The American Bar Association (ABA) and National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) Equal Justice Conference is coming to Minneapolis. From May 12-14, representatives from legal aid programs, access-to-justice organizations, the courts, and private practice across the country will be coming together to share and learn about developments and innovations in providing legal services to low-income persons. 

The conference will host over 75 workshops on topics ranging from technology improvements to maximizing pro bono impact to examining equity in legal services systems. Minnesota has a very strong showing, with presenters in at least 17 of the 75 workshops. The stellar lineup includes Building Up In-House Pro Bono Partnerships and Opportunities with Alyson Cauchy (US Bank) and Jeffrey Proulx (Target); Community Coming Together to Respond to Civil Unrest with a full panel of Minnesotans discussing the coordinated legal and social service response to civil unrest after the murder of George Floyd; and The Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis and Collaborative Responses, with Sarah Brenes of Advocates for Human Rights and Rachele King from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

The conference will also welcome a host of speakers, including video remarks from Senator Amy Klobuchar and a keynote address from Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Anne McKeig. For a full list of workshops, visit the conference website at bit.ly/3wc7Kpq.

For the past two years the conference has been held virtually, and ABA President Reginald Turner welcomes the return to a live format.  “The ABA is pleased to join our partners nationally and in Minnesota to bring back an in-person Equal Justice Conference,” he said. “The past couple of years have placed an unprecedented strain on our country’s justice system, exposing its existing disparities and forcing us to look more closely and deliberately at the delivery of civil legal services. This conference joins all components of the civil legal aid community and furthers the work of so many to deliver assistance to underserved populations.” 

NLADA President and CEO April Frazier Camara added, “NLADA is grateful for our longstanding partnership with the ABA on the Equal Justice Conference. For more than 20 years, EJC has provided a space for advocates representing the full array of legal services and pro bono providers, partners, and supporters in the movement for access to justice. We are honored to join everyone in Minneapolis this year and recognize the work of Minnesota’s access to justice community and that of our colleagues across the country.”

That community, led by host committee co-chairs Tom Walsh of Volunteer Lawyers Network and Caryn Boisen of Larson King, has been working for nearly a year to help plan local content, scholarships for legal services staff, and to create gathering points to share and apply innovations to our state. This opportunity does not come often. The last time Minnesota hosted the EJC was in 2008, and travel to a national conference outside the state is generally out of reach for most legal services organizations. 

While Minnesota is an established leader in pro bono and access to justice, the pace of innovation around the country is staggering and the need continues to grow. The pandemic forced changes to systems that, in many cases, had fallen behind the times long ago. The EJC is an opportunity to share successes arising from this badly needed paradigm shift and bring them home to courts and systems across the country. Anyone interested in being a part of this change is welcome and encouraged to attend.