Justice Index Gets ABA Pro Bono Award

The ABA has announced that the Justice Index has been awarded an ABA Pro Bono Award. (Press coverage of the Index here.)

This certainly helps cement the status of the Index as a major infrastructure component of the access to justice movement.  As the description on the ABA site explains:

The Justice Index (“JI”) began in 2011 with the simple insight that it’s hard to fix a problem when you can’t see clearly what is going wrong. We have never had effective ways to understand which states’ justice systems struggle the most to assure access to justice and which, despite challenges, are making it easier for vulnerable people in our society to protect their rights.

Thanks to the work of scores of volunteer lawyers, data professionals, state court officials, legal aid lawyers, law students and others, the JI is helping everyone to see the access to justice crisis in America more clearly. The JI is an interactive website that uses data, findings, indicators and indexing to rank the 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., on their adoption of selected best policies for assuring access to justice. By promoting self-analysis and making the adoption of best policies highly visible, the JI promotes positive change across the land.

Together with other initiatives, such as Justice for All, and SRLN, the Index is empowering those in each state who understand that the states justice system must hold itself accountable for its success at providing 100% access. Indeed, as described, this is happening.

Equally important, moreover, is how much this award demonstrates the increasing recognition of the value of pro bono for access infrastructure projects.  As the story is told on the site:

When we began in 2011, lawyers at Skadden Arps researched A2J policies and programs across the country with the help of students at Penn and Cardozo law schools and in-house lawyers at UBS. Pfizer joined the team in 2012, bringing its legal staff and financial support, and introducing NCAJ to Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory, which joined the team and created the data analytics and web tools the JI relies on to this day. Kirkland & Ellis joined the team in 2013 just months before the JI went live and helped get us through the last moments before launch. The JI would not have been possible without all of these commitments.

In 2014, we began a second round of research and four law firms joined the team to re-canvas the country and provide a new and updated data set. Morgan Lewis Bockius, O’Melveny & Myers, Patterson Belknap, and Simpson Thacher, along with Kirkland, contributed the work of more than 50 lawyers – partners and associates – to the effort. Attorneys from General Electric also joined the team. With the continuing support of Pfizer and Deloitte, we launched the updated site in Spring 2016, alongside the ABA’s Equal Justice Conference in Chicago, generating extensive media coverage.

I hope that firms explore many such additional transformative roles.  Here are some thoughts on needed infrastructure components that firms might think about embracing and building.


Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, ABA, Access to Justice Generally, Communications Strategy, Justice Index, Outcome Measures, Pro Bono | Comments Off on Justice Index Gets ABA Pro Bono Award

My Wife Joan Zorza Honored by Boston College Law School For Her Domestic Violence Work

As described in the Summer 2017 issue of BC Law, Joan was given one of the five Law Day awards this year by Boston College Law School for her lifetime of dedicated work in domestic violence and sexual assault.  She saved thousands.

Here is the video of her being introduced for the Hon. David S. Nelson Public Interest Law Award and her speech.  (I apologize for the quality of the video at the beginning.  It gets much better at about 2 min, 25 secs.)



Posted in Domestic Violence, Family Law, Law Schools, Legal Aid, Personal, Vocation | 1 Comment

Professional-Client Partnering Lessons

Note: This is an access to just version of a recent post on my Patient Partnering Site.

A recently published tool intended to be used by medical institutions to encourage their patients to think of themselves as members of a care team, rather than “subjects,” has the potential to help ATJ organizations rethink their relationship to their clients.  It may be hard for lawyers to think of this as a problem, because after all, we are obliged to put our clients first, but that rarely extends beyond individual case litigation, and even at that level nuance is often lost.

The tool, which has been published, by the British Medical Jounral as a response to an editorial, is called An Invitation to Patient and Family Engaged Care for Consumers: What it is, Why it Matters and How Patients and Families Can Engage.

This short document, of which I am proud to be listed listed as a co-author, explains the concept of patient engaged care, describes and briefly summarizes a synthesis of the research into the impact of this approach performed by the National Academy of Medicine and Planetree.

Perhaps most importantly, then tool then specifically welcomes and invites patients to become engaged and partnering team members. (Note that my blog, attempting to summarize the very rich and detailed original Planetree-NAM paper, into which I had some input, is here.)

The BMJ response includes our offered model “Dear Patients & Families” letter, which could be used by medical institutions to explain, welcome and support full engaged participation.

