Voices’ Blog

Claudia Johnson thinks you should give a TEDx talk about civil justice

March 15, 2018 - 11:49 am
In this guest post, Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net, shares her experience of preparing and presenting a talk on civil legal aid at a TEDx event in her community.

This is a guest post by Claudia Johnson, LawHelp Interactive Program Manager at Pro Bono Net.  Claudia presented a talk at TEDx Richland on September 16, 2017.  (Watch the video of her talk on YouTube.)


I have watched TED talks for years, so last June I was excited to learn that TEDx Richland, the chapter in my Eastern Washington community, was planning an event with the theme “Foundational Truths.” I decided to submit a proposal to talk about my passion: access to justice.

I am comfortable and confident speaking in front of lawyers, advocates, court staff. Part of the appeal for me was to see if I could speak persuasively to a group of strangers who do not necessarily share my views of the world. My TEDx talk was not going to be about topics that people around here love like rivers, salmon protection, or irrigation management. Could I connect with strangers in a short time and create some awareness and impact in my town?

I felt sure that I could, because part of my strategy was to use the Voices for Civil Justice messaging guidance, plus data from the American Bar Association, the National Center for Access to Justice, and the Legal Services Corporation. However, I soon learned that being confident and having a plan did not mean I was ready to deliver the talk. Participating in TEDx is a serious commitment.

Once my proposed topic was accepted, the process quickly became intense! We were required to participate in three-hour practice sessions, twice each week, for six weeks. At practice, Toastmastersvolunteers, the TEDx team, and our fellow presenters gave direct feedback on everything about our presentation: style, voice, diction, and effectiveness of our delivery. They counted all of our “ahs”, “ums” and other verbal crutches, taught us how to breathe, how to modulate, how to stand. They also helped us improve the structure of our talks.

This could be intimidating or annoying for someone who is not open to feedback; but it was exactly what I wanted. They helped me make my talk graspable to those who do not spend their time thinking about overcoming barriers to civil justice. The eight other presenters were diverse, generous, and supportive.

We also had to practice on our own. This meant rehearsing even during my vacation. I practiced as I walked up and down an Oregon beach with my husband listening to me, over and over, working on each word and each breath, hoping to convey my passion for civil justice in a way that would connect with people I did not know.

On the day of the event there was a buzz of excitement in the theater. My community was well-represented by a crowd that was diverse in age, income, and ideology. There was hot coffee and good food to sustain us. My talk was the last one, so I sat listening and silently cheering for my new friends as they spoke about their foundational truths, each one successfully taking it to a new level.

Finally, it was my turn. As I got up and put on my mic, I wondered if the crowd would be tired after sitting through a long day of exhilarating topics. But as I talked, I noticed the audience was with me. They laughed at my dry jokes. I heard gasps when I said that “you are on your own” when it comes to solving civil legal problems. I also saw them perk up when I invited them to become a go-to person for their families, schools, and communities, and challenged them to consider if there might be a legal solution to certain problems.

I felt their acceptance when I said the law is beautiful.

Since the talk, people have reached out to me from across Washington, including educators, librarians, and other groups working with the public at large. Many told me that before my talk they didn’t realize they do not have a right to an attorney in most civil legal matters. That fact stays with people.

It was hard work, lots of hours, and lots of wrestling with myself, often while exhausted, frustrated and – yes – a little scared. Would my accent be a barrier to connection? Would my immigrant background impede a bond with my audience due to implicit biases? I had to work through these demons and I’m happy to report that the demons were tamed. I came out from the process a better person and a better speaker, and I made friends with some exceptional people. I think my community is now better off, too, for all of our talks.

If your community has a TEDx event, I strongly recommend that you participate. It is a great opportunity to share what we do, and why we do it. It is a way to reach out to those in your town or city who might never otherwise think about the problems we tackle day in and out. Make a point to get engaged, to get connected. Speaking your truth is more important now than ever.

Claudia is happy to share more information about her TEDx experience. She can be reached at cjohnson@probono.net.

If you are considering delivering a TEDx or similar talk about civil justice in your community, the Voices team is eager to assist with messaging. Drop us a line at team@voicesforciviljustice.org.

If you have given such a talk, please let us know; we would love to hear it.

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Spotlighting Your Media Successes

January 19, 2018 - 11:33 am
This post highlights media coverage shared by five JusticeVoices Network members. Whether it led to a policy change or a positive outcome for a client, spurred fundraising efforts, or helped convey the value of civil legal aid to an important audience, each of these stories made a difference in 2017. 

At Voices, we know that media is an incredibly powerful advocacy tool, but you needn’t just take our word for it. As we enter 2018, the Voices team is taking a moment to celebrate and share some of the recent media successes of our JusticeVoices network members.

We asked network members to send us their stories of media coverage that they believed made a difference—whether it led to a policy change or a positive outcome for a client, spurred their fundraising efforts, or helped them convey the value of civil legal aid to an important audience.

Their stories are below. We hope you find them as motivating and inspiring as we do.

