Open Law Lab and Designing Access to Justice

I’m going to eventually post more about the American Bar Association’s Summit on Innovations in Legal Services, but let me start with the best part.

That was when the Director of Legal Services Corp, James Sandman, say “What she said,” after Margaret Hagan’s breathtaking talk about the need for design principles in law.

Design is vital to access to justice.

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David Bollier & Commons Strategies

David Bollier is a leader in thinking and writing about the commons.  This lecture given at Property and Inequality in the 21st Century is the best explanation that I can find of the critical importance of the commons to address inequality.

Even more importantly, he helps to collect the stories and experiences of commons all over the world.  A new website by the Commons Strategies Group makes it easier to find this wealth of information!


Open Law

Our “justice” system is in complete disorder.  Maybe not the justice system, composed only of 9 robes, that we read about and hear about in the media.  That’s an open argument.  But there is no arguing this: the justice system, as experienced every day by people in municipal courts, is fundamentally broken.

Municipal courts are our local courts that hear cases like evictions and debt collections, and whose dockets are swollen.  Cases are processed more than they are adjudicated.  These are courts that decide whether people lose their home, and neither law nor justice are anywhere to be seen.

Courts don’t let defendants talk.  Courts don’t follow unambiguous state law and allow tenants to argue any defense, including the most common defense in contracts, prior breach.  Courts don’t treat landlords and tenants the same – the form given to the landlords by courts may or may not comply with the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, but they almost always help the landlord sue the tenant for an undetermined amount of money.  And if the tenant doesn’t respond in writing with a form that isn’t provided by the court, then the court will assume that any claim by the landlord is true, in a hearing that the tenant isn’t even notified about.  The courts ignore the plain language of the lease if it benefits the tenant, even though the landlord drafts the lease.  The courts ignore higher courts on clearly decided issues of law.

Maybe you think it can’t be that bad.  Maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about.  Admittedly, I only talk to a small fraction of the people losing their homes through the courts in 32 counties in Northwest Ohio, a tiny fraction of the municipal courts in our country.

But show me I’m wrong.

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Futures of Commons: An Uncommon Manifesto

Right now, technology is reinvigorating an ancient idea, and that idea could save modern society from environmental destruction and increasing income inequality.  That idea is the commons – shared use and shared governance of a shared resource.  Traditionally, commons meant shared grazing pastures or forests where anybody could hunt or gather firewood.  Commons followed us into cities, as the town squares where we could congregate without invitation and admission fees, or the well-lit streets of collective individual action.  Now, commons include knowledge commons, where a community of volunteers edit the world’s largest collection of knowledge: Wikipedia.  With global connectivity, we can – and do – share all types of knowledge – lessons, designs, plans, blueprints, software – free and available to all.

However, the idea of the commons still seems invisible, despite its huge and broad impact, which makes me want to write a sort of manifesto about the commons.

This is a bad idea for a lot of reasons.

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Common Reparations

In the United States of America, we have to look honestly at our history and our present reality.  Part of our past history is slavery and the explicit state-sanctioned racial discrimination of Jim Crow.  Part of the present American reality is that the descendants of the enslaved and oppressed have less wealth, less income, less opportunities and more likely live in neighborhoods that have less access to so many things that others take for granted.  No honest look at history or statistics can deny this.

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Intents and Purposes

Welcome to this space, which I am using for the development of three essays in progress. The first drafts are the first three posts. I’ll then post news, studies, lectures and cat pics, old and new, that support, refute, refine, and question the points I raise in the essays. I hope to get feedback from you doing the same. I’ll periodically update the essays to reflect the ideas here.

I’m focusing the blog on three essays instead of one in order to draw connections between amazing people doing amazing work in these different areas. The essays also overlap, and each could be an expanded portion of the others.

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