What if…2.0

Nearly a year and a half ago, I got a little frustrated with a lack of progress toward increased access to justice and started this What if… list. I looked at the list again today, because lately I’ve been feeling just that way again.

I have been thinking about what is needed to effect the kind of change that is needed. Does A2J need a knight on a white horse riding in from a neighbouring kingdom to set things aright? Though that could make a great movie (I think a younger Al Pacino might play the knight?) it seems an improbable reality.

What if the knights are already working in the system? This recent New York Times op-ed piece by David Brooks has me thinking that they are already here and quietly subverting the systems they work in to make things better. Brooks writes:

A person on the edge of the inside knows how to take advantage of the standards and practices of an organization but not be imprisoned by them….Insiders and outsiders are threatened by those on the other side of the barrier. But a person on the edge of inside neither idolizes the Us nor demonizes the Them. Such a person sees different groups as partners in a reality that is paradoxical, complementary and unfolding.

This seems right. I know some of these people in access to justice. The problem they often have, I think, is that they’re working in isolation and are not typically hailed as the heroes in this story.

But what if…

What if all or even many of those working on the edge of inside truly started to work together toward their common visions and goals?

What if they set aside any apprehensions they might have and channeled their considerable knowledge and expertise into developing collaborative and creative solutions?

What if they pooled their networks and resources to shift the conversation, involve new players and reset the landscape?

Would they be heard? Could this be more effective than each focusing on their own initiatives to improve access to justice?

I don’t know if this approach would guarantee a happy ending for access to justice, but I know that simply working in our own small backyards to effect broad systemic change hasn’t been effective.

Someone said to me today that we are failing in the many efforts to bridge the gaps in access to justice. Despite all the hard work and all the pro bono hours, despite legislative and regulatory changes and systemic tinkering, despite well-intentioned working groups and steering committees and stakeholder meetings, we are failing.

If we really want to slay this dragon, it’s time to try something else. That will require bold vision, decisive action and more than a little courage. But as Brooks concludes:

But now more than ever we need people who have the courage to live on the edge of inside, who love their parties and organizations so much that they can critique them as a brother, operate on them from the inside as a friend and dauntlessly insist that they live up to their truest selves.

If those on the inside edges of access to justice services join together, we may just save the day.


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