Halt and Catch Fire (HCF)

“An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained.”

Those words appear on the screen of the opening scene of the first episode of the AMC program “Halt and Catch Fire”, a fantastic show set in the early days of the personal computing revolution. Wikipedia offers further insight into the truth or fiction of the actual HCF concept, but my purpose in introducing the term is to use it as a framework to comment on the efforts of “The Action Group on Access to Justice” aka TAG.

For those unfamiliar with the TAG initiative, it is described on the Law Society of Upper Canada website as “a community of people and institutions committed to working collaboratively to find new solutions to access to justice challenges”. At its current stage of evolution, TAG is essentially a Law Society discussion forum and research initiative. Supported by funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario and through active participation of Social Justice Tribunals Ontario and others, it is a necessary vehicle to bring awareness, energy and institutional heft to dealing a very broad range of critical problems. It does not, however, appear to be a group that will – or indeed should – “find solutions to access to justice challenges.”

Within the scope of its current mandate, two forums have been held on matters concerning targeted legal services (webcasts are available as is this summary from SJTO Executive Chair Michael Gottheil). A third event is planned for September. Yet even with an apparent attempt to narrow the frame to “targeted” services, the scope of discussion has been anything but targeted.

I’ve watched the webcasts and followed and shared tweets emanating from session participants, and my general observation is one of many well-meaning people coming to share their concerns and their proposed solutions. The full title of the sessions is “Targeted Legal Services: We Are All Pieces of the Puzzle,” and most participants seem to consider their domain to be a corner piece.

As befitting the grand name, “The Action Group on Access to Justice”, the overwhelming and admirable impulse of TAG sponsors and participants would appear to be that they must “do something.” They are to be commended for their efforts but should nonetheless bear in mind the implications of setting a stage that invites all initiatives to essentially “compete for superiority.”

As hard as it will be, the sponsors, most notably the Law Society, may find that best course of action following the last of the consultations and the preparation of the reports will be on identifying ways step back to make room for others to pursue solutions.

TAG needs to adopt a narrow scope lest its feel-good mandate and expanding interests lead to the HCF problem of a system over which control cannot be regained.


  1. Janet Minor, Law Society of Upper Canada

    I note your column and appreciate your interest in TAG. However, I would like to correct a significant misunderstanding. You write that “TAG is essentially a Law Society discussion forum and research initiative.” This is not the case. While the Law Society facilitates TAG, we are not its leader. The Law Society’s role is to provide support to the work of the TAG community, which essentially means establishing a space that fosters connections and collaboration among those working on access to justice solutions.

    Much of the work of TAG is done by small groups – or clusters. For instance, one cluster is working on the Shared Steps project. This online service will produce practical legal information that is accessible to the public and trusted intermediaries. The cluster is led by Community Legal Education Ontario and includes the Ministry of the Attorney General, Superior Court of Justice, Ontario Court of Justice, Social Justice Tribunals of Ontario, the Ontario Bar Association, Legal Aid Ontario and a number of community legal clinics. It was through TAG that these groups discovered that they had similar goals and came together to form a cohesive initiative.

    Other clusters are emerging and progressing that bring diverse stakeholders together to address access to justice challenges as they relate to technology, legal innovation, mental health, Aboriginal justice, public legal education, rural, remote and Northern access to justice, and several other key areas. Participants are committed and enthusiastic about the potential.

    In addition to fostering the development of clusters, TAG hosts events and meetings to further knowledge-exchange and collaborative work. Your post mentions the forums on targeted legal services. TAG also co-hosted a meeting of the National Action Committee, and Better Justice Together with the Ministry of the Attorney General. It has participated in a number of events including a CPD for Flip Your Wig and a panel focussed on TAG at the County and District Law Presidents’ Association Spring Plenary.

    TAG is a year-old this month and I am very pleased with all it has been able to accomplish.

    The TAG community is growing rapidly. I encourage interested readers to get involved and join TAG in responding to the call for action in access to justice. Meaningful change can only come from working together. To learn more about TAG, visit the pilot website at You can also find TAG on Twitter.