particular—seeks new funds in the 2016 budget request for nearly $3 million to build the department’s capacity for research and data collection related to civil legal aid.
Here are two photos from the event.
After this meeting, I am even more hopeful that access/legal aid issues will be deeply embedded in the bureaucracy. We all owe a huge thanks to DOJ’s Access Initiative. And we should all use and spread the LAIR Toolkit.