Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Washington State's Alliance for Equal Justice

tThe Alliance for Equal Justice of Washington State is an umbrella network of all civil legal aid programs in the state, formed in 2004 to create efficiency, provide support, and foster collaboration among members.
Alliance members are organizations whose predominant mission is to provide civil legal aid to Washington State’s low-income and vulnerable people. There are two basic kinds of member organizations: legal aid programs, and volunteer programs.

Legal Aid Programs
The Alliance includes a number of statewide and specialty legal aid programs. Some are general practice programs; others help low income populations who face unique barriers to our civil justice system or provide representation related to specific types of legal problems. Several programs provide services to individuals and families across the state.

Through statewide planning with one another, the pro bono programs, and Alliance supporters, these programs create efficiency by ensuring services are not duplicated and that legal assistance is available to some of our state's most marginalized populations.

Volunteer Programs

Thousands of lawyers in Washington provide their time and expertise to make access to justice a reality for low income and vulnerable members of our community. 

Pro bono efforts are coordinated through local bar association volunteer lawyer programs throughout the state as well as in law firms, governmental law offices, and corporate counsel offices. Volunteer lawyers provide a continuum of services from brief advice in clinics to extended representation in court.


Most of the above text is straight from the Alliance's website.

This praiseworthy effort does not seem to flaunt on its site any strategic vision. It recognizes that "Over 650,000 low income people living in Washington went without any help when they faced serious civil legal problems this year" but does not offer any plan to solve the problem of making "access to justice a reality" for that 650,000. It has a list of things it does, and they are all very good things; but  the magnitude of the uncompleted tasks is never compared to the resources marshaled to address them. It has a very wordy yet number-challenged plan (2008) which assumes that the Legislature is going to provide funding where there isn't enough pro bono volunteers; there is very little in the historial record to suggest that this will, in fact, occur. The website talks about the work it does and anecdotes about the success it has achieved; it avoids the topic of the work left to do and how it will achieve it. This is rolling out an aircraft that has yet to fly, without a plan for it to take wing. What a pity! the problem is inherently solvable, although basic math suggests that a comprehensive solution requires projects in addition to those within the Alliance's evident contemplation.

Among these means may be:
  • Training members of the underserved community to provide legal services, either by funding law school or systematically expanding the Rule 6 program (In the long run, the best means of providing an underserved community with something is to empower the community to provide for itself or in cooperation with other communities. Every other approach merely perpetuates inequality.)
  • Educating members of underserved communities to avoid legal issues or, when possible, to steer their way out of them, through Public Legal Education and comparable programs
  • Systematically coordinating efforts with other legal professionals, such as paralegals, legal secretaries and other
  • Reforms to laws and rules, to facilitate pro se and other access to courts
  • Improving means of funding legal aid programs, to eliminate dependence upon the inherently unstable IOLTA
  • Other means; above all, a plan, however voluntary, to close the Justice Gap, using every means available.
It's worth noting also that "equal access to justice" does not promise a particular outcome in any particular care or class of cases. For example, in your garden-variety landlord/tenant matter, sometimes the law and facts are on one side, sometimes on the other; the goal of equal access to justice is to give all parties an equal shot to have the matter decided on the merits.
This is to be distinguished from social justice, which can relate more to outcome than to process. The distinction maybe helpful for enlisting a broader range of support, since some persons reluctant to address social justice issues that may disadvantage themselves personally may nonetheless be totally in agreement with our foundational American vision of Equal Justice Under Law.

No comments: