Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Convergence, Ep5: Joshua Crabtree – Creative Access to Justice Approaches in Rural America

In episode 5 host Oladeji Tiamiyu speaks with Joshua Crabtree, the Executive Director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass, about the role of technology in resolving disputes in the Kentucky communities he serves and considerations for access to justice in rural America when internet access is limited.

 

“Convergence” is a bi-weekly, limited series of conversations with thought-leaders and practitioners at the intersection of dispute resolution and technology. Host Oladeji Tiamiyu will focus on such topics as the role technology has had in resolving disputes during the pandemic, various ways  technological tools have historically been incorporated into dispute resolution, and creative use cases that technology presents for resolving disputes into the future.

Host

Oladeji Tiamiyu

Guests

Joshua Crabtree

Joshua Crabtree is the Executive Director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass (LABG). Prior to joining LABG, Joshua, was the long time managing attorney of the Children’s Law Center. At LABG, Joshua will lead the mission and vision of an organization dedicated to providing civil legal assistance designed to alleviate the most brutal problems endured by low income residents of 33 eastern, northern and central Kentucky counties. He is proud to be a part of an organization whose mission is to be the lifeline to justice, safety and stability in its communities.

Along with his leadership and management responsibilities, Joshua is an expert regarding issues facing children in the areas of child custody, education and child victims of crime cases. Joshua is the co-editor of The Federal Education Rights of Children: A Practitioner’s Guide as well as a published author and co-author of several works regarding the ethics of representing children, the education rights of children and issues regarding child custody. He regularly presents on these topics at events including the KBA Convention, ABA Child Custody Conferences and Kentucky Law Updates as well as small group presentations to schools and local civic organizations. Joshua is also a certified family mediator and has taught classes at local universities and law schools on topics involving the legal rights of children.

Joshua is a magna cum laude graduate of Transylvania University and an honors graduate of the University of Cincinnati College of Law. He is also a member of the Leadership Kentucky class of 2014 & a 2009 graduate of Leadership Northern Kentucky. Joshua is a member of several bar and civic organizations including the KBA Committee on Child Protection and Domestic Violence. Joshua resides in Ft. Wright, Kentucky where he is active with his Church, community and family.

Resources

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy

Transcript

Oladeji Tiamiyu  00:01 

1234 Welcome to “Convergence” with Oladeji Tiamiyu. So, we’ve been exploring a host of different technologies that can have a role in improving dispute systems. Yet, there’s always the question of who actually has access to these technologies, and whether a lack of access will exacerbate inequities in our society. So today, “Convergence” is on the road to the beautiful state of Kentucky. My guest is Joshua Crabtree, who is the executive director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. Yeah, I know what a great name. His clinic provides support to low income residents of 33 counties in Kentucky with a mission to be the lifeline of justice, safety and stability in the communities he serves. As illustrated throughout the conversation, Joshua is a creative thinker with a strong understanding of the nuanced role technology can have in providing greater legal support to the communities he serves. So, let’s do this. Joshua Crabtree, welcome to “Convergence.” I am immensely grateful for you to join the conversation. 

Joshua Crabtree  01:27 

I am happy to be here and excited to talk about it. 

Oladeji  01:31 

Yeah, absolutely. So, a bit of a curveball. I’m thinking of Joshua Crabtree at 14 years old. And I’m wondering where in the world you were and what you were aspiring to become? 

Joshua  01:49 

Well, since my kindergarten graduation, I said I wanted to be a Supreme Court justice. Now, I’m not any closer to being a Supreme Court justice than I was when I, when I was in kindergarten. But for whatever reason, I was inspired by a couple of things. So, and I’ll get to age 14. But my grandparents practically raised me, my grandfather came home every day and would watch Perry Mason, and my grandmother, on Thursday nights would watch Knots Landing and if that wasn’t on L.A. Law was on. And so that’s what we would watch. And so, I say those two TV shows made me want to be a lawyer, too. I think I actually was inspired by the, the news era called Sandra Day O’Connor being nominated to the Supreme Court when I was a small kid, just being aware of it. And maybe that was part of why I said Supreme Court justice. But by 14 I definitely wanted to be a lawyer. 

Oladeji  02:46 

Okay. Gotcha. 

Joshua  02:48 

That was what I wanted to be. There may have been a few steps in between there of other jobs I had. No, I’m one of those that wanted to be a lawyer from birth, it seems. 

Oladeji  02:56 

Yeah. Yeah. And what a goal to have in kindergarten to want to be on the Supreme Court that that is a special goal. I’m sure. Like your kindergarten teachers must have been like, wow, we have a special one here.  

Joshua  03:12 

A precocious one anyway. 

Oladeji  03:13 

[Laughs] Yeah. And so, did you, did you grow up in Appalachia? 

Joshua  03:21 

So, I would be, I grew up on what would be called the Upper Cumberland Plateau. To be specific. Basically, all that means is we’re on the cusp of what I consider real Appalachia. We were, South Central Kentucky, where I grew up very rural community. A lot of poverty, not much industry, but you didn’t know any better, kind of from experience. And so, what would be different than what the more far eastern Kentucky places is we were not as geographically isolated.  

