Oklahoma Bar Journal

Access to Justice: A Year in Review

By Brian Candelaria

As we near the end of the year, it is an opportunity to briefly look at the recent past activities of the Access to Justice Committee and its sister organizations, the Access to Justice Commission and the Access to Justice Foundation. It is also a chance to note some of what lies ahead in the future.  


On Oct. 21, the third statewide Oklahoma Access to Justice Summit was held virtually. It was hosted by the Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation in partnership with the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission and the Oklahoma Bar Association. Its theme was “A Celebration of Innovation.” 

During the free, full-day event, more than 45 speakers spoke on a wide range of access to justice topics and inspired more than 200 attendees to explore new ways to ensure meaningful access to the civil justice system for all.  

The summit featured eight breakout panels and several keynote speakers on a wide range of topics. Topics included how lawyers and judges can ensure procedural fairness for pro se litigants, how attorneys in practices of all sizes can incorporate pro bono into their lives, the current state (and future potential) of online dispute resolution, innovations and opportunities in rural legal access, the importance of interdisciplinary and holistic legal practices for vulnerable populations, how standardized forms and templates can increase court access for unrepresented litigants, lessons for Oklahoma from three recent studies on the justice gap, how attorneys can build profitable legal practices that are also affordable to those who need services, how to use online dispute resolution platforms equitably, how lawyers can work hand-in-hand with social workers and peer coaches to help parents at risk of losing their children and the critical role lawyers play in our state Legislature. These panels and speakers highlighted the expertise and experience of attorneys and judges across Oklahoma, as well as guest speakers from Minnesota, Colorado, Texas, Illinois and Washington, D.C.  

The event also provided an opportunity to celebrate the winners of the 2022 Summer Pro Bono Challenge over the lunch hour, with several Tulsa-area winners:  

  • Solo: Pansy Moore-Shrier 
  • Small Firm: Eller & Detrich 
  • Mid-Sized Firm: Doerner, Saunders, Daniel & Anderson 
  • Large Firm: Conner & Winters 

Also recognized were the first winners of the new Outstanding Student Pro Bono Award, an annual recognition of a law student who has gone above and beyond in their commitment to public service and their community: 

  • Shawnee Arrington, 3L, TU College of Law 
  • Addison Butler, 3L, OU College of Law 
  • Hailee Frazier, 3L, OCU School of Law 

All three student winners will be celebrated on their respective campuses later in the year as well.  

The Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation offered the summit to highlight both the critical unmet need for legal services for low- and moderate-income families across Oklahoma but also the many solutions that are available to us and how they’re being implemented both here and across the country. The summit also provided an opportunity, through the use of its first opening speaker and the last speaker of the day, to discuss the importance of diversifying the field of law by suggesting innovative alternatives to traditional bar exams and why diversity is so important to access to justice. The summit also noted that we still have a long way to go to ensure all Oklahomans can meaningfully participate in a fair and accessible civil justice system. The work celebrated at the summit and engaged in daily by nonprofits, law schools, law firms and judicial and community partners helps bring that vision closer to reality.  

The Access to Justice Summit was generously supported by several sponsors, including Visionary of Justice-level sponsors, the Chickasaw Nation and Riggs Abney; Champions of Justice, the Oklahoma Bar Foundation and the OBA Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Section; and Friends of Justice, Crowe & Dunlevy, Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Whitten Burrage, the OBA Appellate Practice Section and Eric Eissenstat.  

Dates are still being finalized for next year’s summit, but we hope you will be able to join us for another year of learning and sharing. If you missed this year’s program, all the recorded panels are currently available through the OBA CLE library at no cost.  


During the November meeting of the Access to Justice Committee, we announced the top volunteers who contributed to our continuing Oklahoma Free Legal Answers project for October. These three attorneys demonstrated and continue to demonstrate their commitment to helping those who seek help in addressing their legal questions and concerns. The October volunteer stars are:  

  • Travis C. Smith 
  • Paula D. Wood 
  • Michael J. Miller 

Their dedication to our profession is very much appreciated and serves as an example of how we can all help and play a part in providing access to justice in our communities.  

As we enter the new year, those of us in the Access to Justice Committee ask that we all resolve to volunteer our time for these and other pro bono legal services events and projects.  

Brian Candelaria serves as chair of the OBA Access to Justice Committee.

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 10 (December 2022)