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Louis M. Brown Award

Past Recipients

2021: Documate

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has selected Documate, a San Francisco-based legal software provider, to receive the 2021 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access.

Also, COVID H.E.L.P. Illinois, a pandemic-inspired initiative which stands for Housing & Economic Loss Prevention, was awarded the 2021 Louis M. Brown Select Award.

The Louis M. Brown Award originated in 1995 and honors the work of Louis M. Brown, who for more than 60 years worked toward improving access to legal services for those of moderate incomes. The award itself honors the work of those who advance this mission in ways that are remarkable and replicable.

Documate helps to increase legal services to those of modest means through leveraged technology, principally through its “no code” platform that allows attorneys to create technology tools to expand their service offerings without the need to hire a software developer. Documate allows attorneys to create document automation, expert systems, guided interviews and legal apps, which can deliver legal services more broadly than traditional one-on-one representation. Its software is used by courts, legal aid organizations and private attorneys.

Covid H.E.L.P. Illinois earned this year’s Brown Select Award for receiving the most online votes from the public. The nonprofit organization provides a reliable and secure access point for residents of Illinois to legal information on the most common legal concerns caused by the pandemic, and it serves as a model for other states to replicate. The effort is a joint project of CARPLS Legal Aid, Cook County’s largest provider of free legal services, and other Illinois legal aid agencies. The project is supported by the Lawyers Trust Fund of Illinois.

2020: Do Not Pay Law

The DoNotPay app bills itself as the home of the world's first robot lawyer. DoNotPay aims to in democratize the consumer rights landscape to make the law more affordable & accessible for moderate income people, improving the delivery of legal services and information by leveraging chatbots & cutting-edge AI technology to provide automated services for common legal needs. With DoNotPay you can fight corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the press of a button. The automated services provided by the DoNotPay app have been replicated and launched in other settings around the world, including the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada. A few examples of the automated services that have won our users legal disputes include, the ability to sue large corporations for data leaks, appealing parking tickets, free legal aid to help the homeless and evicted fight for housing, free legal aid to refugees seeking asylum in the US and Canada, and much more.

2019: Court Square Law Project

Court Square Law Project ("CSLP") was originally established as a pilot project to "design and test a mission-driven, commercial business model to deliver a defined set of legal services to people who can afford to pay something, but who do not have practical access at the present time to such services at an affordable rate." CSLP offers full-representation by admitted attorneys in the areas of family law, housing, small business litigation, entity formation, estate planning, and adult guardianship. CSLP trains new attorneys in the practice of law and the fundamentals of operating a solo practice. In the past six months, CSLP has covered 60% of its operating costs through its fees and is on track to becoming self-sustaining at the end of the pilot project in 2020.

CSLP's mission is trifold: (1) to provide client-centered, collaborative, and affordable sliding scale legal services to underserved, moderate-income individuals; (2) to prepare new lawyers, under the supervision of experienced attorneys, with the skills, tools, and resources to launch sustainable, mission-driven legal practices serving moderate-income clients; and (3) to conduct a research project measuring the effectiveness, sustainability, and scalability of its business model.

2018: Chicago Bar Foundation

The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF) improves access to legal services for moderate income people in three interrelated ways, as part of its larger mission of mobilizing the legal community to lead the way in making the justice system fair and accessible for all: (1) through its incubator, the Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP); (2) by identifying replicable, market-;based models for successfully serving this group and using its unique place in the system to propagate them through the bar and larger legal community; and (3) advocating with the courts for rules and policies to help these succes sful models grow and thrive. In the mold of business and tech incubators, the JEP is helping dozens of innovative lawyers launch successful community-based practices and develop disruptive, market-based models to sustainably provide legal services to thousands of mode rate income people each year. Taking lessons from JEP successes, the CBF devel oped toolkits on key issues of pricing and limited scope representation to give practical guidance for lawyers in Chicago and beyond to incorporate the se tools into their practices. Recently, the CBF has been working with the bar association and the court on a court-based lawyer referral panel for limited scope representation to better connect unrepresented litigants with lawyers with affordable services.

