January 25, 2024

Join NCAJ for the AtJ Solutions Symposium on February 9th

On February 9th, please join us (in person or virtually) for this important gathering with experts from across the country who will examine and discuss practical solutions for increasing access to justice for people contending with life’s many challenges. Debt collection threatens people’s financial stability and liberty. Eviction threatens their homes. Family prosecution threatens their relationships. In each context, and in many others, people face powerful opponents and complex legal systems, often without meaningful assistance. Many of the consequences fall hardest on communities of color.

A civil access to justice movement seeks to empower people in these challenges. This “Solutions Symposium” will focus on the movement’s leading edge:  policy solutions. These include approaches that: i) narrow the footprint of the legal system in people’s lives; ii) ensure people will have a right to legal representation in civil legal disputes; iii) empower people to turn to friends, neighbors, and other front line workers (not only lawyers) for help in asserting their legal rights; and, iv) increase access to justice through fair laws, innovative technologies, creative programs, and additional interventions. Attention will be given to evaluation of the claimed policy solutions, and to considerations of quality, impact, and scalability.

The Symposium is co-sponsored by the National Center for Access to Justice with Fordham Law’s Access to Justice Initiative, Fordham Law’s Stein Center for Law & Ethics, and Fordham Law’s Urban Law Journal which will publish a set of papers authored for the Symposium. The Symposium will be transmitted with Zoom link. CLE credit will be available in NJ and NY. Register here  to attend in person or virtually.

Welcome & Opening Remarks (9 am):

  • Mackenzie Philbrick, Symposium Editor, Fordham Law’s Urban Law Journal
  • Matthew Diller, Dean, Fordham Law
  • David Udell, Executive Director, National Center for Access to Justice

Panel 1 (9:30 am)  The Abolitionist Movement for Civil Access to Justice – This panel will examine policy solutions that may be viewed as abolitionist because they eliminate or reduce civil legal problems and the need for the civil legal system. It will ask, for example: Can reduced surveillance and increased social services lower the number of family law neglect proceedings, termination proceedings and other family law proceedings? Should third parties intercede to pay debt or rent as a means of preventing court evictions? Can abolitionist approaches that reduce incarceration – restorative justice, diversion, mental health care – be models for civil justice solutions that reduce evictions, debt collections, prosecutions of parents, and other civil disputes? Most fundamentally, what solutions are already working to reduce the footprint of the civil legal system, and what are our collective goals as we prioritize civil justice in our society?

  • Moderator:  Lauren Sudeall, Professor & Director, Vanderbilt Access to Justice Initiative, Vanderbilt Law School
  • Panelists:  Norrinda Brown, Associate Professor of Law, Fordham University School of Law; Tehra Coles, Executive Director, Center for Family Representation; Andrew Scherer, Professor of Law, New York Law School; Neil Steinkamp, Managing Director, Stout

Panel 2 (11:10 am)  The Movement for a Tenants’ Civil Right to Counsel – Tenants and home owners facing eviction proceedings without counsel are often unaware that the law offers them protection and are thus at heightened risk of losing their homes. Recognition of a civil right to counsel for tenants has gained substantial traction as a policy solution with four states and 17 cities now providing counsel to tenants through novel laws and programs. The approach has important benefits for family and community stability, yet also faces questions around design, implementation, and scalability. Experts will discuss the issues, including: Can communities recruit and retain a number of lawyers and other advocates sufficient to fully implement the right? What can be done to help communities respond to legal problems for which there is no right to counsel? Is there a role for social services providers alongside counsel? How should communities decide whether to establish a civil right to counsel when other policy solutions also offer potential relief, for example, traditional models for civil legal aid, government payments for rent arrears, creation of new low cost housing, stronger rent stabilization laws, and more?

