On February 27, IAALS and The Chicago Bar Foundation examined the widespread access to justice crisis—which extends beyond low-income individuals to heavily impact the middle class and small businesses—and showcased how the newly launched Above the Line Network can bridge the gap for affordable legal services.

Video of the event is available below. 

The crisis in access to justice extends far beyond low-income people, impacting people well into the middle class as well as small businesses that are the anchors of communities throughout the country. While most organized access to justice efforts rightly focus on low-income people who are especially vulnerable, we can never achieve our nation’s ideal of equal justice for all when middle-class people—who make up more than 50% of the nation’s population—`and small businesses struggle to find quality, affordable legal services. Greater education and advocacy for the underserved middle class has the potential for heightening the issues of access to justice as a broad societal crisis and driving an increase in innovation and funding in support of closing the access to justice gap for all. There are some promising programs and models tackling this problem around the United States, Canada, and beyond, and the new Above the Line Network (ATLN) will bring them together to help them grow, thrive, and replicate, and foster advocacy for the middle class in the larger access to justice circles.

This webinar was the first in a two-part project launch series and focused on understanding the breadth of the access to justice crises, introducing the newly launched Above the Line Network, and hearing from experts in the field on how the legal profession can come together through ATLN to increase access to affordable legal help to the middle class.

This webinar featured Jessica Bednarz (Director of Legal Services and the Profession, IAALS), Roya Samarghandi (Associate Director of Advocacy, Innovation, & Training, The Chicago Bar Foundation), Kari Burns (Chief Strategy Officer, Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association), Erin Monahan (Project Manager, Access Pro Bono Society of BC), and Hon. Adam Espinosa (Judge, Denver District Court).

For information about the second webinar, "Tackling Root Causes & Overcoming the Middle-Class Access to Justice Problem," click here.

"headshot of dark-haired woman"Jessica Bednarz is the Director of Legal Services and the Profession at IAALS. In this role, Bednarz is responsible for leading the vision and strategy of IAALS' work around innovation, regulation, reform, and evolution in the areas of the delivery of legal services and the legal profession more generally. Bednarz joined IAALS in 2023 after working at The Chicago Bar Foundation (CBF). During her eight years with the CBF, Bednarz worked on a wide range of access to justice issues. Prior to working at the CBF, Bednarz was in private practice specializing in family law, both as a solo practitioner and as an associate at O'Connor Family Law, P.C. She later served as the MCLE Coordinator for The Chicago Bar Association and served as a consultant for the Colorado Bar Association. 


"headshot of long-haired woman"Roya Samarghandi is The Chicago Bar Foundation's Associate Director of Advocacy, Innovation, & Training. Samarghandi plays a key role in the CBF's mission through her work on legislative and policy advocacy, innovation initiatives, and the CBF Legal Aid Academy. An alumna of the JEP, Samarghandi owned and ran her own practice, Carmel Law, LLC. In her practice, she provided a variety of legal services for her clients, in both a full scope and limited scope capacity and at an affordable rate. Samarghandi's practice areas included family law, criminal defense, and orders of protection for survivors of domestic violence. In 2022, she was named as one of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin's "40 Under 40" attorneys to watch.


"headshot of blonde woman"Kari Burns is the Chief Strategy Officer with the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, where she oversees the implementation of over 200 continuing education programs, the Lawyer Referral Service, as well as pro bono, DEI, and workforce development initiatives. She is also driving the creation of the CMBA's Cleveland Legal Collaborative, a social-justice legal incubator designed to serve the justice gap that exists in Cuyahoga County.



"headshot of smiling woman"Erin Monahan has been working in British Columbia's legal sector since 2011. During her 8 years as the education director of the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, she was responsible for all continuing legal education programs including seminars, webinars, retreats and international conferences. From 2019 to 2021 she was the business development director for Reportex Agencies, a BC wide court reporting company. There, she worked with the leadership team on 3 acquisitions and multiple office expansion projects. She joined Access Pro Bono Society of BC in 2021 to project manage the launch of the Virtual Family Mediation Project, and later the launch of the Everyone Legal Clinic, a first-of-its-kind public interest law incubator offering a full menu of affordable legal services to British Columbians. She has certificates in project management and change management from UBC Sauder School of Business. 


"headshot of man in robe with glasses"Hon. Adam Espinosa is a Denver District Court Judge assigned to the Criminal Division where he presides over felony criminal matters. Previously, he served as a Denver County Court Judge where he presided over the Civil, Municipal Criminal, and State Criminal Divisions of that court, presiding over two hundred and eighty trials. Prior to joining the bench, Judge Espinosa served as a senior trial attorney for the Colorado Supreme Court Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel and as a deputy district attorney in several Colorado counties. