The Needed Components for National ATJ Initiative Taking

Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

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…

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The DOJ Access to Justice Research Workshop Is An Important Achievement And A Milestone

Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

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…

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Rapid California Court Rule Action Shows Momentum is Building on Fines and Fees Issue

Hot topic around the country– debtor’s prisons.

Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

Here is the story.  On May 1, the Fresno Bee ran a story under the headline: ACLU: Traffic-ticket policy by Valley courts unconstitutional.  The core of the story follows:

A court policy of making Valley traffic offenders pay fees upfront in order to challenge a ticket in court is unconstitutional and unfairly impacts low-income residents, the associate director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said Friday.

In a move to give the public their right to due process, the ACLU has sent letters to Fresno and seven other counties, reminding them that a person’s right to appear in court — even traffic court — should not depend on their ability to pay a fee.

The Bee explained the back ground and significance as follows:

A recent report by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and other advocates found that California traffic courts have saddled millions…

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Work for a court-based help center? Tell us.

I am working with the State Bar of Georgia Access to Justice Committee on an effort to help court-based help centers in Georgia.

We would like to learn more about your services, your plans in regard to lawyer referral, assisted pro se and whether you track data and are willing to share your data with us.

We have created a listserv for court-based help center staff around the state to share information and best practices with each other.  We will have a help center tool kit available shortly for distribution.

Here is a list of court-based help centers of which we are aware:

If you work in a court-based help center in Georgia, please drop me a line at  If you would like to join our support listserv, send me an email using your official court email address with your name and contact information.  I will add you to the listserv.   Send your email request to

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Toaster, elevator, hula hoop and air conditioning

I just returned from the American Bar Association Equal Justice Conference. I felt a bit agitated. I guess that’s the right word. It’s a feeling I always get at the end of several days of exchanging thought-provoking ideas and discussing new ways to look at our work.

I lean slightly toward the techno-geek side of the spectrum. Some of you don’t know that. Many of you laugh that I felt I had to articulate that.

I favored sessions at the conference that covered technology and legal services delivery. It makes me crazy to see the astounding things that my colleagues are doing to advance access to justice through innovative tech. I always hope some of their passion will rub off on me, and that maybe some fantastic innovative process will suddenly map itself out completely in my brain before I leave. But, as I always say, I’m not real bright, but I can lift heavy things which, is to say, it may take me a while to figure something out, but my real talent is perseverance.

One of my colleagues– Eve from Iowa, I think– said to me, “I hate it when they say, ‘Everyone loves tech except when it doesn’t work.'” I nodded my head in agreement, mumbled a bit about “those people”– you know, the ones who sigh when you want to explain how innovation might help them in their work.

With Eve by my side in the conference exhibit area, I drew some coffee from one of the nearby urns into my cup, turned and nearly launched myself into a table with several toasters and bagels. You’d think all the time at the gym would make me less clumsy.

The shiny chrome toaster got me thinking.

When the toaster was first introduced, lots of folks got upset with it. Sure, you could toast your bread most of the time, but you often scorched your thumb or burned the toast, or maybe you couldn’t get the damned thing to pop the toast up. Did folks throw their toasters out the window? Well, maybe one or two highly passionate folks did so, but the larger population hung in there, made adjustments and on most mornings, got their bread toasted pretty much the way they wanted it.

Some of us remember “going into the city” in our childhood. In many of the stores and businesses, your elevator ride was managed by someone hired by the business to push the buttons for you, open and close the door and call out the floor number- often telling you what you’d find on that level. Elevator operators were around for a very long time. I do miss those days. I have a hard time reading the floor numbers on the elevator buttons and frequently I step off on the wrong floor. I’m not alone on that, right?

The hula hoop hopped onto the popular culture screen in the late 1960s. It was a new kind of amusement. You could thrust and roll your hips much like one does when… nevermind. It was innovative: light, plastic and colorful, and you could either be the hit of your neighborhood or drop to the floor in pain. The hula hoop is still around, embraced by many, and thank gawd for ObamaCare.