2017: Sustainable Economies Law Center

The mission of the Sustainable Economies Law Center (SELC) is to support community resilience and grassroots economic empowerment. The SELC has two complementary programs aimed at increasing access to transactional legal services for low-income entrepreneurs and change-making organizations, such as worker cooperatives, nonprofits and urban farms. First, SELC’s Resilient Communities Legal Cafe is 1/3 legal advice clinic + 1/3 living classroom + 1/3 community-building space. Three times per month in a welcoming café-like space in the San Francisco Bay Area, attorneys and law students provide donation-based legal assistance to low and moderate-income clients. The Legal Cafe often includes workshops on a wide range of legal topics. SELC recently published a guidebook to replicating the Legal Cafe model. Second, SELC’s Fellowship Program is an incubator supporting attorneys all over the country who are starting new law practices and nonprofit law centers serving a similar client base. Each Fellow receives training, mentorship, networking and other support opportunities. Many Fellows gain hands-on experience in SELC’s Legal Cafe, while others receive mentorship remotely as they take on the legal needs of clients such as homemade food entrepreneurs, housing cooperatives, and worker-owned businesses. 

2016: Suffolk University Law School Accelerator to Practice Program

The Accelerator-to-Practice Program is a comprehensive three-year course of study to prepare graduates to join or start sustainable law practices serving low and average income clients. The program offers courses in the use of technology for practice efficiency, the creation of automated document systems, law practice management, process improvement and project management, and alternative models for the delivery of legal services. Students spend their final year representing clients in fee-shifting cases in an embedded law firm within the school in which they learn practice skills, the tenets of client retention and service, risk management, entity formation, fee structuring, case selection, marketing, use and creation of technology, and efficient methods for the delivery of legal services. Accelerator graduates’ training in providing efficient, cost effective legal services permits them to add value to existing small firms and, over time, start their own practices. These expanded and new firms increase the availability of affordable legal representation within local communities. 

2015: Call for Justice, LLC

Call for Justice (C4J) is a Twin Cities nonprofit that collaborates with United Way 211, the state’s largest information and referral resource, to provide training on how to make better, more targeted legal referrals to available programs and legal resources. By partnering with 211, C4J is able to reach the population of people who call in for help that may not yet identify their problem as legal in nature. C4J trains United Way on specific legal topics such as landlord/tenant law and family law. Videotaped trainings are posted to C4J’s website. This model is replicable as 211s exist in almost every state, as do bar associations which can collaborate to train 211 and act as conveners to spark collaborations. In addition, C4J convenes meetings of nonprofit legal and social service providers to help them communicate better and form collaborations to serve low and moderate-income people. Finally, C4J has facilitated the creation of a low bono community law firm in collaboration with Hamline and William Mitchell law schools that will train new lawyers to serve people at 200-325% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The firm is scheduled to open in mid-2015.

2014: State Bar of South Dakota Project Rural Practice

Responding to the startling decline in the availability of attorneys living in rural and reservation communities in South Dakota, the State Bar of South Dakota founded Project Rural Practice (PRP) with the goal to increase the number of lawyers practicing in these places. PRP operates a website that connects rural South Dakota communities and rural lawyers with job-seeking lawyers interested in the lifestyle and challenges of rural practice. To promote rural practice with law students, PRP established a partnership with the University of South Dakota Law School as well as requested a grant so that it can finance law student internships in rural offices over the next five years. Additionally, PRP is partnering with the Attorneys Liability Protection Society (ALPS) to connect rural attorneys with other attorneys.

To further advance its mission, PRP put forward a resolution that passed unanimously before the ABA’s House of Delegates in support of its rural legal services mission nationwide. It also lobbied successfully for legislation that created the country's first attorney incentive program for rural practitioners. The Resolution and Report can be found here.

2014: Lifetime Achievement Honor to Richard Zorza

Richard Zorza is an author, an advocate, a thought-leader and a doer. As the creator and coordinator of the national Self-Represented Litigants Network, Richard has reached out and brought together an array of stakeholders who share the denominator of advancing access to justice for those who may otherwise be denied their day in court. He has fostered the emergence and growth of unbundled legal services, self-help desks and judicial inquiry within a system of neutrality.

Since the 1990s, he has been a catalyst for discussion, analysis and scrutiny of our system of justice and the way it treats those who turn to it for relief. He has written books and articles on technology, the courts and, of course, access to justice. More recently, Richard blogs, at, on a constantly expanding range of insightful developments and issues.