Oladeji  03:55 

I see.  

Joshua  03:56 

That, that Eastern Kentucky kind of lends itself to in that real Appalachian region. So, but yeah, but for pure geographic standpoints we’re right on the cusp, on the plateau is what they would say of Appalachia. 

Oladeji  04:10 

Yeah, and I’m, I’m always curious with, with like, cultural boundaries is there a point where you would say, Yes, I am. I’m properly in this region?  

Joshua  04:21 

That’s a great question. That’s a great question kind of thing. I think that, that culturally, what defines most of that Appalachian region in a sense, of course, it’s, I’m oversimplifying it, but when you look at the coal industry.  

Oladeji  04:42 

Yeah.  

Joshua  04:43 

And if that was a predominant driver in your community, economically, then you were more in Appalachia than I was.  

Oladeji  04:52 

Yeah, yeah.  

Joshua  04:53 

You would go about two counties over from us and in Kentucky, we refer to everything in counties. That’s how we kind of divide up the world. Because most people say, Oh, I’m from this city or I’m from this area. No, in Kentucky, we only talk counties. So, it would be probably, I would say 40-50 miles to where you kind of, before you started hitting what were coal. communities.  

Oladeji  05:15 

Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. So now you are, you’re still based out of Kentucky, but now you are the executive director of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass. And, you know, I just have to say, that is a great name [chuckles].  

Joshua  05:34 

It is isn’t it? I love it.  

Oladeji  05:37 

I was actually thinking that, you know, to become executive director, you must have been required to be a fan of bluegrass music like that must have been part of the, the interview process. 

Joshua  05:51 

Well, it’s really three B’s in Kentucky: bourbon, basketball and bluegrass.  

Oladeji  05:56 

[Laughs] 

Joshua  05:58 

And having a, being a fan of horse racing doesn’t it hurt either, so.  

Oladeji  06:02 

Yeah, yeah. For sure, for sure. 

Joshua  06:05 

And now I mean, we’re really the product of three mergers, legally the Bluegrass. So that was our, we started off as Northern Kentucky Legal Aid Society, Northeast Kentucky Legal Aid, and Central Kentucky Legal Services. Then, more than 20 years ago, when the last of those mergers occurred the new name of Legal Aid of the Bluegrass came to be, and I am thrilled that that’s what I inherited. 

Oladeji  06:30 

Yeah, and one, it’s a catchy name, but also I find it a beautiful name because it’s a motif that brings together Kentucky right like it’s very, you don’t have to focus on, and not just Kentucky but many parts of Appalachia, and so you don’t have to focus on a state’s name per se, or a county name. But it’s more of like a unifying motif that brings together different regions. 

Joshua  07:05 

It does. I mean, and that was what, our logo itself, because of course, I had to play off blue and a horse theme for Kentucky, the mane of the horse is supposed to be this flame of justice, but it brings in the three regions that I represent, are the three portions of this flame and of this mane that we have on the horse. 

Oladeji  07:25 

Love that. Love that. And so, I was a bit curious to just hear about how the early moments of the pandemic, you know, we could, we could go back to, let’s say, April 2020, how these moments in the pandemic affected your legal communities’ approach to resolving disputes 

Joshua  07:48 

Sure, and I’m gonna back you up even further.  

Oladeji  07:51 

Yeah.  

Joshua  07:52 

Because by providence or just chance, however you want to view it, in March of 2020, the foreign legal aid programs in Kentucky were in a retreat together in my service territory, at a place called Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill. And it was a restored community of the Shaker religious tradition that was there. So, but you had to keep in mind pretty isolated and no technology, we started our meeting on March 11. And at lunch, they said, one of the staff members that was there said, oh, all of our people, still calling it corona then, everybody was talking about the coronavirus at our program, what about yours? And I was just ignorant to really what was happening with it. Kind of the extent of it. That night, the four directors sit down, and we wrote continuation of operations plans on the night of the 12th. And on the 13th at lunch, the government essentially shut down operations, the governor issued his stay at home orders, everything started closing and we left and headed back to our offices. So, I know exactly where I was and who I was with, but it was all Legal Aid directors. 

Oladeji  09:11 

Wow. 

Joshua  09:11 

And so, our courts completely shut down on the 13th and along with schools and everything else. And so, for that next month or so, nothing really happened. In Kentucky, we were still just trying to fortunately, in the criminal world, they had, had been having remote arraignments and some remote kind of hearings for some time just for convenience in a lot of communities. But other than that, we had no kind of apparatus to make things work. And so, courts got shut down. we instituted our continuation of operations plan and within about 72 hours, all of our employees were able to work from home except one, and we you know, we kind of worked on that, but there wasn’t a lot happening at that point. 

Oladeji  09:58 

Yeah, I, for me, and it also sounds like for you, you know, those moments in March, were just filled with uncertainty. And so, I’m actually really impressed that you were able to develop a plan within only 72 hours, right? That’s not an easy task. 

