Richard Zorza

Attorney at Law

Access-to-justice thinker and activist


Richard Zorza is a Hero of Justice for the essential role he has played shaping and nurturing the access-to-justice movement in America; for connecting thought leaders and activists and opening channels for progress toward universal access.

Richard Zorza, Washington D.C. attorney, consultant, and author, has worked for the past fifteen years on access-to-justice issues. He is the coordinator of the national Self Represented Litigation Network, has been a consultant to the Harvard Law School Bellow-Sacks Project on the Future of Access to Civil Justice, and works in support of the national Law Help network of access-to-justice websites. His Access to Justice Blog is a meeting place for leading voices in all facets of the access-to-justice movement. Richard received the American Bar Association Louis M Brown Award for Legal Access's Lifetime Achievement Honor in 2014.

Q. You've been involved in the self-representation movement for some time. How would you describe progress to date in making this work for people? What are the largest obstacles? As one of several avenues to opening up access to civil justice, how much of the problem do you see self-representation solving?

Good questions. I think we have changed the whole intellectual framework of the discussion. Now we have strong focuses on meeting 100% of need, recognition of the importance of using access techniques other than expansion of lawyers (such as non-lawyers), understanding of the relationships between low- and middle-income access, the need for triage to allocate services based on litigants’ requirements, and on the importance of simplifying the underlying court and legal processes.

In terms of numbers, we now have hundreds of self-help centers, thousands of online forums, websites for every state, and thus millions of people helped each year by these innovations. It is already a different system.

The normal answer to your question is that the principal barrier is money. To quote retired New Hampshire Chief Justice John Broderick, "There will never be enough money, get over it." The fact is that many of the innovations promoted by the movement (see are relatively cheap and certainly highly cost-effective. The problem is twofold — silos and leadership. Too few states have the kind of focused leadership that moves this forward, the way that also now retired New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman did. While we are in a wonderful position with so many states having access-to-justice commissions, work still needs to be done to overcome silos within those commissions.

This gap both reflects, and is reflected by, the continuing relative lack of coordination of leadership at the national level. I still do not understand why there has been so little enthusiasm or energy for the creation of national coordination capacity and for a listing and creation of systems to fulfill functions that need to be performed at the national level. Examples are identifying opportunities in the upcoming Presidential transition and, indeed, in the "phone-and-pen" months before the inauguration; research advocacy; and taking the steps needed to move access to justice onto the national agenda.

With respect to the relationship of self-represented innovation to other approaches, the answer is complicated. It really depends on how much we are willing to simplify the system. Every simplification makes it easier for the system to be navigated by people on their own, or with less than complete representation assistance.

Q. It's been said that the access problem has put non-lawyers (e.g., social workers, ministers, accountants, and others) in the position of offering help and counsel that, strictly speaking, could be considered "legal advice." Is advice of this kind from non-lawyers growing? Is it helping? What's the downside?

Once again, the answer depends on how you define "legal advice." My own definition, only partly tongue-in-cheek, and not widely popular, is here. "If two lawyers can give you different answers to a question, and both are right and neither is committing malpractice, that is the practice of law." The way I describe the distinction is to say that giving facts is not the practice of law, using judgment is. I believe that when any of the above professionals accurately state the law, that is providing information, not engaging in the practice of law.However, noone should rely on this definition alone, but rather look carefully at the governing state rules, which are often far from clear.

Q. As you've pointed out, people have come to expect most of their transactions to be possible online. Do you see technology's role in improving access as one of opening alternative channels for resolving disputes outside the courts?

Of course, but that really raises a much bigger question: does the deregulation of the area, made possible in part by technology, mean that those making commercial use of the technology only be permitted to do so if they contribute significantly to an overall solution to the access problem for all, regardless of income and resources.

For example, in a recent article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal EthicsI recommend, as one of five solutions that combine deregulation with a significant improvement in access to all, the idea of "[a]llowing for broad National Technology Limited Practice Licenses on condition of free services for the poor and reasonable ones for middle income, and with appropriate regulatory relaxations."

This is explored more in this blog post, and in the article to which it refers.

  • A condensed version of this interview appeared in the The Justice 911 Report, Issue 2
  • Share by:
Opinions expressed by the Heroes of Justice in this series are their own, and are volunteered freely without compensation or other material consideration by PeopleClaim. The series aims to present a spectrum of backgrounds, roles, and viewpoints in access to justice. PeopleClaim may or may not share the views of featured Heroes. Likewise, individuals honored in these profiles may or may not agree with PeopleClaim's business model or approach to expanding access to civil justice. As a matter of policy, PeopleClaim does not verify or modify the facts or assertions of any Hero of Justice contributor.