For example, the invitation references and summarizes the research as follows:

The good news is that research shows that patient and family engaged care leads to better relationships between you and your healthcare providers. It helps keeps patients safe. It reduces healthcare costs and keeps people from being unnecessarily readmitted to the hospital. Patient and family engaged care makes healthcare staff feel more connected to the work they do, which makes for a better experience for everyone.

Below is a list of some of the tools specific invitations and suggestions are below.  As you read them, think about whether we in access to just are in the position to make any similar suggestions and invitations, and if not, if there is a good reason for that.

  • On your next visit to your healthcare provider, ask them if they have seen the framework for patient and family engaged care. If not, direct them here: https://nam.edu/pfec.
  • Ask your healthcare provider if there is a way for you to be involved in improving care. For example, ask if they have a patient-family advisory council.
  • Ask to be part of the organization’s leadership or government team. Ask if patients are included as board members, for example.
  • Ask to be with your loved one at all times, if they want that. Question why there are restrictions to visiting patients. If having visitors is not beneficial to your healing process, enlist the support of your care team to set parameters for guests.
  • Ask that a Care Partner or family member be present and engaged for all conversations about your health.
  • State your feelings. They matter just as much as your physical condition.
  • Get involved in research. Ask about how your condition is being studied and how you can help.
  • Let your care team know how you like to receive information.
  • Ask to see and contribute to your medical record. If you don’t understand what you read in your medical record, ask questions until you do.
  • Tell your care provider what your health goals are – in your own terms (for instance, being able to walk up a flight of stairs, being able to play with your grandchildren without getting winded, etc.)
  • Come to doctor’s appointments prepared. Bring a notepad with questions, your medication list and any other pertinent personal healthcare information.
  • Create a medical biography about yourself. What conditions and medications have you had in the past? What are you currently experiencing? What are your goals for the future?
  • Act like you belong. Be a teammate, not a subject.

I think the last one, “Act like you belong. Be a teammate, not a subject,” sums the whole approach up perfectly.

In the original blog, I expressed the hope that medical institutions would want to include this letter in their intake, on-boarding process for new patients, and wold encourage staff to use its suggestions as a framework for discussions with patients about a team approach and its specifics. I pointed out that, together with the underlying NAM framework, it could also be an excellent too for staff training at all levels on how not just to have an engagement discussion, but to make all discussions team discussions.

I would make a parallel plea for access to justice institutions.  In particular such an approach would help institutions focus on how and whether they are empowering the client or customer voice, whether at the individual or case level.  The same qquestions are appropriate for advocacy, service, and Judaical institutions.



Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Attorney-Client, Bar Associations, Communications Strategy, Court Management, Defender Programs, Law Schools, Legal Aid, Legal Ethics, LSC, Medical System Comparision, Self-Help Services, Systematic Change, Usabilty | 1 Comment

New ATJ-GIS Fellowship Opportunity from SRLN

Katherine Alteneder of SRLN announces:

I am delighted to seek applications for an exciting new ATJ fellowship opportunity with SRLN in partnership with Georgetown’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy and made possible with the generous support of the Public Welfare Foundation. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis beginning July 17, 2017, until the position is filled.  The position is located at Georgetown Law, Washington, DC.
The Fellow will help our data and GIS group to create a county-level mapped database of innovations and self-help reforms that are improving litigants’ access to justice throughout the United States. The Fellow will build on this rich data set to gain a nuanced understanding of best practices in various counties, layering this knowledge with user demographic information to assist decision makers in identifying which reforms and service delivery systems are best suited to particular communities based on their population profile and needs. The initiative is designed to support comprehensive, systemic, data-informed reform, promoting innovation and peer network building throughout the country.
Having seen some of the products of the SRLN initiative, I can attest to its transformative value.  Most recently, I understand that the data maps generated for the Illinois ATJ Commission were very helpful in bringing that planning process to such a successful conclusion.
Posted in Law Schools, Mapping/GIS, Technology, Tools | 2 Comments

New Public Welfare Foundation President Announced

Good news

The Public Welfare Foundation has announced that their new President, effective October 1, will be Candice Jones, currently Senior Advisor at Chicago CRED in Illinois.  As the announcement notes:

Previously, she served as Director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, supervising operations, programming, budget matters, and communications for a cabinet level state agency. She also previously served as a White House Fellow, managing a portfolio within the U.S. Department of Education that included developing education strategies for correctional institutions and driving a plan to reinstate federal Pell grants for youth and adults in custody.  