Joshua  10:16 

But you, the Legal Services Corporation tells, you know requires us, that sometimes we’ve wondered why, but it totally made a lot of sense we’re thankful for it now, was we had to have kind of disaster plans. Our disaster plan just didn’t have a pandemic in mind. So, we had a lot of other things that we had kind of planned around. So, we instituted that with just some modification, so it can’t say entirely, it was just a 72 hour thing, but we were operating within 72 hours based on some existing plans. But what I learned from that, too, is our court system didn’t have a plan like that. 

Oladeji  10:51 

Yeah, yeah. And, you know, this, this is a theme around like access to justice, right? When courts shut down there is this barrier, especially when there’s uncertainty, right, it’s not like the cases are all resolved. In fact, they’re still going on. But now disputants just don’t have a forum, more or less to resolve those disputes, since courts are shut down. And so, I know that your legal aid community, you focus on low income parties, and I’m quite curious how the groups of people you represent, handled that uncertainty and also that impediment to the courthouse. 

Joshua  11:39 

In those early days. As a staff, we prioritized, brought in my management team and leadership team, and really kind of looking at some things, we did our best guess to just kind of anticipate what the most immediate needs were going to be. And that’s what we focused on which we, at that point, were housing cases, and our domestic violence and interpersonal violence cases. And so, we thought those were the things that we would really ramp up for. And for, just an example of one of the things we did is we did not, we posted everywhere, we were not allowing any clients in our offices at that point. And we weren’t taking walkups, except for interpersonal violence cases. And housing cases, if you were being locked out by your landlord. I mean, it was kind of the narrow group that we were allowing in. And then we were like, we clearly can’t cease this part of the operation, our intake system would continue to work, but we didn’t have anything to offer them. We could process their case, we can tell them that, you know, when we have a court date, what we would do, but nothing was really happening. So, you’re right, from an access to justice perspective, for most of our clients, the doors were closed, and nothing was going to happen for a period of time. And that was probably about a 60 day timeframe, where that’s kind of really felt like it was happening. The judges were trying, the judges were, were granting orders, but weren’t giving any kind of hearing on those orders. It was almost they were just kind of saying we’ll give you a interpersonal protective order and it’s just good until we can eventually get you to court. And then there were a lot of other developments at that time. But that really that was the hard part was the, if you just had to kind of a basic divorce kind of case with some issues. We couldn’t do anything.  

Oladeji  13:30 

Yeah, yeah. 

Joshua  13:31 

Because they weren’t going to have a custody hearing  on your case. I, I know one case that had been waiting for almost a year to have a hearing where they didn’t have it for 16 more months, that’s a lot of time to not be seeing your children based on the existing orders except via Zoom or something just because the courts couldn’t figure out how to process those at the time. 

Oladeji  13:53 

Yeah, wow, that’s such a challenging moment. And really, kudos to you and your team for identifying housing, interpersonal violence and domestic violence as the leading issues that were pressing enough to still draw attention and provide whatever limited support you could provide. And so, I guess, in the early innings of this during that, let’s say 60 day period, there’s also the question of what role the internet has, and facilitative technologies like Zoom can have when physical separation is either required or preferred by the community you’re trying to serve. So, I guess I’m also wondering how you incorporated these technologies into your practice. 

Joshua  14:55 

Oh, one of the key things that that shifted for me a bit during this time, and when I, when I’m expanding my own thoughts and kind of research around with our team, but it was communications before, for us, had primarily been communications with the potential donors, with community partners, it was communication around, around some issues impacting people in poverty within our LSC limits. I mean, it was just those kinds of, trying to have some influential communications about those issues. That was really what our communications team was doing, and communications, and they handle all of our social media work, our Twitter, our Facebook, those things, our YouTube channel, was, it really shifted to a service delivery model. Communications shifted from being this communications with this, you know, this group of people that might give us money or might support our program in some way to be a key component of how we advocate for clients. And so it really became a shift or transformation into service delivery, more and more people we, you know, had, we were updating COVID factsheets daily around all of the kind of topics that we handle, as new developers having those were on our website, we were posting short videos, and we’re ended up on Instagram, eventually, you know, again, showing the same kind of things. And we, what we would have, it was a little bit longer before we started offering some virtual clinics, but that was just something to that all kind of came about. But our, our COVID resources page, people going to our website, all of those things drastically increased where people were just receiving assistance, and then connecting with the program. So, our online intake beefed up significantly during that time. The, there’s a statewide website, which is probably has 200 to 300,000 visitors a year. And that’s even a site that we have taken down right now that’s just a landing kind of page. Oh, well, that gets relaunched. So, the fact sheets on COVID-19 and resources that we were putting online for people, those were all hugely growing for us, it became a primary way of us for communicating with our client community. And so that was a big change. And then from the Zoom perspective, although I do have a goal this year of eliminating one of these programs I have because they somehow have Zoom and Teams and WebEx and GoToMeeting, everybody uses a different one. 

Oladeji  17:31 

[Chuckles] Yeah. 

