EJC 2014: A Law Librarian’s Report
Posted by Joan Bellistri on May 5, 2014
The ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference has ended and I am back at work. The EJC is a joint effort of the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA). The EJC provided a great forum in which to learn from interesting programming and from getting to know others whose work involves providing legal services to those who cannot afford legal help. I hoped to be able to report on a daily basis but found little time to fit that in. Here are some of the highlights.
The 850 attendees included legal aid and legal services providers, staff of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), pro bono organizations, attorneys, judges, self-help center coordinators, court program directors and, of course, last but not least, law librarians. Law librarians were mentioned as attendees in the opening remarks and referenced as locations for dissemination of legal information and referrals in a number of programs. Many times when I introduced myself as a law librarian, the reaction was not, “who needs a library when everything is online,” but, instead, stories of their relationships with law librarians and the role law libraries play in access to justice programs in their jurisdictions.
The Conference began on Thursday, May 1, with an inspiring address by Portland defense attorney, Jeffery Robinson. He remarked that he had to change his speech to reflect very current events such as the controversy surrounding Donald Sterling and Cliven Bundy, events that illustrate that racism and poverty are still very real problems. Problems that those attending must deal with on a daily basis. He ended with a much watched YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LU8DDYz68kM) that he narrated. As the video played he said that just when you think things can’t get any worse, they do. But as the video ended he pointed out that just one person can take a stand and make a difference, and that a group such as the audience can actually make a difference. I really can’t do justice to this speech that was really quite moving.
Looking back, I see that there seems to be a technology theme in many of the programs I chose to attend. In one program the point was made that with technology, resources can go further in providing legal services. I am hoping that program materials will be available later as promised. If and when – I will post them here.
Innovative Uses of Video and PowerPoint to Increase Access to Justice provided an overview and provided examples. Video and Other Cutting Edge Technology to Reach Clients went into more detail on the how-tos of creating videos. Video as a source of legal information makes sense since so many turn to YouTube now for instructions on everything from cooking to home projects. It is likely that those needing legal help will look on YouTube which was touted as one of the largest search engines. This program emphasized the ease of creating no or low cost videos. YouTube was recommended for hosting video as well as for the tools provided for editing (free), creating annotations and captioning. The captioning feature generates a script as well. Videos can be as simple as PowerPoint slides run as a slide show. Other methods demonstrated were the use of animation and voice over (see examples at commoncraft.com), video screen grabs for instruction, and use of live actors. The talking head video was discouraged by all. Even the use of actors has drawbacks. That format is hard to change if there is change in the law later. What was called the novella style or what I might call the comic book style is better for editing later. This method makes use of still photos with conversation bubbles and a voice over narration. This makes it easy to make changes and convert to other languages. (An example can be found at ctlawhelp.org: http://ctlawhelp.org/applying-and-appealing-disability-social-security.)
Equipment and software requirements can be as simple as a camera or even an iphone and some editing software like imovie, CamStudio or Camstasia. Six steps for creating a video were outlined: 1. research and topic assessment, 2. script production including editing and translating, 3. screenplay or incorporation of the visual, 4. shoot, animate and edit, 5. show, distribute and promote and 6. survey users and critique. The time requirement estimate for creating a video is about time 4.5 hours invested for each minute of video.
Mtlawhelp.org has an interactive video that allows the user answer questions by clicking a button within the video in order to provide different information for different scenarios in its How to get Your Security Deposit Back video.
Alaska Family Law Self-Help Center is another source of video examples: http://courts.alaska.gov/shcabout.htm#videos.
There is a website, ShareLawVideo.org, designed for the sharing of video by Legal Aid Organizations. It will soon be administered the Northwest Justice Project and attendees were invited to register.
Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (LSNTAP.org) “helps nonprofit legal aid programs improve client services through effective and innovative use of technology” and is another source of information: https://www.youtube.com/user/NTAPvideos
The program, Legal Literacy for Community Education, Policy Advocacy, Resource Development and More, also touted the value of video in addition to the ABA’s series of children’s books, The Kids in Building 160, created “to advance the mission of legal literacy as a tool of self-empowerment for those who are unable to afford legal assistance in times of need.”
The program, Sharp Tech Tools for Today and Tomorrow: Updates to Technology Baselines, described the LSC Technology Baselines for Legal Aid organizations as “technologies essential to the modern law office and the challenges of implementing tech improvements with limited resources.” In fact, it was stated that without technology Legal Aid organizations would not be able to serve all that they do and that technology is an important investment. A baseline is needed before organizations can move forward with other technology innovations. The necessary technologies included basic office functions like time keeping and document assembly, and also awareness of security issues and the use of mobile technology as most of their users will have only mobile access.
Bridging the Rural/Urban Divide: Pro Bono Success Stories Along the Scenic Route was another program that highlighted the use of technology in delivering legal services. The workings of the Northwest Colorado Legal Services Project’s Skype a Lawyer Program was described.
So many of the technologies presented can be of value to law libraries, too, especially those presented in the 50 (New) Tech Tips. The following is just a sampling of the range of tips, legal and non-legal:
legaltalknetwork.com for access to legal news and podcasts
Judgepedia a wiki about judges and courts
dialahuman.com for lists of customer service numbers answered by real people
iFOIA.org describes how to make requests and provides a kind of 50 state survey
I hope to be able to provide the entire list when it is made available. All 50 tech tips were tweeted by John Mayer of CALI and you could find them there.
Using Incubator Programs to Train Attorneys and Provide Pro Bono Assistance really did not have a lot to do with technology but the concept fit in with the ABA video Be the Change (worth watching just for the statistics) viewed at the opening of the conference. I like the idea of having more avenues of referrals for those who visit the library who make too much money to qualify for legal aid programs but not enough to hire an attorney.
There were not a lot of exhibitors when compared to AALL, but Rita Dermody of King County Public Law Library pointed out a handout on the NLADA table concerning Community Services Analysis LLC (csaco), an organization that will be working with NLADA to offer their resources for SROI (Social Return on Investment) studies for Legal Aid organizations. Since AALL has initiated an ROI study it was interesting to see the that organizations that have already completed a study reported that the benefits of having the SROI study resulted in a way to prove the value of their services and helped in acquiring increased funding.
It was not difficult to find a program that would apply to the work that I do as a law librarian, in fact, I often had trouble choosing among programs in a single time slot. Next year EJC will be in Austin, Texas from May 7 – 9. EJC gives law librarians more than one reason to visit Texas.
(The SRLN pre-conference will be covered in a separate post as this has gone on long enough. )