About the Series

Richard Zorza, one of the founders and leaders of the access to justice (ATJ) movement, recently received the American Bar Association’s 2014 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access’ Lifetime Achievement Honor for decades of work on behalf of self-represented litigants. Not to be outdone, the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators passed a Resolution of Recognition “express[ing] their deep appreciation to Richard Zorza for his thoughtful, unique, and dedicated service, loyal support and guidance, and for his unfailing commitment to improving the state courts of this nation, and the Conferences extend to him their best wishes for the future.” Richard was at the Open Society Institute with Mark O’Brien and Michael Hertz when they formed Pro Bono Net, and had a profound influence on our founding and development. As we approach our 15th anniversary, we would like to extent our deepest gratitude and thanks for his tremendous guidance. I recently spoke with Richard, and we are excited to produce this four five-part installment from that discussion. Our fourth post reflects on the successes and struggles of the ATJ movement. And of course, read more of Richard’s always fascinating thoughts on his Access to Justice blog.

Richard’s Reflections

As our conversation wound down I asked Richard to reflect on the access to justice movement’s successes and failures over the past 20 years and where it will go over the next 20. Consistent with his earlier comments, the first success Richard noted was changing the way the judiciary thinks about its role in providing access to justice. Many judges now understand that they can simultaneously be both neutral and engaged in getting the case right. Beyond simply understanding this, over the past two decades thousands of judges have been trained in these principles and guidelines, further expanding their reach and installing them at the very core of our legal system.

Richard also highlighted the ATJ movement’s successful implementation of technology. In particular, he highlighted that once technology is developed there is a low – or often zero – marginal cost of deploying it throughout the country (e.g., simply giving folks a link to LawHelp.org). In Richard’s words, this “completely changes the equation” and has been crucial in helping us get to the point where almost every state has some type of self-help service. Even if in some states those services are remote or only available in certain parts of the state, it is a remarkable improvement over the situation just two decades ago.

The most important success is one that is often goes unnoticed. Working to increase access to justice as an attorney, an advocate, or a facilitator (e.g., Pro Bono Net staff!) is now a profession and a legitimate career path. This monumental development provides the ATJ movement with a solid and secure foundation for future expansion and ensures that the millions of un- or under-represented will continue to have a voice.

While the movement has had a lot of macro successes, most of its struggles have been on a more micro level. Richard expressed disappointment that unbundled models of service delivery have not become more widely adopted and that the funding for self-help resources pales in comparison to the investment in the rest of the judicial system. Richard spoke about how the movement was “late to the table” on researching the best designs for delivery systems, with no uniform standard guiding their development. As a result, there is an enormous disparity between programs’ systems and the outcomes they achieve for clients. As an example, Richard noted that “if we had knowledge of today’s technology twenty years ago, we would have built in triage from day one.”

Of course, some of these developments are simply products of the known and unknown unknowns of future technology, while other issues that Richard identified, such as the creation of a fragmented statewide network as opposed to a more centralized one, have their advantages and disadvantages. The fragmented system creates opportunities for many real-world experiments to discover best practices, but also produces situations where states institutionalize sub-optimal procedures. To be fair, in almost all movements 20/20 hindsight reveals the missteps of the founding moments and contrasts that reality with an imagined ideal.

As we continue to strive towards that ideal, Richard has some thoughts for where the movement should go next and how to get there. Tune in next week for the final (I promise!) installment of Speaking with the Master.