Friday, November 19, 2010


At the White House with
Judge Dorothy Kinnaird (left)
This morning Presiding Judge Dorothy Kinnaird of the Circuit Court of Cook County and I attended a special White House briefing on initiatives to increase access to justice coordinated by the Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Task Force and Vice President Joe Biden’s Middle Class Task Force. The CBA was invited to participate in the briefing because of our participation in a new lawyer referral program coordinated by the American Bar Association to provide referrals to lawyers qualified to represent workers in wage disputes under the FLSA. Judge Kinnaird, who was accompanied by Carina Segalini, administrator of the Circuit Court’s foreclosure mediation program, was invited because of the Court’s pioneering foreclosure mediation program. The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) was a key partner in the development of the mediation program and coordinates the program's legal assistance and mediation aspects.
Professor Laurence Tribe, Special Counsel on Access to Justice issues, kicked off the event, telling us that we must see access to justice “not only as a snapshot that we view from 35,000 feet, but as it is lived day to day.” He stressed the need to form new innovative, community-based initiatives, like the mediation foreclosure program and the lawyer referral program, to increase real access to justice not only to the indigent, but to Americans who need affordable legal services. 

Vice President Joseph Biden

Vice President Biden followed Professor Tribe, and declared that all individuals should be treated the same in the eyes of the law, which means that we have to ensure that every American has real access to justice. This is increasingly a problem for middle income Americans – 60% of judges responding to a recent study reported that they have more pro se litigants in their courtrooms this year than last year. The Vice President announced three initiatives developed jointly by his office, the DOJ, the Department of Labor, the Office of Veterans’ Affairs and the Federal Trade Commission:
 - Providing referrals to affordable legal services to protect workers’ rights

- Helping veterans get access to their benefits

- Assisting homeowners at risk of losing their homes in foreclosure

From left, American Bar Association President-Elect Bill
Robinson, me, Judge Kinnaird, and Jack Rives

As the Vice President put it, “you have to know what you need to know,” and that is difficult for most Americans without the help of a lawyer.

Panel presentations followed on each of those initiatives, with speakers including Secretary of Labor Solis, ABA President-Elect Bill Robinson, and the CBA’s own John Levi of Sidley & Austin, Chairman of the Board of the Legal Services Corporation, who spoke about the LSC’s new veterans’ rights initiative. During the presentations, the Cook County foreclosure mediation program, the CBA Lawyer Referral System for Wage Claims, and the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago program on veterans' rights (a CBF grantee) were mentioned as leading programs in improving access to justice.

U.S. Attroney General Eric Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder wrapped up the event with a call to action to the private Bar, community organizations, the government and legal services organizations to work on these and other initiatives.

We all should be very proud of the efforts of the organized Bar, the Courts and the public interest community in Chicago for all we are doing to improve access to justice – and we must resolve to do even more!

For more about the programs visit the White House web site at

or read an article about the program at Legal Times web site.