Last week I was at a symposium at the Univ. of South Carolina Law School, all about access to justice and doing more empirical, data-driven research about how to create better & more impactful access initiatives. Karen Lash, the Deputy Director of the DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative, presented on what the federal government is doing to address civil legal needs in the US.
In 2012, the White House Domestic Policy Council & the DOJ launched a working group (the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable) that would explore how diverse federal agencies could include civil legal aid needs in their agendas, to help improve their specific objectives. The driving insight is that legal aid can help all kinds of problems not typically thought of as “legal problems” — like health, housing, education employment, family stability, and community-building.
The Roundtable group has released an online Toolkit, that provides a roadmap to ways in which legal services can be used by other — not specifically ‘legal’ groups — to serve vulnerable & underserved groups. The toolkit is available on the DOJ’s website — here are some of the pages & resources covered.
And here are photos of the Toolkit as printed out in a hard copy. It has lots of explanations, stories, and resources to begin thinking about legal aid in a more holistic way — how legal processes can help a person with other ‘social service’ problems.
I am excited by this multilateral, collaborative approach to civil legal aid. Since most people don’t think of their problems as ‘legal problems’ (even though they could use legal means to address them) — and since many social service providers & government workers don’t understand the power of legal channels to address root causes of other social problems — we as legal professionals need to be better at explaining how legal aid can help them in their mission to serve their clients. And we need to give clear, procedural ways for them to access legal support for their clients.