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 three four five-part installment from that discussion. This first post will focus on the founding and history of the access to justice movement through the eyes of one of its pioneers. And of course, read more of Richard’s always fascinating thoughts on his Access to Justice blog.

Installment One

Richard traces the access to justice movement’s beginnings back to the early 1990s, when an array of stakeholders concluded that the existing approach of “just fund more lawyers” was not reducing the justice gap. The ATJ movement’s first steps were to develop self-help centers in Arizona and California and to recognize that technology could be leveraged to support lawyers and provide direct services to the self-represented. At the same time, the Bar, legal services providers, and the judiciary formed the first Access to Justice Board in Washington to coordinate the ATJ movement and consider larger, more conceptual changes. These two revolutions – the idea that technology could augment the work of lawyers and that the different stakeholders could and should work together – were essential to the birth of the ATJ movement and have been essential to its successes over the ensuing two decades.

Like a Porsche accelerating from 0-60MPH, the ATJ movement expanded quickly. By 1998, the Inspector General of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was supporting an online document assembly pilot in Georgia and LSC held the first summit on technology and legal services, which led to the enormously successful Technology Initiative Grants (TIG) program. Perhaps even more importantly, Richard stressed that the summit created a venue for never-before-held discussions on how legal aid providers and the courts could work together to increase access to justice and make the system fairer for all participants, not just those who can afford counsel.

ATJ commissions proliferated over the next several years, technology began to take on a greater role (including the founding of Pro Bono Net and LawHelp), and states began to expand their self-help initiatives. Of course, developments across these three areas were intertwined and interrelated. In November 1999, the American Judicature Society, State Justice Institute, and Open Society Institute hosted a national conference on pro se litigation with teams from every state attending. Richard believes that this was the moment when efforts to provide support to self-represented litigants really accelerated. After the conference, the state teams returned home with outlines for plans to assist the unrepresented.

That’s it for today, but tune in next time for more of Richard’s thoughts on supporting self-represented litigants and the creation of the Self-Represented Litigants Network.

  • Mark O’Brien

    As I read, I start to make a mental catalog of all the ways the Richard has influenced Michael Hertz’s and my work at Pro Bono Net … but quickly give up trying. And to think what a small part of Richard’s overall sphere of influence those invaluable contributions represent. Thanks for resurfacing the memories. I look forward to chapter 2!