  • Ariel Levinson-Waldman, Founding President and Director-Counsel, Tzedek DC, shared this piece in the National Review, by conservative columnist Mona Charen, which he says “came about after a Rabbi suggested to Ms. Charen that she might consider writing about our work as she looked for Holiday-time activities to celebrate.  The piece was helpful for us in conveying to a national audience — and one with a broader set of political views than usually focus on our work — the need for legal aid for low-income families facing debt challenges. ”
  • Jacob Inwald, Director of Foreclosure Prevention, Legal Services NYC, shared this Buzzfeed article, which arose because, “as part of a coalition with which we work, a relationship with these reporters evolved and we supported their very lengthy investigation into the subject.” Jay notes that the article, “was not about promoting our services or our organization, but garnering important media attention to the covered phenomenon, and featured quotes from several of our staff and colleagues from our peer organizations.”
  • Alexandra Pullara, Marketing Specialist at Bay Area Legal Services (Tampa, Florida) wrote, “We celebrated 50 years of providing legal services to our community this year, and kicked off our new Veterans Legal Initiative with a celebratory event.  We wanted to have our new veteran’s initiative featured in the media around the same time as our event and we worked closely with Søren to craft media pitches to local news outlets. We have been featured by Ernest Hooper of the Tampa Bay Times in the past and our event coordinator also has a close relationship with him.  We used Søren’s tips and Ernest covered the issue just in time for our big event!…The timing was everything for us and helped create a buzz in our local community. We also had a volunteer call us who saw the article and wanted to get involved. She has worked in the nonprofit sector for many years and is proving to be a very valuable asset to us.”
  • Caitlin Brown, Communications Director, Community Legal Services(Philadelphia), says that CLS has advocated for stronger nursing home enforcement in Pennsylvania for years, and released a report two years ago on how the PA Department of Health (DOH) had failed to protect nursing home residents.Caitlin writes, “After releasing the report, we worked with the media to keep attention on this issue and have had 50 media placements related to nursing homes in the last two and a half years. Since we have started bringing attention to this issue and advocating for stronger enforcement, we have seen changes in the way that DOH operates… Now, nursing homes know they must follow the rules or pay the price. As we continue to strengthen protections for nursing home residents and monitor the progress that is being made, CLS will remain diligent and persistent in holding nursing homes and enforcement agencies accountable for patient safety.”
  • Maria Duvuvuei, Director of Development and Communications, Community Legal Aid (Northeast Ohio), shared this article on their medical-legal partnership, HEAL (Health Education Advocacy and Law) project, from Crain’s Cleveland Business Journal, which Maria says, “helped broaden the audience of community members aware of legal aid and its value.”

In 2018, Voices would like to help you achieve your own media success story. If you think media coverage could help you achieve your policy, development, or other advocacy goals, reach out to us. We’re here to support you and the important work you do.

Organizations mentioned/involved: Community Legal Services (CLS) of Philadelphia, Community Legal Aid (Central Northeast Ohio), Tzedek DC, Legal Services NYC (LSNYC), Bay Area Legal Services (Tampa) (BALS)
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A Movement is Growing

December 19, 2017 - 11:05 am
Statewide approaches to communications and media are now bubbling up from coast to coast, and we are beginning to see good results.

Help Us Craft Our 2018 Plan

November 29, 2017 - 6:14 pm
We want to know how Voices can best support your communications work.

The New New Thing

October 23, 2017 - 4:06 pm
Statewide communications networks are the new new thing in spotlighting civil legal aid. Are you ready to work with Voices to create a JusticeVoices network in your state? At the 2017 NLADA Annual Conference in Washington DC, we will convene the first-ever gathering of state leaders to spotlight emerging models for strategy-setting, staffing and communications plans in several pioneering states.

Words to embrace, words to replace

October 9, 2017 - 2:04 pm
In this post, we spotlight the contributions of messaging expert Anat Shenker-Osorio who applies tools from cognition and linguistics to examine not just which words work when discussing civil legal aid and access to justice, but also to explain why certain words work when others don't.

Florida Bar Foundation Uses GIS to Develop Powerful Communications Tools

September 18, 2017 - 3:43 pm
In preparation for 2017's ABA Days in Washington, DC , the Florida Bar Foundation teamed up with SRLN to develop powerful tools for showing policy makers the impact of LSC funding on the lives of Floridians in every part of the state. In this post, FBF Communications Director Nancy Kinnally explains why she believes the the same sort of analysis that made the ABA Day team’s visuals so powerful could be used to communicate with other key audiences, making media, legal advocacy and philanthropic efforts more effective.

News Roundup: Hurricane Harvey, and Right to Counsel for Eviction Defense

August 31, 2017 - 4:38 pm
  Like you, we’ve been unable to take our eyes off the harrowing images of inundation and suffering along the Texas Gulf Coast. We are working to get a jump on a part of the story we know is too often overlooked – the consequential legal problems that inevitably accompany such a disaster, and the ... Read more

How to talk with philanthropists about civil legal aid

August 16, 2017 - 6:02 pm
This summer two important new pieces of research yielded fresh guidance on how to communicate about civil legal aid in a way that builds lasting support. This posts focuses on how to communicate effectively with the philanthropic community.

New research finds voters overwhelmingly believe equal justice under law is a right, not a privilege

July 31, 2017 - 11:49 am
On July 19, at a national Communications & Media Training, Voices unveiled the results of new messaging research conducted by Celinda Lake and Anat Shenker-Osorio. The findings are good news for advocates looking to increase awareness of and support for civil legal aid.

Opportunities for media coverage about civil legal aid continue

July 10, 2017 - 1:42 pm
As civil justice advocates continue to face big challenges across the country, media coverage is more critical than ever to help spotlight the scope of the unmet legal needs of low income Americans and the role of civil legal aid in meeting that need.

Voices Training will feature Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus

July 5, 2017 - 11:55 am
Voices is pleased to announce that Washington Post Deputy Editorial Page Editor Ruth Marcus will be in conversation with Janice L. Kaplan at its 2017 Communications & Media Training on Wednesday, July 19.