Ms. Jones also has prior experience in philanthropy, having served as a program officer with the MacArthur Foundation where she managed a grant portfolio focused on decreasing racial and ethnic disparities in the juvenile justice system and on improving the quality of defense for indigent youth.

I know that we all look forward to welcoming Candice Jones when she brings her valuable experience to this critically important position on October 1.  Until that date, she will be wrapping up maters in Chicago, and Mary McClymont will remain President of PWF.

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Public Welfare Foundation, Transitions | Comments Off on New Public Welfare Foundation President Announced

Google Home Hears Domestic Dispute and Calls Cops

This is the stuff or dream and nightmare.  According to All That Is Interesting Dot Com,

As reported by ABC News, New Mexico man Eduardo Barros was house-sitting at a home in Tijeras with his girlfriend and her daughter this past Sunday.

Barros then got into a fight with his girlfriend, and things grew violent. At some point, he allegedly threatened her with a gun, saying: “Did you call the sheriffs?” However, the home that the couple was occupying had an active smart home device running inside.

The Google Home misinterpreted Barros’ threat as a voice command, and called 911. When the police heard the altercation over the phone, they immediately rushed over with a SWAT team. After a long standoff, the police were able to capture Barros.

My understanding is that to activate Google Home, you have to say “OK, Google,” although sometimes “OK” is enough, but I am not quite convinced on the details. (remember it can be set to recognize different voices.)

But the general point is that it would be possible to have smart devices, including phones, set to summon help, in pre-detirmined situations.

You can imagine an interface in which the user says ye or no,to calling the police upon certain words or phrases are used, or a level of shaking, or a combination of shaking and a voice, etc, etc.  You could imagine a cancel system.

At the same time, it has to be that the recordings of your 1984 communications are really protected against government access by multiple layers of law and technology.

A lot to be settled and thought through.


Posted in Artificial Intelligence, Criminal Law, Domestic Violence, Family Law, Mobile Technology, Policing, Remote Services, Science, Security, Technology | 1 Comment

Maybe Gorsuch Has Some Possibilities

There is certainly evidence in support of the dominant meme of Gorsuch’s extreme conservatism.  However, there may be one nugget of good news in the access to justice area.

In a VA disability case, in which the Court denied cert., Gorsuch choose to dissent from the denial as follows:

Lower courts often presume that Department of Veterans Affairs medical examiners are competent to render expert opinions against veterans seeking compensation for disabilities they have suffered during military service. The VA appears to apply the same presumption in its own administrative proceedings.

But where does this presumption come from? It enjoys no apparent provenance in the relevant statutes. There Congress imposed on the VA an affirmative duty to assist — not impair — veterans seeking evidence for their disability claims. And consider how the presumption works in practice. The VA usually refuses to supply information that might allow a veteran to challenge the presumption without an order from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. And that Board often won’t issue an order unless the veteran can first supply a specific reason for thinking the examiner incompetent.

No doubt this arrangement makes the VA’s job easier. But how is it that an administrative agency may manufacture for itself or win from the courts a regime that has no basis in the relevant statutes and does nothing to assist, and much to impair, the interests of those the law says the agency is supposed to serve? (bold added)

Now, you might wonder if our intervention is needed to remedy the problem. After all, a number of thoughtful colleagues on the Federal Circuit have begun to question the presumption’s propriety. And this may well mean the presumption’s days are numbered. But I would not wait in hope. The issue is of much significance to many today and, respectfully, it is worthy of this Court’s attention.

Interestingly, Sotomayor also dissented from the denial, writing separately.

To raise an objection, a veteran needs to know the medical examiner’s credentials. And yet, the VA does not provide veterans with that information as a matter of course. Nor does it always provide veterans with that information upon request. The only road to guaranteed access to an examiner’s credentials runs through a Board order. The Board, however, has some- times required the veteran to have already raised a spec- ific objection to an examiner’s competence before ordering the VA to provide the credentials. This places a veteran in “a catch-22” where she “must make a specific objection to an examiner’s competence before she can learn the exam- iner’s qualifications.” 834 F. 3d 1347, 1357 (CA Fed. 2016) (Reyna, J., dissenting from denial of rehearing en banc).

Now, it is easy to to see Gorsuch’s dissent from the denial as being grounded in his deep skepticism towards Chevron deference, the Court’s willingness to defer to agency interpretations of statutes.  It also allows him to point out that individuals can be hurt by this deference as corporations.