Joshua  17:33 

I just have a goal of just using one or at least eliminating one from that group. And this next year, but, but it worked out because almost all of our clients had one iteration of one of those programs to be able to communicate with us. And so, technology just that was across our service area, our 33 counties that, you know, that was a big change that I saw. So now life shifted, our communications team is not under the administrative side anymore, they kind of are on our organizational chart, they’re kind of right in the middle, in between the organizational side and the programmatic side, because that was the kind of change that we saw experienced. So, our communication people are out with our advocates in our outreach team, with clients all the time. Now, that’s one kind of thing, I’ve mean talking about like Zoom, hey, our clients had been very receptive to it. It’s not been an issue. We did a Gatson services study that’s a bit dated, because we’re doing a new and now but, but five years ago when we did it, and we determined through that study, we were underserving 18 to 34 year olds in our service territory, drastically. And so, as the questions like aged 18 to 34 year olds not have legal issues, which is not the case, but it was just we had a very traditional kind of phonebook approach of how people became connected with us. And at Legal Aid we don’t want for clients at all, we have more than we can handle. So, it was like there was always the flow coming in. It was, so we really never really dug deep into who were we missing in that. With the Yellow Pages ad and everything we we’re over serving 60 plus category. 

Oladeji  19:16 

Interesting.  

Joshua  19:17 

And so, we kind of just made some assumptions and looked at it and started making part of our strategic plan and looking at it, but it was, we needed to increase the ways that people came into our intake. So, we created online intake, we beefed up the website more than just a place to donate to. We really had, we created a social media presence and footprint that we had. So, and we have grown that age group of representation every year since then. Zoom was a new one for us. And fortunately, I had this, we had this really bad experience happened, not a bad it was a great experience as a project but with not great results. But like I said, I love to share the results of these things that I learned from more than anything. 

 Oladeji  20:02 

Yeah.  

 Joshua  20:02 

We had a, one of our rural communities, or more rural than others, a hospital system there really wanted to research telehealth this was about five years ago, and actually longer than that, probably six or seven years ago. So, they gave us a grant and said you have a great benefits advising team that you have. And we’re also a Benefits Enrollment Center for the National Council on Aging. So, whenever a senior would call in with us, they are screened for about 38 benefits that might be of, that they might qualify for, no matter what they call about. So that’s a program that worked really well for us. And so this hospital system said that we would like to contract with you to see about doing benefits advising to seniors, and we’ve determined that this particular county is the most tech savvy group of seniors that you should try this with is the home to Centre College, they have a lot of retirees from there people who are comfortable with technology, we would like you to do that, because that’s where we were thinking we would expand this. So, we did it, we launched this project. It went for a while. And then we did kind of the focus groups and did all the follow up to that. And what we discovered was they hated it. Yeah, so it’s not great. So, it’s like, Well, okay, well tell me, what is it about this that you, you hated you didn’t like? And the response really was, we don’t have any problem using technology. We’re okay with that. What we’re not okay with is being responsible for setting up all the technology and making the technology work and using those platforms to make that happen. And when we learn that, that has driven so much of what we do now, and how we, we incorporate technology into our services. And so that, and then one, that one experience that we had was court, around here, I started asking some of the judges, how’s your experience with Zoom and Zoom court?  

 Oladeji  22:06 

Yeah.  

 Joshua  22:07 

And they said, you know off the record, just being very honest, or they’re, they’re like, you know, when we can’t hear somebody, we can’t see somebody, you’re not sure what they’re saying they can’t get their take, they can’t get it to work, we just got to move our docket along. Yes, we just sometimes just make decisions, we don’t really treat people as kindly or fairly as we should. And we just move on. 

 Oladeji  22:28 

Yeah.  

 Joshua  22:28 

And so, we set out to kind of remedy that on our end, and created Zoom rooms in each of our offices. So each of our offices has a court room, that’s a Zoom Room where our clients get to come in that are kind of to the best that we could COVID proofed, there’s plexiglass dividers in the room, there’s enhanced ventilation, there’s extra lighting that is put in, extra sound kind of equipment to make our clients put their best foot forward in how they appear to the courts. And so, what I will say is across our entire service area, the 33 counties, and I only, I have a few urban areas, but the vast area of our service here is very, very rural. Nobody had any problem using Zoom or going to court with Zoom, as long as they had some assistance setting it up. 

 

Oladeji  23:16 

Yeah. 

 Joshua  23:18 

Using our Zoom rooms to make that happen. 

 Oladeji  23:21 

Yep, that makes so much sense. And what, what you’ve all shared is, is fascinating to me. So, you know, this podcast is all about technology and dispute resolution. And just in your description of your org chart, where like the communications department’s use of technology now, the communications department moves more central in the org chart, because technology is being used as a tool to promote awareness. And as a service delivery. I find that so fascinating, because that in many ways has been like the aspiration of people in the past. And sometimes the level of reception or the use case may not have been there for this transition. And so, I’m really glad to hear that the use of technology with your communications department is playing more of a central role due to the pandemic. And it’s also interesting to me what you described around the age demographics and how, the way I interpreted it, is that age demographics have different preferences, which is not surprising. And the implications of that is for access to justice, because if we are in the physical world relying on yellow books, then there can be an under servicing of as you describe the 18 to 34 year olds, and then if you transition away from that model, and only provide the opportunity for technology to be a service delivery tool, then that could also lead to an under-servicing of older folks like 60 year olds. So, so all of that has, like such important implications for access to justice. And I’m really glad that you mentioned that. And the one thing that I find surprising is that it doesn’t seem like internet speed and connection is much of an issue for the clients, regardless of their age demographic, it’s more or where they live in Kentucky, it’s more focused on providing them with the infrastructure like the Zoom rooms that you have created for them. 

