Q. What is Access to Justice?
A. Access to justice is a concept related to fundamental principles in our system of government and law, an ideal embodied in the words above the entrance to the United States Supreme Court "Equal Justice for All." Access to justice efforts center on the manner, mechanisms and methods by which individuals are able to get legal information, legal service and resolve disputes.
Q. What is the goal of the Access to Justice Task Force of the State Bar of Michigan?
A. The goal of the Access to Justice Task Force is to coordinate access for and the delivery of civil legal service to the poor. ATJÕs additional goal is to promote effective delivery of high quality legal services to all Michigan residents, especially those with low-incomes in a holistic and integrated manner.
Q. How does the Access to Justice Task Force do its work?
A. The Task Force works in cooperation with many other entities and organizations, serving as a resource and/or catalyst for efforts that will improve access to justice around the state. Scores of volunteers from private practice, the judiciary, legal service agencies, law schools, human service providers and legal services programs, among others, help the Bar research possible improvements in the system now in place and help promote the review, testing and implementation of changes and efforts which show promise. The Task Force is funded by the State Bar of Michigan and the members of the ATJ Task Force also receive support from staff at the State Bar.
Q. How is the Access to Justice Task Force set up?
A. Currently the ATJ Task Force is composed of seventeen members and four associate members. The members include a chair selected by the State Bar President, the Michigan State Bar Foundation President, the SBM President, and the State Bar of Michigan Vice President. Also sitting on the ATJ Task Force are chairpersons from various State Bar of Michigan standing entities related to legal services such as the Open Justice Commission, Legal Aid Committee, Pro Bono Involvement Committee, Elder Law & Advocacy Section, and the SBM and MSBF Executive Directors.
Q. What sorts of projects, programs, research, and ideas have the ATJ Task Force undertaken in the past year?
A. The Task Force has been a partner in state planning efforts and in drawing up the Michigan Plan 2000, and has been involved in implementing decisions regarding reconfiguration of service delivery areas for Legal Services Corporation funded services operating in the state. The Task Force and staff have been selecting promising initiatives to pursue in light of perceived impact, need, budget and momentum. Currently focus is on a joint project with the Open Justice Commission to improve pro se conditions in Michigan.
In addition, the ATJ staff and members have also continued to work on these and other efforts. Recent projects include:
- Assistance in development of 2-1-1 call centers throughout the state
- Assistance in planning and building access to justice centers in the state at selected locations (Kent and Ingham counties initially)
- Raising the awareness of Pro Bono through recognition efforts the Honor Roll and Circle of Excellence
- Support of integrated case management and standardized reporting systems for legal services programs
- Encouraging pro bono activities through efforts such as Michigan Litigation Assistance Partnership and the Open Justice Commission Domestic Violence Pro Bono project
- Contributing to development of the Michigan Legal Assistance Network and the Michigan Poverty Law Project websites
- Support of the Access to Justice Development Campaign
- Guarding against the creation of a two tiered system of ethics or possible forced reporting of client confidences by legal aid attorneys serving the poor
- Helping in design of an E-filing project and Technology Innovations Grants
- Review of requests by various pro bono efforts for official bar recognition
- Submitting articles to the Michigan State Bar Journal and other publications regarding ATJ efforts and efforts of the Development Campaign
Q. When does the ATJ Task Force meet?
A. The Task Force meets four to five times a year in Lansing at the offices of the State Bar of Michigan. Two of those meetings are conducted jointly with the Open Justice Commission.
Q. How can I help?
A. Share your ideas, effort, time and money with us. Every step taken towards helping ensure equal justice provides support for the fundamental tenet of the legal system and the rule of law. The State Bar of Michigan urges members to perform pro bono work and make generous donations for legal services through the Access to Justice Development Campaign. Members of the private bar have been instrumental in those areas. The ATJ Task Force invites all lawyers, as well as others interested in our efforts, to join us in the work ahead.