But the new Justice does seem troubled by the access to justice denial inherent in the structure of burdens of pleading and disclosure.

This might suggest a willingess to question rules and procedures that place unfair and unnecessary burdens on access to justice.  In particular, it might suggest willingness to take seriously statutory statements of commitments to accessibility of legal procedures.

It is noteworthy that in his 2016 article in Judicature, Access to Affordable Justice, Gorsuch discusses and urges civil justice reforms as one of the paths to increase accessibility, and specifically analyzes, at page 51, mandatory disclosures.

That the Justices are starting to focus on the access to justice implications of court rules and doctrines can only be to the good, and suggests the possibility of building an access jurisprudence.


Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Justice Generally, Administative Proecdure, Court Management, Federal Agencies, Federal Courts, Rules Reform, Simplification, Supreme Court, Systematic Change, Veterans | 2 Comments

Google Home May Help Us Understand the Definition of “Legal Advice,” and Therefore of What Activities Falls Under Regulatory Authority.

This is sort of fun.

We have been struggling now for over two decades to find the most useful and access-expanding ways of explaining when an interaction is the giving of information, not generally subject of regulation as the practice of law, and when it is something more, which should be restricted, usually but not always at this point, to lawyers.  As a general matter the information/advice test is usually used, although it is often recognized that the definitions shift over time, and that the core point is preserving neutrality when it is the court helping, and competence, regardless of who is helping.

Most of you probably know about Google Home, of which you can ask questions.  Monty Python fans, for example, will be happy that if you ask, “who won the cup final in 1949?” you will get the right answer.  Perhaps more surprising, if you ask, “what is class struggle?’ you do get an appropriate answer.  But if you ask the more “authorized version” of Python, as used in the Communist Quiz Sketch, asked of Karl Marx, “The struggle of class against class is a what struggle?”  Google home is as yet unable to give an answer.

So what?  Well look at this analysis by John Brandon under the heading, Google sticks to the facts, but needs a point of view, of Google Home’s capacity, and see if it seems somehow familiar.

Using the Google Home on a daily basis makes you appreciate how helpful it is. You can ask for directions and find out about the weather. After a while, you realize the Assistant that answers questions can provide a wealth of information, but it’s essentially a duplicate of Google Search. Just imagine how much more valuable the device would become if it could also give advice. .  .  .

One reason is that the bot on Google Home is not that intelligent yet. It doesn’t really know me, and it doesn’t really know how to give advice. It can tell me to bring a jacket on the trip because of a weather report, but doesn’t go a level deeper and know that the trail I’ve picked is known for inclement weather and wind — especially 20 miles from my origin point. As a voice-enabled version of search, it is helpful. But a true bot needs to parse complex information and provide better advice. It needs to go a few steps further and understand what I’m trying to do, become more proactive, and engage in a discussion with me that is helpful in a way that goes beyond the facts.  (Bold added)


A true AI assistant would know about me and my tastes, and know how to match the data already out on the web with my individual preferences. It would know how to give advice by correlating various inputs — exactly like the human brain

In other words, facts yes, opinions and judgement, no.

Put that way, it is easy to see why we limit going beyond legal information right now.  But it is also becoming easier to envision that changing over time.  What would a
“Google Court,” look like?

In the short term, it may actually be useful, in analyzing if something is legal information, in asking what questions such a environment could actually answer, and in what way.  I think these are OK.

When can I file for divorce? (some follow up needed)

How much child support will I get? (if a formula can be applied)

But not:

Should I ask for custody of my children? (although a well written response could provide a framework for the information seeker to think about the issue).

So, play around with Good Home or equivalents, and see if it helps you think about these choices.


Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Artificial Intelligence, Child Support, Document Assembly, Family Law, Legal Ethics, Non-Lawyer Practice, Plain Language, Public Education, Remote Services, Self-Help Services, Systematic Change, Technology, Triage | 1 Comment

Marc Lauritsen Guest Post on Thinking of Legal Help System as an Ecosystem

Editor note:  This is a fascinating approach.

Legal Knowledge Gardening and Civil Justice Engineering

Marc Lauritsen

At a recent Justice for All event in Massachusetts I suggested that we consider our sprawl of legal help services as an ecosystem. That is, as a complex web of interacting organisms and environments, like a biological system. I showed this high-school-ish picture of a frog pond:


My slides also included images of a spotty lawn, a wide expanse of green grass, and a verdant garden. Do any of these describe where we are or want to be?

