Fordham Taps Retired Chief Judge to Lead Justice Initiative

Fordham Law School has tapped Jonathan Lippman, the retired New York state judge who is now at Latham & Watkins, to lead a newly formed initiative to research and help resolve the country’s access to justice problem.

To launch the initiative, the school is hosting a panel discussion tonight, a pre-game of sorts for the last presidential debate in Las Vegas at 9 p.m. ET.

At Fordham Law’s campus in Manhattan, Lippman, Fordham Law Dean Matthew Diller and David Udell, executive director of the National Center for Access to Justice, will talk about the justice gap that’s playing out in both civil and criminal proceedings and projects being implemented to reduce it.

Joining the three will be several chief justices and a prominent legal aid advocate: Nathan L. Hecht, Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Texas; Jorge Labarga, Chief Justice, Florida Supreme Court; Stuart Rabner, Chief Justice, New Jersey Supreme Court; and Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association.

“Justice shouldn’t be about the money in your pocket,” said Lippman, 71, in an interview before the 6 p.m. panel. “Justice has to be the same for everybody, no matter your station in life, color of your skin or resources in your pocket.”

Lippman said that there have been strides in providing access to justice, with state funding going to legal aid organizations and a requirement he enacted in the state of New York that anyone admitted to the bar must perform 50 hours of pro bono work. But he said the legal community needs to organize around the cause, including academia and big law firms, to discuss new solutions, including recent initiatives to get non-lawyers involved in providing legal assistance.

Lippman, who joined Latham in January after retiring as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals, has long advocated for increased attention to civil legal services. He created the task force to expand access to civil legal services in New York and pushed for lawyers in the state to disclose how many pro bono hours they worked on their biennial registration forms.

Diller said that Lippman’s role in this new initiative comes after Lippman worked closely with Fordham the past.

“We do a lot already, but the goal is now to focus it, and to step up our game,” said Matthew Diller, the Fordham Law dean. “As one critical component of that, the initiative brings to our school the National Center for Access to Justice, which has emerged as a leader in using big data and data analysis in identifying and bringing to light the dimensions of the crisis around the country in all different aspects.”

Diller referred to NCAJ, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with funding from individuals, charitable organizations and corporations that has a special relationship with Fordham Law School, working with its professors and students and staff to advance justice reform initiatives, according to its website. The group partners with Fordham on courses, supports pro bono projects and hosts conferences.

On the site, it lists several projects:

  • The Justice Index Project, in which data is used to grade the states on their degree of adoption of best policies for civil legal aid, language access, disability access, and people without lawyers.
  • The Goal 16 Project, in which the group supports the implementation of Goal 16 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by bringing experts and government officials together to design new approaches for measuring access to justice in the United States.
  • The Research Project, in which the group supports research and researchers to evaluate new models of legal assistance.

The new initiative Lippman will lead aims to take these initiatives forward and address the country’s justice gap through “curriculum, direct service, scholarship, research and advocacy,” the school said in a statement.

“It will unfold over time,” said Diller.

Tonight’s event will mark the launch of the initiative. Diller said he promised that it would be done by the presidential debate.

Write to us at BigLawBusiness@bna.com.

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