  • Moderator: Rasheeda Phillips, Director of Housing, PolicyLink
  • Panelists:  Larisa G. Bowman, Court Innovation Fellow, Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession, Stanford Law School; Bob Glaves, Executive Director, the Chicago Bar Foundation; John Pollock, Attorney & Coordinator, the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel; Radhika Singh, Vice President, Civil Legal Services & Strategic Policy Initiatives, National Legal Aid & Defender Association

Panel 3 (1:30 pm)  The Movement toward Democratizing the Law – In light of the justice gap that leaves millions of people in search of justice but without access to obtain it, a movement has grown to enable people to obtain legal advice from individuals who are not lawyers – and to do so as an exception to state criminal laws prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law (UPL). In New York and South Carolina, federal lawsuits are challenging traditional UPL prohibitions on constitutional grounds. A national initiative, Frontline Justice, is envisioning a new category of "justice workers" specifically trained to help people resolve their legal issues. In some states, new models are being tested that allow people to pay “allied legal professionals” for legal services. What are the new advocacy models that are being tried within and outside of the courts, in nonprofit settings and in for profit settings, with attorney supervision, and without? With more people educated and with legal texts readily available online, what requirements of education, training, experience, and safeguards are being suggested, implemented, scaled up and evaluated?

  • Moderator:  Bruce Green, Louis Stein Chair of Law, Director of Stein Center, Fordham Law
  • Panelists:  Matthew BurnettSenior Program Officer American Bar Foundation, Adjunct Professor Georgetown Law, Co-Founder of Frontline Justice; Michele Pistone, Professor of Law, Founder & Faculty Director for the Strategic Initiative for Migrants + Refugees, Founder & Faculty Director for Villanova Interdisciplinary Immigration Studies Training for Advocates (VIISTA), Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law; Tanina Rostain, Agnes Williams Sesquicentennial Professor of Justice Innovation, Georgetown University Law Center; Rebecca Sandefur, Professor & Director, School of Social and Family Dynamics, Arizona State University, Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation, and Co-Founder, Frontline Justice

Panel 4 (3:10 pm)  The Creation of Alternative Interventions – Alongside abolitionist approaches, civil rights to counsel, and roles for new providers of legal assistance, the access to justice movement has developed additional interventions to increase fairness. These take the form of new laws, technologies, structures and programs. Some of the specific solutions include: laws that require a determination of "ability to pay" before fines and fees debt can be imposed; automated court forms that make it easier for people to answer civil court complaints; enforcement initiatives by state attorneys general that hold employers accountable to wage and hour laws; and “court navigators” and “community navigators” who inform people about the law and legal proceedings. This panel will ask: What are the new solutions, are they fully implemented and do they accomplish their goals? The panel will consider whether the new solutions respond to the hard problems, such as court avoidance, discrimination and intimidation in the civil legal system, and systemic injustices that persist over time. Panelists will consider what’s next on the horizon, will it make use of AI, and is the modern movement for increased fairness meeting the moment?

  • Moderator:  Sateesh Nori, Clinical Adjunct Professor, NYU Law
  • Panelists:  Ray Brescia, Associate Dean for Research and Intellectual Life, Hon. Harold R. Tyler Chair in Law and Technology, Albany Law; The Honorable Glenn Grant, Administrative Director of the New Jersey Courts; Lauren Jones, Legal & Policy Director, National Center for Access to Justice; Janet Sabel, Director of Access to Justice Initiative at Center on Civil Justice at NYU Law, Adjunct Professor of Law at NYU Law

Discussants (contributing to all sessions):  Tom Lininger, Orlando John and Marian H. Hollis Professor, University of Oregon Law; Carlos A. Manjarrez, Chief Data Officer, Economic Development Administration, US Department of Commerce; Alyx Mark, Assistant Professor of Government, Wesleyan University; James Teufel, Visiting Scholar at Arizona State University, Principal & Owner of Help Justice LLC; Kathryne Young, Associate Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School, Visiting Scholar (2023–24) at The Russell Sage Foundation

Closing Remarks (4:40 pm):  Rasheeda Phillips, Director of Housing, PolicyLink

Next Steps  (4:55 pm):  David Udell, Executive Director, National Center for Access to Justice

Reception (5 pm)

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