When leading a discussion at forums such as the ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference, Richard will often predicate a topic by saying, “This may be a crazy idea, but…” He is rarely deterred from exploring those “crazy ideas” and at the end of the day they are rarely “crazy.” They are more likely innovative and creative ideas that need to be shared.  

Ironically, those for whom Richard advocates – the self-represented – will never know of his efforts on their behalf. We know and, as he shares the spirit of Lou Brown, we are honored to recognize him for his lifetime of achievement.

2013: Access Legal Care

Access Legal Care, established in May of 2011, is a Michigan law firm that provides affordable help for common legal needs. By using a model that includes fixed fees and other methods of reducing costs, the law firm is able to offer services that cost 40-60% less than the industry average. Methods of reducing costs include centralizing operations for economies of scale, leveraging technology and automating tasks, utilizing “of counsel” lawyers who have their own independent practices, relying on limited scope representation, and other approaches to streamline services. The firm focuses on the 20% of legal services that most lower and middle income people are likely to need, while referring out other services. Such an efficient and streamlined model is not specific to Michigan and demonstrates a creative combination of cost-reducing processes that may be implemented in other states.

2012: The Financial Clinic

The Financial Clinic improves financial security for the working poor – those who fall into the wage gap—earning too much for public assistance but too little to be self sufficient. The Financial Clinic undertakes projects where financial coaches and attorneys can find customers in the best position to succeed by partnering with organizations that have already identified a strong need for financial development services. The Financial Clinic combines free tax preparation services with financial coaching and legal services; complements free benefit screenings provided to the community with one-on-one financial coaching and legal services; and enhances services offered to customers through the domestic violence shelter system. The Financial Clinic attorneys provide “Know Your Rights” workshops to better meet the needs of domestic violence survivors in shelter, in addition to providing traditional legal services. Staff attorneys represent clients in legal proceedings that involve a wide range of topics on financial issues, including, consumer debt collection cases, consumer bankruptcies, resolving tax and student loan debts, and foreclosure defense.

2011: Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Legal Self Help Center

The Pinellas County Clerk of the Circuit Court Legal Self Help Center was established in October 2007 to provide affordable legal services to the citizens of Pinellas County and assist them with filing small claims, tenant evictions and family cases.

The Self Help Center sets attorney appointments for a nominal fee of $1 per minute with a minimum of $15 and a maximum of $60.  Fees paid by the litigants fund the Self Help Center attorneys and no person is turned away based upon income.  To date, over 6,000 appointments have been scheduled in the three Pinellas County locations.  In addition to setting attorney appointments, the Self Help Center also provides specialized software that assists in filling out forms, maintains and sells packets for civil court actions, provides notary services and processes copy requests.

The Clerk of the Courts Self Help Center is a collaborative effort between the Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Sixth Judicial Circuit, the Community Law Program and the Clearwater Bar Association.

Visit the Self Help Center website for more information.

2010: The CUNY School of Law’s Community Legal Resource Network (CLRN)

The Community Legal Resource Network (CLRN) provides technical training and professional support to CUNY law graduates in solo and small practices. Since its inception in 1998, CLRN has effectively demonstrated that providing lawyers with practical training and support enables them to increase the amount of time they can spend delivering pro bono and low bono services, and to ensure the enhanced availability of high-quality representation in legally underserved sectors of New York City.

The network has over 300 attorneys in place throughout New York City. Participating lawyers receive low-cost continuing legal education that is focused on community-based lawyering, practice start-up assistance and skills training, peer mentoring, listserv participation and networking opportunities.

The network has created the Incubator for Justice and the Launchpad for Justice. Lawyers who participate in the 18-month Incubator program leave with the skills necessary to operate their offices and maintain their caseloads. Fellows in the Launchpad for Justice receive a small stipend and intensive training in areas of law needed by individuals, such as housing or immigration.

2010 Individual Honoree: Richard Granat

Richard Granat’s dedication to the delivery of legal services spans six decades. In the 1960s, he was on the ground floor of the movement for national legal aid. He then recognized the value of highly trained paralegals and originated a program to provide their education. However, Richard is best known and most highly regarded for his efforts to use technology to expand affordable legal services to what he calls the “latent legal market” or those who too often go without legal help.

