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 second post covers the origins of the Self-Represented Litigation Network. And of course, read more of Richard’s always fascinating thoughts on his Access to Justice blog.

The SRLN Begins

One of the most important projects Richard has spearheaded was the creation and development of the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN). As he noted in the previous episode, the 1999 Conference on Self-Represented Litigants was when the ATJ movement really began to accelerate. At that time, the Open Society Institute brought together various stakeholders (including Pro Bono Net, the National Center for State Corps, and the Legal Services Corporation) to discuss what would become the Technology Innovation Grants (TIG) program. In addition, the same group began discussing self-representation and identified six states where various parties might assemble to develop a long-term strategic plan for assisting pro se litigants. In 2000 at the first TIG Conference, they created a substantive agenda to guide their efforts moving forward.

After the conference, the group continued to meet and the SLRN informally launched as a website in 2001. Further conferences and funding followed the successful initial launch, and the Network continued to grow. Richard stressed that the first steps were very ad hoc and focused on bringing together stakeholders in states that did not have a dominant legal aid entity. Capitalizing on a growing recognition that groups with no collaborative history could and should work together, the founders of the SRLN sought to create a network that could work both in tandem and in isolation to assist pro se litigants. The SLRN would not be an arm of LSC, the bar, or the Courts, and therefore 1) it could achieve far more than any entity could individually and 2) no organization would feel as if it were receiving short-shrift. Thus, it developed into a decentralized network, rather than a command and control program that can quickly and easily adapt to individual situations across the country.

Bringing the conversation back to the present, I asked Richard what changes would make the biggest difference for self-represented litigants today. However, to hear his thoughts for the future, you’ll have to return next week for the third installment of this rapidly growing series.