When Step Up to Justice formed in January 2017, its founders were committed to providing free legal services to low-income residents in Pima County. Now, they’ve gotten a boost by taking the top prize in the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship’s Social Impact Summit Pitch Competition.
SU2J is dedicated to securing equal access to justice for all.
“Almost every problem you confront when you live in poverty requires access to the legal system for a solution,” says Stacy Rupprecht Butler ’02, part-time professor of practice at the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law and SU2J board chair.
But until recently, 96 percent of local low-income residents who needed help with issues such as minor guardianship, domestic violence and bankruptcy went unserved by the federally funded civil legal services provider. Federal resources are limited, and conflict of interest rules prevented the existing office from representing both parties in a dispute.
SU2J reaches underserved populations with a combination of partnership and innovation, including virtual connections. The nonprofit used its $15,000 pitch competition prize to purchase a software product called Justice Server, designed to connect attorneys to pro bono clients. It enhances attorney-client matching, case management and communication. It also allows clients and lawyers to review documents together but remotely, eliminating the need to meet in person.
“For low-income individuals in particular, taking time off work or getting public transportation can be challenging and can really be a barrier to obtaining service,” Butler says.
With Justice Server and continued support from donors and volunteer attorneys, Butler projects that by 2019 SU2J will serve 2,000 clients annually, double the total for 2017.
“For a small startup nonprofit, $15,000 is a huge deal. We are so grateful to the sponsors of this event for recognizing the need for innovative social justice solutions,” Butler says.
The competition, which attracted 22 proposals, was sponsored by Microsoft, United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona, and the UA Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice. It was the culminating event of the McGuire Center’s Social Impact Summit in October 2017.