The current civil legal assistance system here and elsewhere is clearly spotty. Barren patches and ‘advice deserts’ abound. Relatively few low-income people receive truly effective help with their essential needs. Legal aid providers and pro bono programs meet about the same small fraction of demand as they did forty years ago. And commercial solutions remain too expensive or otherwise unappealing for most people of modest means. The ‘latent’ market continues to be latent. A lot of legal work that would be useful to have done is not done because it costs more than people are able, or willing, to pay.

Unless you are well-off you are likely to have to muddle through legal problems largely on your own. Even those lucky enough to afford professional help, or to secure scarce forms of free assistance, encounter frustrating delays and inconsistent quality of service. Affluence doesn’t guarantee effective help, let alone optimal outcomes. We have deep shortages both of quantity and quality. There’s a lot of satisficing going on. And more doing without.

Lack of legal help in adversarial situations is a major disadvantage. Lack of knowledge is even more disadvantaging. If you make the right moves you may be able to make the best of tough situations. But legal strategies people aren’t aware of don’t get pursued. Rights people don’t know about don’t get exercised. Laws meant to protect people are not applied or enforced.

The failure to put a bigger dent in this problem has not been for a lack of trying. Most providers want to help everyone who needs them, but they operate in a world of puny funding and competing pressures. A blizzard of approaches have been and are being tried. If this was easy, we would have solved it long ago. Why should now be different?

If our legal help system were a spotty lawn, and money were no object, we could deploy enough fertilizer, seed, and irrigation to achieve a glorious blanket of continuous green grass. No more lifeless patches. Turf for everyone. But is that what we want? Or would that be too much of a monoculture? What about a diverse garden instead, with a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers?

In any event, it’s good to remember that we’re dealing with living systems, with all their magic and quirks. Natural systems do pretty well without organized supervision, but ones intended for human purposes tend to require proactive attention. Few today seem to have clear responsibility for the overall ecosystem.

Our justice fields need more farmers and gardeners.

Hard Stuff

An alternative conception of our legal help system is as a vast machine. A huge apparatus of reciprocating parts, institutional and technological. One with infrastructure, like a large city.

Infrastructure is more than physical manifestations like buildings, roads, wires, and computers. It includes intangibles like practices, conceptualizations, and standards.

From this perspective also the current situation here and elsewhere can appear bleak. The creaky wheels of justice turn slowly. They could use lubrication. The system is disconnected and poorly coupled. Pipes are leaky, rusty, clogged, or nonexistent.

Our delivery systems consist of complex and sparsely connected networks of providers and guiders. Big challenges include scalability and sustainability. Many efforts never scale or thrive. Hackathons yield feel-good prototypes and flash-in-the-pan pilots. There’s not enough continuity and succession planning.

Just as the justice system is dealing with more people than it can handle, it’s dealing with more suggestions for improvement than it can handle. We have a contagion of good ideas. It’s hard even for ‘experts’ to keep up with them, and people are constantly reinventing approaches without taking advantage of the successes and failures of related efforts elsewhere.

We have a knowledge distribution problem. There’s too much to know, and too little time. We’re like the apocryphal blind men around a very large elephant. Our processes for distributing knowledge and cultivating shared intentions are suboptimal.

Helping the Helpers

On the bright side, we have an abundance of organizations and efforts dedicated to helping people. Most strive for excellence, and tackle daunting problems with grit and determination. We have robust online resources and communication channels. There is a growing sense of collective responsibility to see to it that all essential needs are effectively addressed. The organized bar is stepping up with more flexible and affordable service packages. And major advances continue in applications of technology to legal service delivery. (See e.g. Practice Engineering for 21st-Century Legal Services, by Michael Mills.)

Our current infrastructure includes systems that provide legal information (like MassLegalHelp and court libraries), that help people who need legal help find help (like the Legal Resource Finder), that help provider organizations coordinate with referrers and each other (like the “Intake Update” maintained by Boston’s Volunteer Lawyers Project), and that enable lawyers to provide free legal answers online. There are shareable platforms that provide interactive interviews and customized documents (like DocAssemble.org and LawHelp Interactive.) Next generation ‘portals’ are on the drawing board at Microsoft and elsewhere.