Richard has been instrumental in a number of projects and initiatives, and has had an active role within various ABA entities. As an entrepreneur, Richard has advanced business models to enable practitioners to access document preparation services that can be used by their clients. In 2007, he launched Direct Law, which provides virtual online law firm technologies to enable practitioners to offer limited scope representation and create cost-effective ways of providing representation.

2009: The

The Virtual Courthouse (VCH) is an internet-based service that enables parties to submit disputes over the internet for resolution by a neutral party. Its services include arbitration, mediation, neutral case evaluation or a settlement conference by members of a panel of neutrals. VCH provides an independent forum by enabling parties to select qualified neutrals, submit materials, schedule an ODR event and track other activities throughout the effort to resolve the matter. Critical to the design of this service is its neutrality; VCH impartially facilitates neutral selection by providing structured communication among parties via a controlled and secure message services. VCH streamlines every step in the process and minimizes the need and cost of unnecessary face-to-face meetings, mailing and copying. For further details visit

2008: The Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Access to Justice & Technology

The Center is dedicated to making justice more accessible to the public through the use of the Internet in teaching, legal practice and public access to the law. Among its endeavors is the A2J Author Project. This is a unique software tool that empowers those from the courts, legal services programs and educational institutions to create guided interviews resulting in document assembly, electronic filing and data collection. Viewers using A2J to go through a guided interview are lead down a virtual pathway to the courthouse. As they answer simply questions about their legal issue, the technology then “translates” the answers to create, or assemble, the documents that are needed for filing with the court.

The Center also maintains a student editorial board dedicated to creating A2J guided interviews through a multi-step process involving research, legal analysis, interview creation and intensive review.

The Center’s Self-Help Web Center offers Internet access and law student assistance to courthouse visitors at Chicago’s Daley Center, one of the nation’s busiest courthouses. Law students staff Internet workstations in an effort to expedite access to online materials.

2008 Individual Honoree: M. Sue Talia

After developing an unbundling training program for practitioners in 1998, Sue Talia began teaching principles of limited scope representation first across California and then across the nation. Since then, she has presented more than 100 programs to lawyers, judges, and court personnel. Targeting solo and small firm practitioners who represent middle-income clients, Sue gives them the tools and skills to reach many more clients than they can reach through traditional legal services. In 2007, Sue traveled to Texas, Georgia, Colorado, Minnesota, Alaska and Iowa, in addition to venues in her home state of California, to give presentations and provide technical assistance to those interested in furthering unbundled legal services. Contributing over 1,000 hours per year to these pursuits, Sue provides her services without compensation and has never refused a request to provide this training.

2007: The New Hampshire Bar Association

Through a collaboration of its Ethics Committee and Pro Bono Program, the New Hampshire Bar Association comprehensively addressed the need for revised rules of procedure and professional conduct to enable lawyers to provide unbundled legal services in the state. The Bar provided the state's Supreme Court with a series of rule changes that addressed ghost-writing and limited appearance, all of which were subsequently adopted by the Court. A key component of the changes involved a proposal to allow a lawyer to withdraw from litigation without leave of court at the conclusion of a limited appearance, thus encouraging more lawyers to offer limited scope of representation, particularly to those of moderate incomes.

After the rules where adopted, the Bar developed a CLE program providing an overview of the rules and their application to representation. The Bar's Pro Bono program and Lawyer Referral Service then sponsored a seminar on unbundled legal services for people engaged in family law mediation. This has lead to a new referral area in the Bar's referral service.

2006: The Legal Resolutions Center of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County, California

The Legal Resolutions Center is an innovation that bridges the technological resources of the Legal Aid Society with the expertise of the private bar. The technology system, known as Legal Genie, uses software to assist moderate-income individuals in preparing court documents. Using computer kiosks available at the center, individuals follow interactive visual and audio instructions that are available in either English or Spanish. The data that is entered is then formatted into court documents suitable for the individual's jurisdiction. The program then draws from a panel of lawyers in the private bar, who have enrolled in the Legal Aid Society's state-bar certified lawyer referral service. Once an individual's forms are completed he or she can elect to receive assistance from a participating lawyer at a fixed fee. Consultations again rely on the technology as clients at the center communicate with participating lawyers through video conferencing. The client and lawyer then decide on the scope of representation to be provided. The technological efficiencies enable the lawyers to provide their services for a lower cost, yet still be fairly compensated for their work.