The advent of air conditioning gave rise to the modern southern city. Talk about your innovation, air conditioning has saved us from flies and humidity and has enabled us to look good under any hot, bright lighting. Sure, multitudes of us whine in meetings because “it’s tooooooo collldd,” but the reality is, we would never want to live without it.

The moral of these meanderings? When it comes to innovation, you may get burned. You, too, will have your ups and downs. And you most certainly will get bent out of shape at some point. But you will use the innovation. It’s all cool.

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Gone mobile

I’m very happy to announce that we have launched a mobile site for our client-focused legal information and help site, GeorgiaLegalAid,org.  On your smartphone, navigate to

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Pro bono in print

I just had an article on pro bono published in the October 2014 Georgia Bar Journal.  Check it out.

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Richard Zorza on pro bono and the soul of the legal profession

In his blog, access to justice visionary Richard Zorza points to pro bono as the legal profession’s savior.  Read his article here: Pro Bono Could Lead the Way in Resolving the Struggle for the Soul of the Legal Profession.

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SMS and legal resources for the public

I’m working on a project now to deliver legal resources to the public via SMS.  The aim is to see if we can increase awareness of our free online legal help resources, motivate users to access those resources via SMS and use those resources and provide a means by which users can report their level of success in accessing and using the resources.

Our Georgia SMS campaign is aimed at increasing awareness about credit card debt collections and also garnishments.  We have online resources available through SMS.  Text “action” to 877877.

Text "action" to 877877.

Text “action” to 877877.

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Sweet, the same

In a rambling sort of way I sort through cabinets in which manila file folders rest until, crisp bottom fold lost and rounded, they open like wilted and faded petals over-revealing their aged content.  After 16 years in this pro bono business, I have filed away many word collections and cultivated thoughts and half-brained ideas.  The cabinets open and disgorge the stories.  I am simply the curator now, after my power to narrate has been diminished by the would-haves and should-haves.

One musters the courage to linger over a file folder that offers up razor blades for the self-mutilator.   Slipping through the paper-clipped pages I see where I could have helped but did not. How was my vision then?   I think of John Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, “was it a vision or a waking dream? Fled is that music–do I wake or sleep?”  How do I see and not see?

The poetry of pro bono falls within many camps: romantic, mystic, modern, classic.  But all poetry is code, expression under oppression. In the forming of the work lies the frustration of too little, too few, too much, too important.

The discernment of success and failure is at best a short-lived contentedness.  All things wrapped in evolution offer up hope.

My aged paper files lie wilted, no fragrance except that of uneasiness.  Sweet, the same.

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Very Important Communications Research Released

Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

This is one of the most important posts I have ever written.  I am honored to be authorized to post the communications research conducted by Lake Research Partners and the Torrance Group on civil legal aid and access to justice for the new Communications Hub funded by the Public Welfare Foundation and the Kresge Foundation. (Disclosures: The Self-Represented Network is on the Advisory Board of the Project and the Public Welfare Foundation is a funder of Network activities.)

I want to do three things.  First highlight what is for me the key finding; second to quote the whole Executive Summary, which everyone should internalize, and; third, make a few comments highlighting things that caught my eye, and may reflect particularly the things that I most care about.


While there is much of importance in the results, the key finding that I hope will revolutionize our attitude so that we…

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Why State-Based Advocacy Orgazations are Important — Two Lessons from Massachuetts

Richard Zorza's Access to Justice Blog

Those of us who try to focus attention on the “access” side of access to justice are often criticized for not planning enough for impact advocacy side.  Two recent developments highlight the importance and potential results of having institutions that focus on legal change and also raise the question why we can not have such institutions in every state.

The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI), where I worked during law school and briefly afterwards, is with very good reason regarded as one of the best so-called “state back-up centers” funded, till the Gingrich era, by LSC.

A few weeks ago Ernest (Tony) Winsor, the Deputy Director at MLRI for 30 years, died.  An article (not an obituary) in the Boston Globe highlights his career and contributions.  Tony was one of my supervisors as a law student, and I learned so much from him.  As the Globe put it:

One of…

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