 Joshua  25:49 

Well, I would have to kind of qualify that. But, well, I think you’re right on those things. But the biggest divide that has occurred for our clients, and what I have experienced is the people in our rural areas that lack broadband, lack any kind of internet quality, they’re some of our service area that is not, that is not serviced by any of the major cell networks, that Verizon, Sprint, T Mobile doesn’t work there. I mean, they are… so those that are using their phones, which a lot of them are for that, there are issues with that.  

 Oladeji  26:28 

Yeah. 

 Joshua  26:29 

And so, we have, we also have a mobile office. 

 Oladeji  26:31 

Oh cool. 

 Joshua  26:32 

Our Justice Bus. 

 Oladeji  26:34 

[Chuckles] I love that.  

 Joshua  26:35 

It’s a converted Mercedes Sprinter van. And it actually came about during the services study transportation being a barrier for everyone that kind of mentioned in these focus groups we were having. And I was like, well, we’re not the transportation industry, we’re not the Transit Authority, I can’t figure out transportation that we can do this. And so even before the pandemic, we were trying to explore how to use pro bono attorneys in our more populated areas to service rural clients, and also through our GIS mapping, looking at which communities we were under serving, and what we do all these little data points coming in. And then different ideas that we had, we figured out that the places, communities, that we were under serving were about, all about an hour away from one of our offices, and then we’re the only areas that were an hour or a little bit more than an hour away. So, we identified those 10 counties as some underserved counties who’d later increase our representation of and so hence the Justice Bus came about. But it uses a satellite internet technology that we have to use there, but it’s where our clients can come and meet on the bus and use that technology.  

 Oladeji  27:51 

I see.  

 Joshua  27:52 

To kind of communicate. So that is a big barrier in a lot of our places, although it was reducing. I am, I’m currently, I served a term on the school board several years ago, so I stay connected in that realm a lot. In some of our communities, they, they were just having to put hotspots essentially on school buses and drive them to neighborhoods in our rural areas and just park the bus. And kids with their parents would drive them in their cars, and they would sit beside the bus and do work. School work. So, so that was, that was probably the most shocking divide of all, even more than kind of, who could have access to internet during the pandemic, the state is, seems to be working on, and has, they’ve been working on it for a decade or longer, but it’s I think, put into hyperdrive of how they’re going to try to solve that. 

 Oladeji  28:48 

Yeah, totally. And well, one, I think it’s really innovative, what you’ve done with the Justice Bus. And it’s also innovative what the school district has done with having buses with hotspots going to the communities to allow them access to the internet for schooling purposes. And, you know, so, I’m, this, this conversation, it’s making me think back a couple weeks ago, I was invited as a guest lecturer to Columbia, the country, not the school, and I wish I could have been there physically, but it was it was just remotely and it was a university, a Law School, with the University de Los Andes with Professor Nicolas Parra Herrera, and you know, I gave a lecture, a presentation on how online dispute resolution is opening up avenues for people to resolve their disputes with more flexibility. And then, you know, I gave a caveat that I am in, I’m speaking to people in Colombia right now and in rural parts of the country, it’s not like access to the internet is large enough for online dispute resolution to have the benefits that many people want it to have. So it was, and then I’m currently based out of Chicago right now, and I can just drive a few hours to Southern Illinois and Southern Illinois experiences similar problems to some of the counties in Kentucky that you serve, and also certain rural communities in Colombia. And basically, I would struggle to find, I would have to rely predominantly on hotspots and data from my cell provider to, to make things work with the internet. And certainly, if I wanted to resolve a dispute online, things would be really complicated. So, you’re really raising this point that I find so important for access to justice, when we talk about online dispute resolution, which is like sure, ODR can give flexibility to disputants. It can give flexibility to mediators and arbitrators who are engaging with these technologies. And yet, there is a threshold question of who actually has access to the internet. And if you don’t have access to the internet, then online dispute resolution can be really inequitable, to a certain extent. And so, one of the students, and these were brilliant law students, just I was, I was so impressed. And one of the students made the case for why Columbia, and I would even extend that to America, for why these countries should recognize access to the internet as a fundamental right, so that inequities don’t become too prominent in these communities. So I was, you know, just after what you’ve shared, I’m wondering what your thoughts are on making access to the internet a fundamental right.  

Joshua  32:27 

Oh, that’s a great question. And you’re going to get this like horrible law school answer of I don’t know.  

Oladeji  32:36 

[Laughs] 

Joshua  32:37 

Because there’s some things I think that are fundamentally essential that we, I want people to recognize. 

Oladeji  32:43 

Yeah. 