2005: The Law School Consortium Project

The project works with law schools to initiate, support and expand solo and small firm practices that provide legal services to moderate income communities.

The law school members commit resources to graduates who have community-based practices, providing them with technical assistance and substantive training, educating them in law practice management issues and linking them to other practitioners committed to social justice practices. The Consortium also works with its law school members to incorporate curriculum geared toward solo and small firm community-based practices.

The Consortium has no preconceived model, but instead works with the law school members to develop projects that are most suitable for their communities. This results in delivery mechanisms that are different in New York City, Baltimore and Albuquerque, for example. Some projects, such as the Civil Justice Network (which was the recipient of the 2002 Brown Award) rely heavily on the use of technology to support and network the participating practitioners. Others are more focused on community service. Nevertheless, the projects all focus on serving the needs of under-represented populations and at the same time enabling practitioners to provide high quality services within the marketplace.

The Law School Consortium Project is no longer active.

2004: The California Commission on Access to Justice

The Commission is a collaborative state-wide entity that established a Limited Representation Committee in 2001. The purpose of the committee was to study the practice of delivering legal services known as "limited scope legal assistance" or "unbundling." The Commission charged the Committee with the tasks of analyzing current practices and formulating recommendations that would increase the availability of legal assistance to persons of low and moderate income.

In October 2001, the Committee issued its report, including a series of recommendations that were subsequently approved by the Board of Governors of the State Bar. Since then, the Committee has been working to implement its recommendations.

Among its accomplishments and activities, the Committee is:

  • Collaborating with the California Judicial Council and the Administrative Office of the Courts to develop and advance new rules and forms that better enable limited representation in family law proceedings;
  • Developing a set of risk management materials for practitioners, including sample retainer agreements, checklists and client information materials;
  • Advising the California Commission for the Revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct, as that commission reviews the California rules in light of recommendations from the ABA's Ethics 2000 initiative;
  • Providing extensive training to both courts and practitioners about best practices in limited representation; and
  • Developing client education materials explaining the advantages and disadvantages of limited representation.

2004: Lifetime Achievement Honor to Forrest S. Mosten

Mr. Mosten considered Lou Brown to be a friend and mentor for over 25 years. He has advanced Mr. Brown's dedication to affordable delivery and spearheaded a movement to provide unbundled legal services. Under his vision of increased access and consumer-oriented lawyering, the law office is a classroom for client education, where lawyers serve as coaches, representing clients in discrete tasks such as counseling, document preparation, negotiations and advocacy.

He has a long history of bringing concepts of unbundling and other innovations to the legal community at large. In the 1970s, Mr. Mosten was a partner in the first private legal clinic in America. More recently, he wrote the book Unbundled Legal Services: A Guide to Delivering Legal Services a la Carte, published by the ABA Law Practice Management Section. He has spoken to bar groups and court organizations around the country about innovations in the delivery of legal services. These include presentations at national seminars sponsored by the Maricopa County, Arizona, Self-Help Center and a keynote speech at the 2000 National Conference on Unbundling, sponsored by the Maryland Legal Assistance Network.

2003: The Self-Represented Litigant Task Force of the State of Maine

After attending the 1999 National Conference on Pro Se Litigation and the 2000 National Conference on Unbundled Legal Services, leaders from the judiciary and bar in Maine created the Self-Represented Litigant Task Force. The group was formed to address the legal needs of pro se litigants in the state.

The Task Force has taken a "policy and programs" approach to institutionalize the delivery of responsible unbundled legal services in the state. Within little more than two years, and without a budget, the Task Force:

  • Drafted and successfully advanced amendments to Maine's ethics rules, enabling limited representation, including a model limited representation agreement;
  • Drafted and successfully advanced amendments to Maine's rules of civil procedure, enabling limited representation in the courts;
  • Developed and presented continuing legal education seminars and state bar programs about unbundled legal services;
  • Worked with lawyer referral projects to incorporate unbundled panels to serve those who can benefit from this type of legal services; and
  • Initiated a statewide roster of lawyers willing to provide unbundled services, which will be available at courthouses, through lawyer referral services and through Maine's Volunteer Lawyers Project.

2002: Civil Justice, Inc.