Yet plenty of other kinds of systems and practices would make it easier for folks to avoid duplicating effort, repeating mistakes, and missing opportunities. They might include:

  • Collaborative triage systems that promote mutual education and shared rules of engagement.
  • A Wikipedia-like complex of articles that document the organizations, people, initiatives, experiments, studies, events, and publications that are afoot in the field.
  • Collaborative tools that help people make better informed choices. (See A Decision Space for Legal Service Delivery.)
  • Facilities that monitor potential sources of funding and promote early awareness of opportunities so that credible proposals and collaborations can be arranged.
  • Nonprofit and public-sector analogs to the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (“CLOC”).

Both And

Some predict that by 2030 we will have 80% fewer cars than today, thanks to autonomous vehicles that will make transportation radically more efficient. (That will liberate a lot of parking spaces!) If a comparably more efficient ‘fleet’ arose in law, we might actually be able to give effective assistance to the 80%+ of people presently deprived of it. Are autonomous legal vehicles then the answer? Or at least part of it? (The law and policy around ‘unauthorized practice’ as relates to software remains strangely unsettled. Liberty, Justice, and Legal Automata makes a freedom-of-expression case for uninhibited artificial expertise.)

The United States is pathetically far behind many other democracies in terms of access to legal help. But that means that the opportunity for radical improvement here is immense. We could usher in a Golden Age of legal assistance. Imagine if there was a surplus of help available. The coming abundance of human time and attention (as machines take over other jobs) could reverse present scarcity. We may have a lot of time on our hands, and compete for meaning-driven occupation.

Transformational change will require new alliances of the born and the built. We’ll need to mobilize both machines and people, lawyers and other legal helpers, central resources and ones distributed among communities, cognitive and emotional resources. We’ll need a rainbow of disciplines and approaches. Designers, journalists, meta-helpers. Trackers as well as hackers.

An ideal legal help system would combine world-class logistics with high quality ingredients. It would enlist business ‘ops’ experts and apply Lean methods to lawyering and court processes. Something like the proposed merger of Amazon and Whole Foods.

If today’s sparse meadows are to become bountiful gardens our legal help ecosystem will need both park rangers and city managers, both knowledge gardeners and civil engineers. These are some of the vocations we should cultivate.

Another Editor Note:  When Marc asked if this blog had any guidleiness, I replied that he had earned he right to write whatever he wanted.  Now you see why.

Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Justice Generally, Guest Bloggers, Science, Systematic Change | Comments Off on Marc Lauritsen Guest Post on Thinking of Legal Help System as an Ecosystem

Illinois Strategic Plan Combines Principles, Initiatives, and Success Measures

The superb new strategic plan from the Illinois Access to Justice Commission is a model in may ways.  I want, however, to emphasize one, its structure.  This approach gives them, and us, a strong and effective document that will serve over thime.  The Principles are as follows:

  • Plain Language Principle: Court users should have access to a wide variety of plain language resources designed to help them understand and exercise their civil and procedural rights and reduce the number of barriers encountered while using the court system.
  • Process Simplification Principle: Court users should find that court procedures and policies are streamlined and efficient to allow for a positive user experience with the court system while still preserving substantive and procedural fairness and due process rights.
  • Procedural Fairness Principle: Court users should have access to a court system that serves as a fair, impartial, and transparent forum in which they are addressed with dignity, respect, equality, and professional courtesy by all judges, circuit clerks, and other court staff .
  • Equal Access Principle: Court users should have access to justice through full participation in the judicial process, regardless of their socio-economic status, English language proficiency, cultural background, legal representation status, or other circumstances.
  • Continuous Improvement Principle: The ATJ Commission should strive for continuous improvement and increased capacity to best meet the diverse and constantly evolving needs of court users.

Courts everywhere could do far worse than engrave this on the front hallway wall just after, or indeed just before, security.

Then for each principle, a set of one or more specific initiatives are laid out. For the first Principle:

Initiative 1: Develop, automate, and translate standardized, plain-language legal forms and other resources for areas of law frequently encountered by self-represented litigants into commonly spoken languages.

• Initiative 2: Support the continued and expanded use of court-based facilitators/navigators, including JusticeCorps, and evaluate the effectiveness of these services as a means to assist self- represented litigants and contribute to the efficient operation of the Illinois courts and study how to make facilitators/navigators most effective.

• Initiative 3: Evaluate the self-help services that are currently available through courts in Illinois, including court websites, and recommend policies that promote effective and efficient services.

The ways of implementing these are then laid out in detail in the Plan.

Now, and this is most radical, the Plan then proposes for each Initiative a definition of success.  Here is the forms one, in the plain language initiative.

