MLSA Executive Director Alison Paul Announces New Advocacy Blog

As the Executive Director of MLSA, I am pleased to welcome you to MLSA’s new advocacy blog.  Across the country, legal aid programs and others promoting access to justice have made the conscious decision to promote broad based advocacy, in addition to helping clients one case at a time.   At MLSA, broad based advocacy means educating others about important issues relating to poverty and the law, providing forms and other resources that are readily available to those who represent themselves in legal matters, collaborating with community partners on various programs, and much more.  In 2009, MLSA launched an internal program to develop an impact agenda, focusing on what each MLSA legal unit could do to further MLSA’s broad-based advocacy efforts.  As examples of these coordinated projects, MLSA developed an initiative to expand the number of free expert witnesses, guardians ad litem and child custody evaluators available in domestic violence cases across the state, and also is in the early stages of another project to provide training on housing issues for mental health case workers.  Broad based advocacy is part of MLSA’s mission “to protect and enhance the civil legal rights of, and promote systemic change for, Montanans living in poverty.”  This blog is the latest demonstration of our commitment to broad based advocacy.Several of the upcoming advocacy blog entries will focus on increasing access to justice and the court system through the promotion of “self help” programs by the Montana Courts and MLSA.   Of course, the ideal is to provide an attorney to meet in person with every client eligible for our services, but there simply are not enough pro bono attorneys or financial resources to meet that ideal.  As funding to help low-income people with legal problems has become increasingly scarce, MLSA and other entities have looked to technological and other innovative solutions over the years.  Among other things, MLSA has developed technological approaches incorporating websites, live chat technology, videoconferencing, educational videos, and social media.  In addition, MLSA has a Self-Help Law Unit with staff who help people file their own dissolution paperwork, and has partnered with the Montana Supreme Court Administrator’s Office to create the AmeriCorps State Justice for Montanans program to provide in-person services in court-based centers and through other means.  MLSA continues to explore more ideas for leveraging our limited resources to provide the most effective and efficient services possible.  Moreover, we are convinced that self-help programs can empower some low-income people to feel more confident and improve other aspects of their lives.As a strong advocate of using technology to increase access to justice, I am especially excited to launch an advocacy blog.  We hope to provide engaging and thought-provoking pieces that get people talking about important issues relating to poverty, the law, and access to justice.  Thank you for helping to start the conversation.