The University of Maryland Clinical Law Program, under the leadership of Michael Millemann, established the Civil Justice, Inc. Project in 1998. Civil Justice, Inc. is a non-profit corporation that employs a unique model based on a network of solo and small firm lawyers tied together electronically through a web site,, and a listserv. The project provides mentoring and collateral services to assist new lawyers who are committed to provide personal legal services to those of moderate income.

After three and a half years, Civil Justice, Inc. has grown to a network of 40 Baltimore-area lawyers. The project provides the participating lawyers mentoring, a legal research electronic clipping service, a referral service for reduced fee and contingency fee cases and discounted LEXIS research access. Network members share pleadings, research and practice experience through their listserv. In exchange for these benefits, network lawyers help instruct a course at the University on law practice management.

Civil Justice, Inc. operates under the direction of Denis J. Murphy. Details about the project are available at its web site,

2001: Legal Grind, Inc.

In 1996, Jeffrey Hughes established The Legal Grind neighborhood coffeehouse in Santa Monica, California, offering easy access to "coffee and counsel" for a $20 fee. The innovative business model offers clients from all income levels reasonably priced unbundled legal services in family law, entertainment law, criminal law, tenant/landlord, and workman's compensation, while it generates referrals for participating lawyers.

Legal Grind provides people with a relaxed atmosphere as they discuss their legal issues with lawyers. The information gives the café customers the opportunity to proceed on an informed basis. Some retain the lawyers they have met and others go forward on a pro se basis, perhaps with additional information from books in the Legal Grind bookstore.

Mr. Hughes has also established the Legal Grind Foundation dedicated to helping educate young people about legal rights and responsibilities.

Details about the Legal Grind are found at its web site at

2000: The Houston Bar Association Modest Means Program

The Houston Bar Association Modest Means Program is a multi-faceted project focused on providing legal services and education to those who have moderate income, but may not be able to afford legal representation. The program is a cooperative effort between the Houston Bar Association and several of the organizations it sponsors - the Houston Lawyer Referral Service, the HBA's Houston Volunteer Lawyers Program, the HBA Family Law Section. These organizations work together, under the auspices of the HBA, to provide the following legal services:

  • A Pro Se Clinic on family law matters;
  • A Reduced Fee Lawyer Referral Program that reduces fees at least 25 percent, reduces retainers and offers payment plans to individuals with income up to 225 percent of federal poverty guidelines;
  • A LegalLine telephone hotline providing volunteer lawyers to answer legal questions;
  • Free legal handbooks on elder law, family law and consumer law issues; and an elder law visitation program, providing legal services at senior citizen centers.

The Houston Bar Association has demonstrated an exemplary dedication to the delivery of legal services to those of modest means.

For more information about the Houston Bar Association's modest means projects, visit its web site at

1999: The SeniorLAW Center

For the past 20 years, the SeniorLAW Center, formerly the Senior Citizen Judicare Project, has been dedicated to meeting the legal needs of the elderly living on limited incomes in Philadelphia. SeniorLAW Center provides legal representation and counsel, community education, outreach and advocacy for Philadelphia's senior citizens, through the energies of its legal staff and panel of approximately practitioners.

SeniorLAW Center employs a model that combines fixed fee and pro bono legal services of local attorneys to serve thousands of elders each year, including the homebound and disabled elderly, striving to match clients with lawyers in their communities. Through its multi-faceted approach, which includes direct legal services, extensive community legal education, professional training and advocacy, the Center and its panel attorneys zealously work to safeguard and defend the legal rights and interests of the elderly.

The program focuses its efforts on the most severe recurring legal problems of the elderly, including housing, elder abuse and financial exploitation, consumer protection, grandparent custody and visitation, and end-of-life issues. To empower elders to become self-advocates, SeniorLAW Center holds workshops for elders as well as training sessions for other professionals working with the aging population to help bolster their efforts to prevent, recognize and terminate exploitation, abuse, victimization and fraud of the elderly.

Details about SeniorLAW Center are found at

1998: AARP Legal Hotlines Project

Created in 1985, the Legal Hotlines Project was the first successful statewide legal hotline designed and implemented for older adults. Since the inception of the hotlines, AARP and its Legal Advocacy Group have worked to increase awareness of hotlines as an efficient delivery system that significantly increase the availability of free and low-cost legal information and services.

Recognizing the need for an efficient system that provides information to help people identify whether their problems have legal solutions, the Legal Hotline Project allows lawyers to reach far beyond their capacities within the traditional delivery mechanisms.

