DC Access to Justice Commission COVID-19 Task Force

The D.C. Access to Justice Commission COVID-19 Civil Justice Task Force was created in April 2020 to promote coordination and communication among key stakeholders, ensure the centralization of information so that resources are leveraged efficiently and the duplication of efforts avoided, and to foster mutual support for litigants and each other through the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath. The task force also serves as a vehicle to amplify issues in need of broad attention and troubleshoot emerging issues at the leadership level.

The task force’s Leadership Committee is comprised of leadership-level civil justice stakeholders from the D.C. Access to Justice Commission, D.C. Bar, D.C. Courts, D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, D.C. Bar Foundation, D.C. Consortium of Legal Services Providers, and representatives of our legal services, pro bono, and law school communities. The Leadership Committee’s work will be focused on reviewing and gaining consensus around an immediate set of objectives for the task force’s work.

Those objectives and the work of the task force are being accomplished through a series of sub-committees.

The first committee focuses on coordinated response to emerging legal needs, including pro bono mobilization, and is chaired by DLA Piper’s Lisa Dewey and DC Bar Pro Bono Center’s Becky Troth. Its members include leaders from local legal services organizations, the Federal government pro bono program, law firm pro bono counsel, and law school staff. Upon forming, the committee surveyed and collected responses from D.C. legal services providers to identify legal needs and projects that need to be staffed, including organizational needs and other supports. The committee recently launched DC Represents, a campaign to promote expanded pro bono participation among District organizations. The committee worked closely with the DC Bar Pro Bono Center to make improvements to DC’s ProBono.net website, a resource for attorneys seeking to serve District residents though pro bono efforts.

The second committee is focused on ensuring that the wide array of legal information being created and circulated in the District is both centralized and also appropriately distributed both within and outside of the legal community. It is chaired by Washington Council of Lawyers Executive Director Nancy Lopez and Commissioner Ariel Levinson-Waldman of Tzedek DC. Its members include leaders and communications staff from local legal services organizations, social service professionals, and more. The committee has identified a central website to host client-directed information (LawHelp.org/dc) and a separate site targeted at lawyers/pro bono attorneys (ProBono.net/dc). The committee has engaged in outreach to non-legal stakeholders such as community-based organizations, constituent services offices, health organizations, and beyond to ensure that the availability of the information is known, including: a LawHelp.org media kit, flyers in multiple languages, and more.

The third committee is focused on courts and tribunal related issues, with one focused on the D.C. Courts and the other on the D.C. Office of Administrative Hearings. These committees meet regularly with Court and OAH leadership to are chaired by Commission Executive Director Nancy Drane. The committees work to identify ways stakeholders can work together to best serve litigants, address questions on tribunal-related issues, both Division-specific and court-wide, and share information on all sides. These conversations are complementing work that is also being done within court-established working groups in areas like domestic relations, landlord & tenant, and the like. The committee has provided specific feedback and recommendations to the court in areas such as remote hearing best practices, the use of technology and more robust availability of interactive court forms, and the development of a series of remote court sites.

The Commission’s COVID-19 task force will continue to pursue issues that have emerged as a result of the COVID-19 crisis with an eye towards the types of civil justice reform efforts identified in its Delivering Justice report. The themes of collaboration, communication, and centralization appeared throughout the report and are now all the more important as we face this community crisis together.