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Assuring Equal Justice for All is this year’s theme set by the American Bar Association for celebrations of Law Day across the nation. I think the New York Law Journalhad a terrific idea in challenging contributors to this special supplement to identify one concrete step that can and should be taken to make the legal system more accessible to the public. Let’s face it: it’s easy to wax eloquent about our bedrock ideal of equal justice, but much harder to identify — and then to take — concrete steps to achieve that ideal. I would like to exercise a Chief Judge-ly privilege and suggest not one but two steps that would make the system more accessible to the public: increased pro bono service, and more effective self representation. Actually, the two go hand in glove. When unable to secure pro bono counsel, many must represent themselves. By the same token, many wishing to represent themselves, but are frustrated in doing so, seek pro bono counsel. PRO BONO SERVICE While the Bar’s response to Sept. 11 was nothing short of phenomenal, volunteer civil legal services are essential to New York’s recovery effort, and are even more vitally needed now than ever before. I therefore made pro bono service the subject of my Marden Lecture at the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, delivered March 5 and available online at www.probono.net/ny. I feel passionately about the subject, and hope you will read the full text of my talk. Rather than recount the negative pro bono news — like the continuing 9/11 special legal needs, job losses and business failures, the exhaustion of special health and other benefits, and the assigned counsel catastrophe — I’d like to linger on some of the positive effects of our recent experience, which I refer to as a shining hour of the New York Bar. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, we saw an astounding display of cooperation, communication and leadership from the Bar that best served the needs of clients and maximized the response of volunteer lawyers individually. Excellent resource materials were produced, for clients and lawyers; a new model of “one-stop shopping” was developed for serving clients, with first-rate backup help; and 21st century technology was put to good use to recruit volunteers, inform clients and enable volunteer lawyers to access one another. Pro bono service was made easy and meaningful. The experience taught us lessons that we can and must build on — to keep the luster on the Bar’s shining hour. In that connection, the first concrete step I offer today is our new Access to Justice Center, which will focus like a laser beam on volunteer civil legal services. Our hope is that this center will become a galvanizing force for volunteer legal services. With its superb new executive director, Dianne Dixon, and the ongoing involvement of our fabulous deputy chief administrative judge for justice initiatives, Juanita Bing Newton, I fully expect that the year ahead will bring us significantly closer to our goal of assuring equal justice. SELF-REPRESENTATION While there is no substitute for being represented by counsel in court, until every civil litigant who wants a lawyer can have one, we are determined to make self-representation more effective. My second proposal is really another step along the path the court system has already embarked upon, namely expanding our efforts to help the self-represented litigant — efforts that Judge Newton’s office has been spearheading at a whirlwind pace. We are, for example, multiplying our resource centers for the self-represented, with the hope that eventually there will be one in each county. We will proliferate instructional videos and brochures; night court hours; mobile self-help offices; satellite offices and public access law libraries. We will continue to work on programs to educate the self-represented, as well as the general public, about our legal system and court procedures through such programs as law-related seminars, open houses and town hall meetings. The coming months will see a significant leap forward with our Web site ( www.courts.state.ny.us), including a new area devoted to self-help — a “virtual office for the self-represented” — with user-friendly court forms and instructions, guides to the court system, referral information and other help. The courts’ assistance, of course, can go only so far. Staff at court libraries and Offices for the Self-Represented report that among the most frequently asked questions are: How do I commence an action? How do I respond to a complaint? Vacate a default? Enforce a divorce agreement or support order? Make a motion? Stay a foreclosure or eviction? Appeal? Court personnel can provide information about court procedures and forms, but they cannot help a litigant make major decisions, like whether to sue at all, what defenses to raise, what motions to make, how to conduct a trial, and on and on. The fact remains that one of the questions asked at our resource centers is: How do I get a lawyer? Which brings me back full circle to pro bono. We are a phenomenal partnership, courts and lawyers. We need not look back in history for proof of that proposition; it was amply established here in New York only months ago. Let’s work together to keep the momentum going. Together, we can do so much to assure equal justice for all. Judith S. Kaye is Chief Judge of the state of New York.

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