In addition to developing and implementing the hotlines, AARP's Legal Advocacy Group has provided numerous public and private organizations throughout the country with a blueprint that encourages replication. AARP/LAG has initiated and led a collaboration of public and private organizations to support the development of legal hotlines, thus strengthening these efforts and expanding its audience. These organizations include the American Bar Association, the U.S. Administration on Aging, the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

Today, dozens of local, regional and statewide legal hotlines based on the AARP/LAG model are in operation throughout the country, with many more in the development stage. Sponsors of these programs include bar associations, private non-profit corporations and Legal Services Corporation-funded entities, which have adopted the hotline as a centralized telephone intake and delivery system.

1997: Superior Court of Arizona in Maricopa County Self-Service Center

The Self-Service Center is the result of a progressive series of steps that the court system took to meet the legal needs of those who cannot afford full and traditional legal representation.

The Center's goal is to increase access to court services while maximizing cost-effectiveness, individual accountability and linkages with services that already exist in the community. Its operation results in the following:

  • Availability of user-friendly court forms and instructions that enable self-represented litigants to select appropriate and understandable court forms for the particular judicial action the litigants seek;
  • Creation of a network linkage to attorneys, community services and community dispute resolution providers, which allows litigants to receive appropriate advice, evaluation and assistance related to matters that are the subject of the court proceedings;
  • Increased ability of judicial officers to devote time and attention to the judicial aspects of court services;
  • Development of a higher level of self-representation, because litigants have available not only user-friendly forms and instructions, but referrals to attorneys, social service providers and community dispute resolution providers.

By dedicating a portion of the courthouse to a center where court-developed self-help forms and instructions are available, combining the resources with unbundled assistance from area practitioners, and tying these service mechanisms together with technological developments, the Self-Service Center has created a model for courts across the country. The services of the Self-Service Center are at:

1996: Orange County Bar Association Modest Means Program

In 1994, the Orange County Bar Association redesigned the modest means panel of its lawyer referral program. In an effort to best respond to the needs of moderate income families of Orange County, the bar analyzed both legal and financial needs of consumers and the abilities of practitioners to offer services. This effort was designed to create the best match between the demand for legal services and the supply of lawyers to meet that demand.

A group of consumer advocates and legal service attorneys combined talents to form the Modest Means Committee. The Committee studied and collected research reports that led to the revitalization of a moderate income panel that was 20 years old and under-used.

It determined that clients would be eligible for the program if they had no more than $42,500 in annual income and less than $5,000 in liquid assets. The Committee set the attorneys' fees at about half the prevailing hourly rate in the area ($80 an hour) with no more than a $1,000 retainer and a free initial consultation. Fixed fees were established for some services, including bankruptcies and legal services to the elderly.

The bar set up free training programs and a mentoring program for members who chose to serve in the Modest Means Program. It coordinated a broad-based public relations campaign. Substantive materials were prepared and available for routine matters, library privileges and secretarial and computer assistance were made available and professional liability insurance was available to program attorneys.

In response to recurring problems by bar-sponsored lawyer referral services to maintain viable modest means panels, the Orange County Bar Association has also established a Checklist for Success in the creation of modest means panels. More information about the Orange County Bar Modest Means Program is available at

1995: Tele-Lawyer, Inc.

Tele-Lawyer, Inc. was selected as the first recipient of the Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access. It is a legal advice and information service established by Michael Cane in 1989. Callers speak to a licensed attorney knowledgeable in the subject matter of the call. They could ask, for example, about landlord tenant problems ("My landlord won't repair my leaking roof; what are my rights?"), or work related problems ("I was fired at work because I got pregnant; do I have a case?), or business ("How do I go about setting up my new business; do I need a license; should I incorporate?") Almost everyone has questions such as these now and again, but few, because of the cost, time, and hassle, would ever call a lawyer. In fact, most lawyers discourage such "low end" inquiries, making access to legal advice for these problems extremely difficult for the average person. People thus tend to rely on the unqualified, and often misinformed, advice of friends.

Tele-Lawyer, Inc. also provides technology-based legal services in addition to the operation of its hotline. It serves as an outsource resource to legal aid and bar-sponsored entities and provides direct legal assistance through its web site.

Tele-Lawyer, Inc. is no longer active.

Award Resources