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By Kimberly Sanchez
In May of 2018, I was lucky enough to be sent by the legal aid organization I work for to attend the Equal Justice Conference, a gathering of social justice warriors sharing information and working together with a sole mission of closing the access to justice gap. These warriors are LEGAL SUPERHEROES! The Conference brings in almost 1,000 participants nationwide and is co-hosted by the American Bar Association (ABA) Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. This year the event was held in sunny San Diego, CA! (This blogger was born in San Diego — there may have been a quick trip to the beach to see if all those shark teeth I collected as a child were still everywhere; they were!)
This is the sixth time I have attended this conference, but this time was extra awesome! Legal Talk Network gave me the opportunity to host “On The Road,” a podcast series that follows legal conferences nationwide. On the floor at the Equal Justice Conference, I interviewed some incredible rock stars who are changing the landscape of access to justice. They enlightened me on how we talk about the access to justice topic, what it is, who is affected, and why this conversation is so important to the rule of law.
Let me set the scene. Imagine a large conference space, many breakout rooms, a registration booth, and exhibitor tables. Now imagine that one of those exhibitor tables contains 7-8 microphones sitting on top of the table, with numerous chairs facing them, and a banner reading Legal Talk Network. In your mind, does it make you wonder, “Who are those microphones for? Is this legal aid Karaoke? Is someone important going to be interviewed?” Well, as much as we would have enjoyed some Karaoke, it turned out to be the latter and no one was disappointed. In my mind, the legal aid and pro bono podcasts sounded like fireworks! Lots of lights, loud crashes and bangs! Okay, okay, no loud bangs, but myself and the rest of the 1,000 participants saw magic happening for a really good cause. Needless to say, we had many visitors at our table and even better, tons of EXCITEMENT!
Now that the scene has been set, let me tell you a little bit about who I met and the brilliant things I learned – that you too can listen to. Hint: read to the end for a surprise episode.
Sounds cool, right? Even cooler, the speakers: Abhijeet Chavan, Urban Insight, Inc., Johnathan Pyle, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, and Angela Trip, Michigan Legal Help. In this episode, these three incredibly smart, techy do-gooders discuss why it’s important to question what lies behind data when it is being analyzed. Is it ethical? Where did it come from? What biases might it have? Whoa! Biases in data? I thought bias was just something I blamed on my grandparents.
Jim Sandman, President of LSC, is one of the voices making legal aid compelling to legislators. In this episode, Jim and a panel discuss why it’s critical to engage elected officials in the process of how a law becomes a bill, which then becomes an access to justice doorway that we can all walk through. OK, so I embellished that a little and stole part of it from school house rocks.
You may not believe it, but lawyers are heroes, particularly when disaster strikes. Being prepared for a disaster with an arsenal of pro bono attorneys helps bring order to a difficult situation. Hear about how FEMA and the ABA Young Lawyers Division partnered up and what innovations are occurring in the industry to respond to legal needs during disasters. For example, how does CA help TX when the legal aid building floods and blows up?
This isn’t just any old boring research. This is exciting research! The Access to Justice Lab at Harvard Law School exciting research. Listen to April Faith-Slaker, Amy Johnson, and Ellen Lawton talk about evaluating access to justice initiatives to make them better and check out Harvard’s A2J Lab.
Human trafficking is heartbreaking, but legal aid and pro bono attorneys have stepped up to the plate to fight back. Listen to this panel discussion on the vital role pro bono attorneys play in this battle. Also, hear how Martina E. Vandenberg founded the Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center, an organization just to rally pro bono attorneys to handle this work. Interested in joining the cause? Listen in on how to help.
Do you know why I love legal aid lawyers? Because they take care of others before they take care of themselves, which makes it hard to tell the world how awesome the work that they do is. In this episode we discuss tips for telling the legal aid story, a critical conversation for the managers and pro bono attorneys we work with.
Criminalization of Poverty? Is that a typo? How do you criminalize poverty and, if I could channel a little Elle Woods here, who does that? Well, listen in and find out. Then do something to fix it.
I’m not sure I need to elaborate…
Now for the finale! Drum roll please…
I was lucky to grab four retiring ABA superheroes. During their decades of time with the ABA, they dedicated their lives to creating policy, awareness and influence within the ABA and its partner organizations. They were instrumental in advancing the access to justice conversation and making sure every person, when faced with a legal issue, gets a fair shake. When I say superheroes I mean it. Will Hornsby (Batman), Steve Scudder (Black Panther), Terry Brooks (Superman) and Beverly Groudine (Wonder Woman). Listen to them talk about access to justice and where they believe it is going.
Oh, and if you are still reading, I got to hang out with Legal Talk Network Executive Producer Laurence Colletti for the week.
Don’t let the hoodie fool you, he needed that. At this baseball game, some very excited fans ran out on the field. There were cops all around. LC? Yeah, he was just hiding.
Kimberly Sanchez is the CEO of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida, a legal aid organization and LSC grantee covering Central Florida.
Legal Talk Network is a podcast network for legal professionals with hosts from well-known organizations and brands in legal. Over 20 active podcasts cover important legal news and developments, including access to justice, law school, industry events, legal technology, and the future of law.