May 11 MeGAL wrote to Justice Andrew Mead regarding the tools being used to improve access to justice within the judicial branch and the courts they are charged with managing. The follow up email had one driving question – while a program may be well intention and yet not achieving much – what is the reason for continuing without re-evaluating the goals of the program itself.
Does the Judicial Branch understand the scope of the problem – who lacks access to justice and why? The Lawyers in Libraries program has been functioning in one form or another for a number of years. This year’s Law Day sparked the questioning of the success of this program as it relates to the consumers of judicial services. Has 10-15 minutes with a lawyer once a year brought about a drop to the numbers who are seeking access to justice.
Our reply back to Justice Andrew Mead:
From: J M Coll
Sent: Thursday, May 12, 2016 1:25 PM
To: Andrew Mead
Subject: Re: Fw: Access to Justice: Lawyers in Libraries?
Justice Andrew Mead
Dear Justice Mead,
When any program is well-intended but not achieving much, most people would say that taking stock or re-evaluation is in order.
I would add that it would be money well-spent for whoever is tasked with improving “access to justice”, to get some outside, consultative expertise on how better to improve “access justice” with limited manpower and financial resources. There are many sources who might suggest quality consultative entities, which could be helpful. The NCSC would be one that is undoubtedly familiar; the US Department of Justice is another. There are any number of universities with a capability of providing consultation on goal determination and designing an intervention. What one is looking for is how to get the answer to a number of important questions:
1.) Exactly who is lacking access to justice in Maine? What are the numbers and demographics of such a population group or groups? What is the nature of their “access” problems? If one can’t define the population needing “access to justice” any planned action is wasteful of resources and a blind “shot in the dark”. This is an absolutely vital piece of information, if one desires to design a target intervention of any kind.
2.) There is also the matter of defining goals in measurable terms. For most interventions – with a defined population in need- a common aim is to reduce numbers of such a population over a defined period of time, say annually. The design of intervention should be defined by how best to reach such a populations in need in a manner that is cost-effective, given time and budgetary limitations.
3.) Regular formal evaluation of effort is the ‘sine qua non’, the backbone of any targeted program. Is it working? Are numbers receding? What “fine tuning” might give even better results?
I firmly believe that everyone in Maine would want to support improved “access to justice”. It is a foundational American belief. I’d suggest that it would not be out of place to propose legislation that would allocate money for formal consultation and program design, as mentioned above. I would personally support such legislation and work for it, and I suspect many others would too.
Jerome A Collins, MD
What has the success of Lawyers in Libraries been to date? We do not know and neither does the Judicial Branch nor the Justice Action Group (JAG). While the program is well intention – it reaches such a limited segment of the population and for such a short period of time that we question the value of this program. There were a fair number of people associated with MeGAL who sought out legal help to see what Lawyers in Libraries could do. While every lawyer that they came into contact with was polite and helpful all of them lacked any experience with handling Family Courts. Many of those who went out ended up talking with the lawyers beyond the 15 minutes allotted – there was limited attendance from those seeking equal justice. All of them were seeking greater access to justice – no one felt that they received an increase to justice. The information provided in the handouts while useful – all could be found through a google search or by looking on the Judicial Branches website.
To date we have not received a response from Justice Andrew Mead or from JAG.
MeGAL is working to bring about reform to our Family Court system. We do this through educating the public and out representatives and encourage you to do the same. If you would like to become involved please contact us at MeGALalert@gmail.com or find us on Facebook.
2016-05-17 Does Lawyers in Libraries work at bringing Access to Justice to those in Need?