Joshua  32:43 

First, on like my prioritization list of rights. But it’s not what I’m opposed to, either, by any means. And what I think was, what you were, you were saying is, there’s so many opportunities to resolve these disputes that open up with technology being available, and the flexibility and the things that can happen. But you have to have an infrastructure to make them function. And it goes back to, back in my days when I worked in politics, and there were some more, more into a lot of policy kind of things, not in this technology area. But it was the importance of roads. And it was always you have to have roads, it doesn’t matter what we, what kind of relief we’re trying to give you, what services we’re trying to provide if we don’t have roads that can get you there get the stuff to you. There’s not much relief, that can be offered. And the internet’s the new road, and a lot of ways.  

Oladeji  32:44 

Absolutely. 

Joshua  32:45 

I mean, the broadband access. And if we can’t do that, for people, it just isolates even more, those rural communities that just geographically, like I’ve talked about Appalachia earlier that were so, that are so isolated, and so definitely not opposed to it by any means. And there’s, it’s hard to find an argument otherwise. 

Oladeji  34:05 

Yeah, and for, for some of the law students that I was speaking with, they were concerned about online dispute resolution, because of the current inequities for access to the internet. And it was like, if, if ODR becomes more of an expectation, rather than an opportunity for resolving disputes, then that could leave a large amount of the country and the people who need it significant amount, that could leave them completely out of the courts. And so, what you mentioned around basically making sure that the infrastructure is in place is also something that I actually think a lot about and care a lot about and ODR, or online dispute resolution, is just filled with innovators. And the innovation is usually focused on the platforms itself. Whether it’s like facilitative technologies like Zoom, and how courts use facilitative technologies, or whether it’s with like now they’re blockchain online dispute resolution platforms Jur.io and Kleros, and a handful of others. And so, the focus is typically on the platform itself, rather than how we can get people onto those platforms. And so, your reference to these, like the Justice Bus, or even having a Zoom room, in your offices where people can use zoom, I think is so important, and will become increasingly important as online dispute resolution gains greater prominence. 

Joshua  35:55 

Absolutely agree. And one of the things that, and you mentioned this with, with the school and you mentioned some of the stuff that I could, I have been amazed during the pandemic, I’ll use the word “thraffy” is the word, they’re both thrifty and scrappy in the nonprofit world, these other places, but finding ways to make it work, whether it’s taking the bus with the hot spots to sit in a neighborhood so that people can get it. The variations that we have had to date to make those things work I’ve just been impressed by the ingenuity of so many people with it. And what I have kind of organizationally, what it has kind of made me do, is expand that list of, in my mind, of people that we try to partner with, and ways that we try to create relationships, so that we can identify more entry points into how people are accessing justice. And as we identify those, equipping them with the ability to have technology for people to have the court hearing, or participate in online dispute resolution, or any kind, you know, meet with their lawyer, whatever it may be. So, it was kind of like how do we expand that with our public libraries.  

Oladeji  37:16 

Yeah. 

Joshua  37:17 

Every county in Kentucky, no matter how small or rural has a public library, it may not be staffed that often in some communities, or it can be a very robust program. But how can we make sure that that place becomes part of that access to justice menu of options you can choose from. We were looking at about how to expand those with our food bank networks. And so, people are coming there to get foods can you also provide for them some technology to participate in their court here? The partners and access to justice had to expand beyond just the traditional players, or what I least viewed traditional players as. 

Oladeji  37:55 

Totally. Yeah. So something that I’m just like, I’m just holding on to with my dear life, frankly, that has come about because of the pandemic is the opportunity for more collaborating opportunities with people that I may not have had the opportunity to do in the physical world, if you will. And the pandemic is really just, both in terms of like how facilitative technologies like Zoom have become nearly ubiquitous, and they have competitors. As you mentioned earlier, hopefully, there’s, there’s some consolidation for simplicity purposes. But there really has been this proliferation in facilitative technologies. And that opens up so many different gateways for collaborating with different people. And, you know, I think a lot about ways to make platforms with online dispute resolution more inclusive. And just the fact that you can be in Kentucky right now, and I can be in Chicago or Boston or California. And we can collaborate with one another without needing to fly physically or drive physically is, to me, it’s so important and I don’t want it to leave I don’t want this facilitative technology spirit that we’ve cultivated to leave after the pandemic. 

Joshua  39:31 

Absolutely. And that has been the kind of phase that I’m in talking with colleagues and judges is what part of this do we want to keep? I mean, what lessons have we learned that are definitely the keepers, there’s some stuff I want to get away from, but, but, and one of them, which this facilitative technology is done is I am overly available. Which I want to take away because I’ve tried to figure out how to make my schedule, manage again. But aside from that part, it’s like, this it just makes so much sense. And it’s just so good for everybody as a business model, you know, if I’m a private practitioner, and I can go do a motion docket for somebody via Zoom and, although I will say Kentucky’s courts all bought Teams,  

Oladeji  39:56 

[Laughs] 

Joshua  40:23 

So, there’s our unified court system. But if you can participate in a motion docket that really is a scheduling kind of thing that you don’t have to bill your client for that, and you don’t have an expense to go do it. It’s like, this just makes so much sense to so many people. And I think a lot of our courts will keep that, that available as an option for a lot of people, and it should be. But the opportunities that it does create. I mean, it’s I’ve made a very controversial observation a few years ago with our Court of Justice with Kentucky’s unified court system is called the Kentucky Court of Justice. And that’s all of our different levels of court together. It’s a collective term for them. What was interesting was I pointed out that in the United Kingdom, at the time, they were actually selling courthouse buildings, and they were going back to circuit riding. Okay, maybe they were just taking the court to the communities and using the high school gymnasium, or community center or whatever to do court, and it was an approach that they were taking. And I thought, well, this is just fascinating. We should explore this more. I was met with just complete silence.  

