Just over a month ago, we launched our “Board of Commentators,” with the hope that we could stimulate broad and open discussion about the future of access to justice. So this Digest is intended to draw some attention to the helpful ideas offered — I am only pulling a small part of what was said in each comment, so please go and look at the full comments by clicking on the post link.
Interestingly, the one post that generated the most responses by far was the one titled, High Lifetime Chance of Being Poor Suggests a New Legal Aid/ATJ Funding Argument.
The World Bank’s Paul Prettitore comments on his surprise at how many have been poor at some point in their lives, says this is more like what he sees in middle income countries. He suggests focusing legal aid services on those who move in and out of poverty.
Soren Rasmussen, of Voices for Civil Justice, urges: “It is clear that the message that will win over the larger public and politicians is one that is more inclusive and focus on most Americans. If I could eliminate one word from advocates vocabulary it would be ‘poor’.”
Dr. James Burdick uses the data to emphasize the relationship between civil legal aid and other needs: “Moreover, since housing, education, and health care are all interdependent it seems that increased access to justice when people are faced with legal troubles can be added to the mix and will aid in strengthening the success of all supports to the economically and racially disadvantaged.”
Gerry Singsen drafts a possible fundraising pitch which cites the numbers, points out that most people will be poor at some point, and then asks: “When that happens, will Legal Aid be there for you? Or will you have to go it alone? Legal Aid turns away more than half of the people who seek assistance because the funding is too little. It’s actually worse than that, because a lot of people with legal problems know that a lot of what Legal Aid can afford to dispense is just advice, and that only the most dire cases will qualify for full representation by a lawyer.”
Lisa Rush responds simply: “How about instead of “most Americans” or “62 percent” say, “we.” Because all of us at some age need safety net.”
Claudia Johnson focuses on those of us who are not so young: “As more of us reach 60 years old and look forward to living 25 to 30 years more access to free legal assistance becomes a bare necessity. Otherwise, we will see a return to the 40s and 50s when the elderly were mostly poor and destitute before SSI and Medicare were created as a safety net. The safety net has to be protected and expanded for all.”
John Whitfield reiterates the impact: “At some point in their lives, most Americans will need free civil legal aid to deal with a critical legal problem that may turn their lives upside down if not properly addressed.”
On the CCJ/COSCA Resolution adopting 100% access to justice as an aspirational goal, Dr Jim Burdick, drawing on his medical experience, makes several critical points about how critical metrics are to meeting this goal: “The idea of “realistic and measurable outcomes” is fine but vague. There must be certain things every state needs to do. It would be impossible to do this from the beginning with all of the relevant issues included. A single specific metric is needed to start with. Perhaps it would be whether any legal help ever occurred, or the time from official notification – of a fine or arrest – to the time a specific personal involvement with legal help was initiated, or some similar measure. The amount of time that would be reasonable would be different for different categories of legal problem. These details would need to be agreed upon by all. Equally important, a specific universal process for data collection and analysis must be devised. This could provide comparability. Then variability in the metric from place to place, such as state to state, as a surrogate for the complex of legal needs could stimulate a continuing improvement process. The metric could grow in complexity over time.”
Jim Greiner adds some thoughts on how human beings so often focus on the wrong things, and then suggests: “Surely the orchestras have the solution to this problem for us? Have all witnesses testify behind screens? Or, better yet, have them testify at depositions, and then hand transcripts to jurors?”
Lisa Rush points out that voices can be misleading: “I sound like I am eleven years old on the phone. Unless I have a cold. Then I sound like a 9 year old with a smoking habit. It is nice when telemarketers call and I can honestly answer, “No, my mommy and daddy can’t come to the phone right now.” Thanks for your honesty!
Lisa also reminds us of the long history of focusing on the wrong thing: “This reminds of the old use of physiognomy (face) and phrenology (head shape) in19th century police investigations.”
Dr Peter Fielding contrasts the complex ways we make decisions using clinical trials with the first impressions so often used in human interactions, and of the ways that people try to shape impressions, of the hope that attorneys can protect their clients and “Perhaps it is time for alternative methods of conflict resolution to be seriously studied in which truth and the broader public interest is the client and the actions and interests of individuals are judged in this context. Where there is shared culpability there should be shared responsibility. How rarely is “winner takes all” the right societal outcome??”
Finally, one comment on The Nighmare of Website Bias — Lack of Specific Intent, And Hard to Prevent, Claudia Johnson goes into a lot of worthwhile detail on how this could happen.
But, sadly, no comments at all on Legislative Funding Best Practices For Legal Aid Endorsed by CCJ and COSCA Apply to Broad Definition of Legal Aid, or on ATJ Commissions Planning Survey Shows Energy, Common Directions and Interest in Multi-State Networking, or, perhaps most upsetting, on An Urgent Call for Action on Moving Potential Clemency Cases Forward.
So, very special thanks to all for your contributions.