Forms are standardized, written in plain language, simple, self-explanatory, actionable, multi-lingual, accessible, fillable, savable, printable, and available in both electronic and print versions. Moreover, self-help information is available, simple, easy to understand, consistent across courts and technologies, and able to provide a roadmap of court procedure. Judges, circuit clerks, court staff, legal aid attorneys, and other stakeholders are familiar with the standardized forms and other self-help resources and regularly refer self-represented litigants to them.

Note that while these definitions are not themselves numerical, they are easy to convert into numerical measures.  How about:

The percentage of forms, availability of information, extent of staff understanding, and actual offers, weighted by the frequency of need for use, of forms that meet this standard.

Here also is the definition of success for the simplification initiative,

Court users will find some cumbersome rules and procedures have been simplified and streamlined to improve access to the courts and compliance with procedural requirements. A triage system will be implemented in some pilot sites with high volume civil dockets with the goal of improving judicial efficiency while ensuring that litigants obtain a procedurally fair outcome. Simplification efforts will be evaluated regularly to determine if additional modifications are needed.

As is appropriate for such a new area, there is more wiggle room here.  But is it not hard to imagine this being converted into a stronger definition in the future.

The Plan includes budget and staffing recommendations, which are very reasonable and manageable, as well as detailed information bout each of the initiatives.

I would note that the great thing about a principles-driven approach is that when disputes arise, the principles provide a way of resolving them, just like with a Constitution.

I would urge that all states look at this one very carefully.

I only wish I could say that I helped write it!




Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Justice Boards, Access to Justice Generally, Communications Strategy, Court Management, Outcome Measures, Plain Language, Planning, Research and Evalation, Rules Reform, Self-Help Services, Simplification | Comments Off on Illinois Strategic Plan Combines Principles, Initiatives, and Success Measures

Contribute to a UK Survey of Law Schools and Access and Technology

Richard Moorhead, a longtime UK and international expert on legal aid, innovation, and technology, is gathering information on the role of law schools in spreading these ideas.

As Richard puts it:

So I am asking you, if you are in legal education, to help me collect some information on what is already happening in the nation’s law schools (and I am defining nation as meaning the UK here but really would be delighted if others wanted to join in).  If you are willing (and you can provide your information confidentially) I will publish a summary and if you are keen, I will try and organise a way of bringing all those interested together to discuss progress and problems in this area.

Richard is dong this in part to enrich the discussion triggered by a blog post by the equally expert Roger Smith, arguing that:

Proposals  by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) to upend the traditional organisation of legal education in England and Wales offer the opportunity for discussion of the importance of covering the impact of technology on the training of lawyers. The SRA intends to end the autonomy of law schools to pass students for both the academic and practical stage of qualification. In its place will come the return of nationally set tests – the Solicitors Qualifying Examinations Stages 1 and 2. It is vital that both reflect the degree of change driven by technology in the legal profession.

Domestic English law schools have been rather slower than their American cousins in absorbing technology into the syllabus. Richard Susskind reports ‘with a heavy heart’ that ‘not a single law school in England can boast of a centre focusing on either the future of legal services or the role of technology’ in the recently released second edition of his Tomorrow’s Lawyers: an introduction to your future (OUP).

I am less convinced that we deserve these plaudits, although Roger’s listing of things we are dong here is impressive, and worth a read.

The survey is here.

Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Bar Associations, De-Regulation, International Cooperation, International Models, Systematic Change, Technology | Comments Off on Contribute to a UK Survey of Law Schools and Access and Technology

Tribute to Judge Fern Fisher On Her Retirement From The New York Courts

Judge Fern Fisher of New York has been a stalwart of the national access to justice movement.  See here. for how frequently she has appeared in this blog.

So her retirement from the courts is a sad moment.


Based on a video I made, my tribute to Fern was read at her retirement party.

Here is the full video:

We look forward to new great things, including from her new base at Hofstra Law School, as Special Assistant to the Dean for Social Justice and Public Interest Initiatives.


Posted in Access to Justice Generally, Incubators, Transitions | Comments Off on Tribute to Judge Fern Fisher On Her Retirement From The New York Courts

Opportunity To Suggest Improvements to Washington State Access to Justice Principles

I was the consultant to the Washington State Access to Justice Principles back in the early days of this century.

Now a process is underway to update and improve those principles, which were issued by the State Supreme Court in the form of an Order (see below link).  It takes no brilliance to know that risks and opportunities have changed in the last thirteen years!  Among them are the movements for nonlawyer practice, simplification, remote service delivery, triage and 100% access to justice.