Oladeji  41:34 

[Laughs] 

Joshua  41:34 

So, looks, and so from an access to justice perspective, I thought that would just increase access. So, but in a way that’s what Zoom has done. 

Oladeji  41:41 

Absolutely. 

Joshua  41:42 

It’s taking court to people and just in a way that it hasn’t before. And I hope there’s aspects of that, that we don’t lose.  

Oladeji  41:50 

Yeah, same here. Very much agreed. And I am aware that you are on the board of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. And I really like the work that they also do. And I was actually just curious to hear about exciting things from your perspective that is going on with the Equal Justice Center. 

Joshua  42:14 

Well, yesterday I was in, almost all day, strategic planning retreat with the Kentucky Equal Justice Center. So, and so I will tell you that we kind of identified what is it that the over the pandemic perspective, is it shifting what we should be doing or how we should be doing things? Or has it just you know exacerbated the issues that were already areas that were involved with, or where were there some major needs? And we’re still in that phase of kind of looking at all of this. But I think that KEJC will be having more of a role in housing issues than they had had, for a period of time, their consumer practice will I think, start to ramp up again, consumer protection, and our work around health care will continue because there’s just a good model that exists there. But exciting opportunities, really looking at food justice 

Oladeji  43:07 

Yeah. 

Joshua  43:08 

Is one that we, I think, are expanding what we will be doing in that realm of things. Because you know just heartbreaking that, I know that all of the surveys kind of say this, and this was the hardest part for me that especially during the, when schools were not in session, was people reporting hunger at higher levels than they had ever reported, I think it was that one of the major polling places had ever kind of survey, that Gallup had ever surveyed that question.  

 

Oladeji  43:37 

Yeah. 

Joshua  43:38 

And the food justice issue was a big deal. And it was one that were not passed. That was just exacerbated by the pandemic. And then it gets worse when you don’t have the technology to go in and complete the application. You know in my school district where my kids, or our whole county was like, if you want to sign up for the food delivery to your house, for school meals is what they were doing, they would drop it off, you had to go online and complete the application the week before. Well if you don’t have the ability to go in and complete the application —  

Oladeji  44:10 

Right. 

Joshua  44:10 

— They’re not dropping off food. And so that, you know, that’s one of those things I think we have to continue to explore. But the KEJC will be expanding that food justice and expanding that in even more areas from what they’re already doing. We know they do great work, their policy work that they’ll be doing related to what we hope is truly transformative housing issues in Kentucky, I think will be a priority as well. But you hit us right at a good time it’s like we’re, I can’t, although I don’t have great answers because we haven’t finalized the next strategic plan. 

Oladeji  44:45 

Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, and I think all of the options you are exploring right now are incredibly important, like the food justice piece is really important. And as you mentioned, the pandemic really highlighted the inadequacies of certain supply chains when it comes to providing food to a greater amount of communities. And then this piece with, you know, like there’s, there is a eviction crisis, it’s just the question of when and how we will manage it. So, it’s really important for nonprofits in the legal aid industry broadly to highlight this and to spend time strategizing, which you’ve been doing about how to manage and mitigate the potential crisis that is facing us. There’s so many vulnerable communities right now. And housing is just so essential to our being and for that to be threatened in the aftermath of a pandemic would be a travesty completely. 

Joshua  45:56 

Absolutely. And you know, last week with the White House Summit on Evictions —  

Oladeji  46:01 

 Yeah.  

Joshua  46:02 

— And so, for participating in that it was in the Lexington focus group, which is not actually where I live. I don’t know if I said this in the beginning but if you drew a line from where I grew up in Monticello, Kentucky, Wayne County, which borders Tennessee, and you drew a line straight up to the top bordering Ohio that’s where our Covington office is where I’m headquartered.  

Oladeji  46:21 

Oh. 

Joshua  46:21 

But Lexington is our largest population center. And so that was the breakout group that I was in. And so, for, for our more urban areas, Northern Kentucky, Lexington, evictions are really there is a crisis that’s going to take place. And that’s really what it is in our more rural areas. And in particular, the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund, which we call AppalReD. My counterparts here, they said they don’t look, eviction, they’re not having an eviction crisis, but they are having a housing crisis. And it’s the foreclosures for them.  

Oladeji  46:58 

Interesting. 

Joshua  46:58 

And so, for a lot of my areas, it’s going to be foreclosures. But for these areas that we’re looking at evictions, you know, we’ve got some exciting things that are happening and some partnerships that we’re working on. But from the, the White House Summit on Evictions that I learned, maybe the thing I learned the most from our breakout session, was the need to partner with landlords on actually addressing this issue. And so, by that what I mean is the, I was just saying this to the head of a landlord partner association, or their executive director, and I was like I think we both have the same goal here. You want to get paid, and we want you to get paid so that our people can stay there. 

