This year’s topic for the University of North Texas Open Access Symposium was Is Open Access an Answer for Access to Justice? Held this past weekend at the UNT Dallas College of Law, the symposium drew speakers and attendees from a variety of backgrounds including academia, legal aid, law librarianship, and the judiciary. Joe Lawson, Deputy Director, and Heather Holmes, Assistant Law Librarian at the Harris County Law Library, were fortunate to be in attendance and also to appear as speakers on a panel called Engaging the Public.
For their contribution, Joe and Heather presented a program called Minding the Gaps, an exploration of the barriers to access that self represented litigants, especially those of low and modest means, encounter when interacting with the justice system. Joe and Heather also discussed the important role that trusted intermediaries, such as legal aid attorneys and public librarians, play in mitigating the impact of barriers to justice. Citing the work of others in the field who have written on the limitations of techno-optimism and over-reliance on digital resources, Joe and Heather presented a model for providing access — supplemented by support and guidance from trusted information professionals — to reliable, authoritative sources of legal information that pro se litigants can use to effectively engage with the courts and achieve just outcomes for their civil legal needs.
Concluding the two-day symposium was an interactive workshop called A2J By Design: Prototyping Innovative Legal Solutions with Open Legal Information. The workshop was conducted by Kelli Raker and Casandra Laskowski, librarians at Duke University School of Law. For the activity, two teams used design thinking principles to devise creative solutions for providing access to justice. Pictured here, Joe Lawson and his teammate, Jason Sowards, Law Librarian at the Nevada Supreme Court Law Library, explain their team’s project idea, an interactive kiosk for legal aid services at senior centers.