Monday, November 28, 2011

COSCA White Papers

As I pointed out in 2010, my national group, the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) issues a policy paper each year, known to many as the "COSCA White Paper." Working on racial disproportionality in child welfare and other systems has sensitized us to the freighted significance of such terminology. We now refer to it as a Policy Paper, for that is what we hope the Policy & Liaison committee will produce, a statement of provocative and helpful policy guidance for the leaders of the states' court systems. As the current chair of that committee, I hope to release the newest paper, "Courts Are Not Revenue Centers," in the very near future.  In the meantime I thought it would be helpful to share a compilation of the last decade-plus worth of very good papers:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grant Award to Lone Star Legal Aid

Readers of this blog have seen a number of posts on civil access to justice, the self- or un-represented, and related topics, topics of sustained interest for me and many in my work world.  Today I am pleased to echo the announcement that Lone Star Legal Aid, in partnership with the Texas Legal Services Center and OCA, received a grant award from the Legal Services Corporation's TIG (Technology Improvement Grant) program. As described in this excerpt from their press release on a total of $3.6 million in grants:
LSC-funded programs are overwhelmed with requests for civil legal assistance, in part because of the economy. Courts—especially housing and family courts—have seen an increase in the number of low-income individuals without a lawyer. Studies in several states have found that about 80 percent of the legal needs of low-income families go unmet.

The systems that LSC-funded programs use to conduct client intake—most often telephone hotlines and in-person interviews—are often swamped by requests for legal services, frustrating clients and programs. The new round of technology grants continue efforts to develop new, user-friendly online intake systems for clients who need alternatives that permit the filing of applications for legal assistance outside normal business hours. . . .

In an effort to help people who must navigate courts without a lawyer, Lone Star Legal Aid will undertake a project to merge Texas Law Help, which provides self-help forms, and Texas Courts Online, which offers information about the state court system. The project will create a one-stop, easy-to-understand information source and include Spanish and Vietnamese translations of legal forms.
This topic always reminds me of an excellent 2005 report that I've saved, called "Civil Legal Assistance for All Americans," by Jeanne Charn and Richard Zorza.  It has seemed to me that the full access vision they espouse should be a template for our work in Texas, with the Census bureau recently documenting the increase of people living in poverty in our state, from 4.26 million to 4.63 million.  Charn and Zorza advocate a full-access legal system with the following foundational principles:
Scope and Coverage of a Full-Access Legal Services System

  • An expanded delivery system should serve moderate- as well as low-income people.
  • The types of legal needs for which assistance will be provided should be defined as a matter of policy. Specific service priorities, within broad categories, should be determined locally.
  • Consumers will be entitled to advice and assistance, but an attorney’s services should be available only when lawyers provide the highest-quality and most cost-effective response.
 Consumer Assurances and Responsibilities
  • Consumers should have a choice of providers appropriate to meet covered needs.
  • An expanded delivery system should be consumer-driven, clientcentered and holistic.
  • An expanded delivery system should protect representation of unpopular claims and insulate funders from the appearance of interference with service to individual clients.
  • Consumers should be responsible for copayments for many services as well as reimbursement of out-of-pocket costs related to service.
Provider Diversity and Innovation
  • Courts and administrative agencies should reform their rules and processes and provide information and assistance in order to reduce, wherever possible, the need for full-service attorneys.
  • The private bar should be the first resource for low- and moderate income people with legal needs.
  • Private attorneys should have opportunities to provide service, on a paid basis, when they are a cost-effective and high-quality option.
  • Paralegals should provide service in all areas permitted under existing rules. Policymakers and bar leaders should support expanded paralegal practice with appropriate quality assurances and consumer protections.
  • Technology should be fully deployed to deliver assistance directly to consumers and as an integral part of the infrastructure of a full-access delivery system.
I hope that we can have a rational conversation here in Texas and pursue a vision that will provide justice for all.