Oladeji  47:42 

Right.  

Joshua  47:43 

So, let’s figure out the best ways to get the rental assistance money to people that was really a kind of a thing that, that I learned from that, I mean the eviction crisis, was that need to do it, and you know talking about technology, you have to figure out a way to administer these funds and how it’s going to go and how you apply for all those things. We’re having to set up clinics just to assist people in completing the rental applications, documents, because even if you have access to it, although most of our clients are using their phones to do the application, they don’t quite have the scanning capability of some of the things that they ask for.  

Oladeji  48:23 

Yeah.  

Joshua  48:23 

This as a sign of a technology thing. And we were, we’ve kind of been tracking what’s the most responsiveness that we’re getting with trying to have people respond. If you have, have a eviction filed in Kentucky, it’s called a forcible detainer. When that happens, you’re getting some outreach to tell you to complete the rental assistance application. And we’ve kind of been tracking very rudimentary right now just to see what’s getting the most response rate a phone call, email from us, what about if we’re sending a Facebook message, that kind of thing and right now the most responsiveness that we get is text messages. 

Oladeji  48:59 

Interesting. 

Joshua  49:00 

So, when we text a potential client or you know and somebody has this as a you need to complete the, the rental assistance, we get a response back more than any of the others. Probably the Facebook messages are like second, but it was just really fascinating and interesting to me. And then someone said from a trauma informed care perspective, text messaging, messaging is the best option. And if you really view eviction as traumatic, which we do.  And you know Matthew Desmond’s work talking about that,  how traumatic it is, text messaging being the best option, and I just, just had that conversation yesterday. So, I don’t know enough about that as being to speak with any kind of intelligence about it, but, but we know that we get the most response to doing it that way. So, we’re trying to figure out as to how to help the people complete the assistance via text.  

Oladeji  49:32 

Absolutely.  Yeah, yeah. Well, it makes complete sense linking it with trauma because to help the person dealing with trauma, you want to make the communication as simple as possible. You don’t want to have a complicated tool to communicate with them up you skates, the problem solving or the listening that needs to be done to help them deal with the trauma. And so rather than mailing something that they might ignore, text message seems like a effective way to simplify the communication with them to improve their situation.

Joshua  50:37 

And from a really from an access to justice perspective on it.  

Oladeji  50:41 

Yeah. 

Joshua  50:41 

We’re working, but we would love it and we’re just not there yet, if our clerks that’s an elected position in Kentucky, if they would get people’s phone numbers, when they actually are having an eviction filed, because like, we can really move this along and get this assistance kind of thing happening. I will say, from a positive kind of perspective, if that’s not happening on that official end, several of the apartment managers or organizations said, we’ll give you the phone numbers, if, you know, we just need to get, you know, if there’s a court order that says we can share that we’ll give you the number so that you can reach out to them. So hopefully, there’s the progress that goes that way. 

Oladeji  51:17 

Yeah, yeah. So, I have one final question for you. It is the ultimate question. 

Joshua  51:24 

[Chuckles]  

Oladeji  51:25 

And that question is what you believe about the future of technology and dispute resolution that very few people believe in your industry? 

Joshua  51:35 

Oh, I have to qualify this statement with a little bit.  

Oladeji  51:40 

Yeah.  

Joshua  51:41 

And it’s the sense of, I have no social media myself. I do no Facebook, no Twitter, I don’t have Instagram, Tik Tok anything. So, it’s not something that I use. And somewhat intentionally, I decided I wanted to like people several years ago, so I didn’t want to know what they thought about everything.  

Oladeji  52:03 

[Laughs] 

Joshua  52:05 

So, I don’t have any of those things. But I have a firm belief that the only way that I am going to truly increase access to justice in my community is going to be through some technological means. And I believe that to stay relevant in people’s lives, the justice system is going to have to embrace technology as a way of helping people facilitate solutions.  

Oladeji  52:42 

Hmn.  

Joshua  52:42 

You know, if we don’t, you know, we become obsolete, in a way. And I don’t know how the justice system could ever become obsolete, but it’s just a feeling that that’s where you go if we don’t figure out ways to —  

Oladeji  52:56 

Yeah. I, and it’s just a question of what part of the justice system would become obsolete? Like, is it the formal avenue with courts? Or is it all of it, that also includes informal systems? And I think if courts aren’t adaptive to all these technologies that stakeholders want to use, they would become the most likely to become obsolete because then there are other options, like there’s alternative dispute resolution and online dispute resolution that could provide disputants with the type of, the type of flexibility that technology provides them with. So that is a fascinating answer. It’s one that I agree wholeheartedly with. So, thank you, and Joshua Crabtree, I just want to say that this past hour was wonderful, and it was a complete joy to chat with you and I’m still working on my next vacation plan to tour the Appalachian Trail so. [Chuckles] 

Joshua  54:02 

Take advantage of Bourbon, here in the Kentucky portions of it. Yeah, it has been a pleasure. I have enjoyed it, and hopefully I added something to the conversation.