NYU Law’s Institute of Judicial Administration and Center on Civil Justice co-sponsored a two-day conference on April 28-29 springing from Beyond Elite Law: Access to Civil Justice in America, a book co-edited by Dwight D. Opperman Professor of Law Samuel Estreicher. Academic experts, attorneys, and judges from across the country convened to discuss the plight of Americans unable to afford legal representation.

In the opening panel, Jonathan Lippman ’68, New York’s former chief judge, discussed his push to expand access to civil justice in his own state, which inspired judiciaries in other states to follow suit. “It requires leadership and partnerships and innovation,” he said, explaining that, by framing the problem to the state legislature as an economic issue in which $1 devoted to legal aid provided $10 in savings, he brought policymakers on board.

Speaking at a roundtable on actions the courts can take, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht described taking a similar tack to Lippman’s in his more conservative state, enlisting powerful business leaders in the cause. “Courts can absolutely take leadership in these matters,” he said. “As a matter of fact, who else will? In the other two branches of government, those who hold office listen to constituents, as they should. And often the poor and the cause of justice, sadly, don’t have powerful voices to get legislative attention.”

Chief Justice Sharon Lee of the Tennessee Supreme Court declared access to justice her judiciary’s number one strategic priority and has walked the walk with numerous initiatives. “In this battle, we are the generals,” she said, “and we have all these footsoldiers that we’ve enlisted—law students, law schools, private practitioners, law firms, corporate counsel—and they actually do the work, but we provide the vision and the leadership.”

Separate sessions during the conference focused on unmet legal needs in the areas of immigration, employment discrimination, and bankruptcy; facilitating self-representation; nonlawyer representation; alternatives to courts; and pro bono possibilities for retired lawyers. Other conference participants included Associate Professor of Clinical Law Alina Das ’05; Aaron Halegua, an affiliated researcher at the Law School’s US-Asia Law InstituteVice Dean Randy Hertz; Wallace Jefferson, former chief justice of the Texas Supreme Court; Adjunct Professor Robert Katzmann, chief judge of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit; Judge John Koeltl of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York; Acting Assistant Professor of Lawyering Kate Levine; David Yin ’14; and Adjunct Professor Peter Zimroth.

Posted May 18, 2016