Today, the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (WH-LAIR) held its last meeting of 2016 – and this administration. The meeting was led by White House Domestic Policy Council Director of the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity Roy Austin and Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Bill Baer, and included celebration of the recently released first annual report to the President, entitled “Expanding Access to Justice, Strengthening Federal Programs.” The report documents the significant steps the 22 federal agency members of WH-LAIR have taken to integrate civil legal aid into their programs and policies. It is a remarkable collection of activities, research, data and success stories, illustrating the impressive outcomes we can expect when federal agencies leverage their resources to maximize impact for the people they serve.
The meeting’s highlight was a visit by WH-LAIR Co-Chair Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, who thanked the WH-LAIR agencies and their representatives for all they have done to advance equal access to justice and to ensure our federal programs are as effective and efficient as possible.
After the Attorney General’s remarks, WH-LAIR’s two working groups reported on their activities. For the Working Group on Self-Represented Parties in Administrative Hearings, Bob Bullock of DOJ’s Office for Access to Justice (DOJ ATJ) and Connie Vogelmann of the Administrative Conference of the United States reported on yesterday’s adoption of Conference Recommendation 2016-6 (“Self-Represented Parties in Administrative Proceedings”), and the five recommendations to agencies: 1) implementation of triage and diagnostic tools; 2) development of a continuum of services for self-represented parties; 3) training for adjudicators on dealing with self-represented litigants; 4) data collection on self-represented litigants; and 5) simplification of agency hearing procedures.
U.S. Department of Justice
Deputy Director Maha Jweied of DOJ ATJ and Dr. Allen Beck of DOJ Bureau of Justice Statistics described progress made by the Working Group on Access to Justice Indicators and Data Collection, which is working to identify national access to justice indicators and related data in response to the call in the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Launched in the summer, this working group was publicly announced in September by Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Baer at a United Nations Side-Event. Dr. Beck announced that a progress report will be released in February 2017
Additionally, to exemplify how the work of WH-LAIR plays out in real life, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)’s Ariel Levinson-Waldman introduced the online audio interview of 21-year-old Francesca Yerks who received legal help from a DOL-funded program that led to her getting a job; and the Federal Trade Commission’s Monica Vaca showed a video about an Iraq war veteran overcoming a debt collection problem with legal help and getting a new lease on life.
I was personally grateful to be able to thank each and every WH-LAIR federal agency participant, on behalf of the millions of people who will get legal help to address domestic violence and elder abuse, or remedy financial problems arising from consumer scams, or access housing, education and health care. And to give a shout out to our original co-chairs, Tonya Robinson, former DPC Special Assistant to the President and current Acting General Counsel of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and former Associate Attorney General Tony West for their invaluable leadership. The most heartfelt thanks went to the entire DOJ ATJ team, who serves as WH-LAIR’s staff, for co-leading the work at every step of the way, and in particular ATJ Senior Counsel Allie Yang-Green for her tremendous contributions in producing the report.
DOJ ATJ Director Lisa Foster, who was given authority in the Presidential Memorandum to designate WH-LAIR’s executive director, announced that Deputy Director Jweied will assume the executive director role going forward.
The meeting attendees agreed that despite our significant accomplishments, much more can be done to strengthen federal programs by ensuring meaningful access to justice for all in America. The meeting closed with everyone’s commitment to continuing to embrace this powerful tool of civil legal aid and look for opportunities to amplify the work in 2017.