Here is the call for comments and ideas passed on by Claudia Johnson:


WA State is revising its Access to Justice Technology Principles

The Tech Committee of the Access to Justice Commission here in Washington State is collecting feedback to redo the Tech Access to Justice Principles  here in WA State.

As you know–our Principles  were issued in 2004 and adopted through a Court Order. Their release and adoption lead many others to release similar standards. https://accesstojustice.net/2011/09/20/california-courts-seek-comment-on-draft-principles-on-technology-and-access-to-justice/

Considering that so much time has elapsed, and how technology has improved and changed and become part of delivering legal services, we are now revising them to include the new ways technology is being used to increase access to justice.

This process started last Fall of 2016–a the 2016 Access to Justice Symposium in September 2016. http://www.atjweb.org/technology-justice-symposium/

Based on input at that meeting and to continue this important work the working group has created a survey to collect feedback on how the Principles can be improved and clarified, so that they can serve us well into the future.

We solicit feedback from all who are interested in the overlap between technology and legal services delivery. We request that before answering the feedback, to please the current Principles here to get a sense of how they are organized and what they cover: http://www.atjweb.org/read-the-principles/

And then answer the survey here:http://www.atjweb.org/atj-site-survey/

Once we conclude the feedback collection stage–we will reconvene and start drafting the revisions. The group welcomes examples from other states or countries, also information on best practices, examples, areas of concern, information on case law or ethics decisions, or state bar rules, and anything else people think it might be helpful for the group to consider in reviewing the Principles.

Thank you for helping us keep the Principles relevant and up to date,

Posted in Access to Justice Boards, Remote Services, Research and Evalation, Science, Security, Self-Help Services, Simplification, Systematic Change, Technology, Triage, Usabilty | Comments Off on Opportunity To Suggest Improvements to Washington State Access to Justice Principles

Video of Mary McClymont on Importance of Justice For All Innovations For Every Substantive Issue

Recently, I blogged about Mary McClymont’s moving and wonderful speech when she got the Champion of Justice Award.

Now, here is the video.

Some of the key text:

.  .  .  there is good news: the crisis has given rise in recent years to an array of innovations to help serve more people who cannot afford a lawyer—such as assisted self-help services, online information and forms, and non-lawyer specialists. When properly coordinated and resourced, these solutions can work together to serve millions more people and make possible a system that provides effective legal help to everyone—when they need it, and in a form they can use.

There is a movement for transformative change underway which includes more than the usual suspects: The highest level—chief justices of the state courts— have recently issued a clarion call for meaningful access to justice for all using a full spectrum of these services and innovations: they have asked leaders in each state to unite across organizational boundaries to make it happen.

The vanguard of this movement has issued a rallying cry of “justice for all” and not just for those who can afford it. I hope all you champions of justice in the room will hear and join in that cry and think how you can contribute to this critical need.

I would encourage the wide use of this video with multiple constituencies:

With potential funders because it uses their language

With boards because it frames things in ways that broad audiences can understand

With court and community based organization staff because it helps get them beyond a narrow view of mission

With policy advocates in non-legal areas because it emphases the links to their worldviews

With Access to Justice Commissions because it should help them embrace  broad common view of larger mission.

With law students to show what this is all about

With pro bono lawyers to expand their view.




Posted in 100% Access Strategy and Campaign, Access to Justice Boards, Access to Justice Generally, Bar Associations, Communications Strategy, Court Management, Funding, Law Schools, Legal Aid, Media, Political Support, Poverty, Public Education, Public Welfare Foundation, Self-Help Services, Social Workers, Systematic Change | Comments Off on Video of Mary McClymont on Importance of Justice For All Innovations For Every Substantive Issue

Job Opportunity at Harvard Law Access to Justice Lab

As many of you know, the Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School is an initiative to try to further evidence-based thinking within access to justice and court administration.

It focuses on conducting randomized field experiments to find out what works and on incorporating lessons from non-law fields into law.

It has randomized experiments underway on self-help with the legal aspects of debt, pretrial risk assessment scores, reduction of debt collection lawsuit default rates, divorce, and federal court mediation, with projects on triage of domestic violence victims and service of process in guardianship proceedings in planning.

The A2J Lab is looking for a full-time researcher.  For details, please see here or here.

Posted in Law Schools, Metrics, Outcome Measures, Research and Evalation, Self-Help Services | Comments Off on Job Opportunity at Harvard Law Access to Justice Lab