Things I Learned at My First Equal Justice Conference

By Michael Walters, Legal Hotline Managing Attorney, Pro Seniors, Inc. and Project Specialist, CERA

As part of the CERA team, I was able to attend the Equal Justice Conference for the first time. At the conference, I was able to participate in presentations and attend many other panels. Below are some of the many things that I learned at the Conference this year.

  1. Evidence-based legal service is the theme for the foreseeable future. If you are seeking funding for a project, you need to be able to supply data to prospective funders to support your belief about what your project may accomplish. If you are reporting on an existing project, you need to supply hard data to support your contentions about what the project has accomplished so far.
  2. Technology is changing everything about how legal services are delivered. Legal services can be delivered more economically to a larger universe of clients than ever before. But often, the technology is available before we have thought through how technology may impact issues such as conflicts of interest. We need to think about the rules of professional responsibility when we consider using new technology to deliver legal services.
  3. Medical-legal partnerships are a fertile source of funding for legal service providers. Once medical providers learn that solving the legal problems of their patients actually reduces the need for medical treatment, medical providers will compete for your services.
  4. Retired attorneys and law students are an untapped pool of eager volunteers for legal service providers.
  5. Austin has a robust, progressive system of community courts. Community courts relieve pressure from the dockets of criminal courts. Special courts for specific populations can keep certain minor offenses out of the court system, provide a pool of community service volunteers, and can save the traditional court system an immense amount of money and time.
  6. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the most useful Federal government agency to come along in many years. Many of the tools provided by the CFPB can help your clients to prevent legal problems before they happen.
  7. There is an interesting development in the legal services community regarding a civil right to counsel in civil cases involving basic human needs. Some municipalities have already adopted ordinances providing appointed counsel in cases such as eviction.
  8. Tennessee has developed an innovative pro bono project for volunteer attorneys who provide legal advice to clients with legal questions through email.
  9. Legal service organizations are taking proactive measures to reach underserved populations, such as rural clients and the LGBT community.
  10. Austin is a really cool city. The Austin Host Committee was a hospitable, well-organized group. Marcia Ball is a great blues singer.

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