– Alison DeBelder

May 4-6, I attended this year’s Equal Justice Conference in Pittsburgh, which is cosponsored by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. Every day was packed with great information and well-attended by people involved in diverse and exciting work across the country.

The Florida Bar Foundation’s presentation on mapping was delivered by Nancy Kinally, Communications Director of FBF, who worked with Allison Davis-Holland of the Self Represented Litigants Network to create the maps that were the subject of their talk. Their team used data and maps which they integrated into district-specific fliers for their ABA Days meetings with Florida delegates. Jim Kowalski, Jr., of Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, Inc., was a part of the ABA Days presentations and he joined the panel to discuss the dramatic impact the mapping had in their meetings. The maps and fliers dramatically illustrate the import of the work of legal aid and the loss that districts would face should LSC lose funding.

Although I found none of the presentations to be disappointing there were other highlights. There was a rich discussion of the state of women’s reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights in one session. Another panel that was particularly relevant to my work with the FLAdvocate website was “How to Build Statewide Web-Based Legal Services Networks.” Florida was also well represented as part of this presentation when Ericka Garcia discussed the Florida Pro Bono Matters launch. Some of the sessions involved actual collaboration between participants, such as the “Beyond Plain Language: Building Better Self-Help Tools,” where I worked with another lawyer and a non-lawyer who runs a self-help clinic in a courthouse to produce a cartoon to help explain service of process to a layperson.

There was a presentation on a fascinating project in Tulsa, Oklahoma called “Still She Rises” pioneered by the Bronx Defenders (I’ve included a link to their site which features a video about their work). Their project represents only women who are being prosecuted who have children and provides holistic defense, including social work and support beyond the criminal case. They chose Tulsa because women are the fastest growing prison population in the US and Oklahoma is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the nation.

The most lighthearted and fun presentation that I was able to attend was “50 Tech Tips.” It is amazing how many things you can pick up in a rapid-fire session such as this – and fun when you already knew the tip and get to feel cutting edge. It was timely that they shared NoMoreRansom.org as a helpful website with educational material to avoid ransomware attacks as well as resources to deal with it if such an attack should befall you. Other tips were to store your passwords with the new version of LastPass.com, try a new browser that blocks ads called Brave.com, check to see what data breaches have affected you at HaveIbeenPwned.com, download free audiobooks in public domain from LibriVox, or sign up for Facebook’s new town hall feature which automatically links you to local, state, and federal elected officials who represent you.

The presentations at the Equal Justice Conference were incredible, but as is usually my experience, the best part of the trip was connecting with the other people there. It gave me the opportunity to be inspired by how other people are solving problems and the time to reflect on the good work being done – including here in Florida. If you ever have the opportunity to attend this conference I commend it to you.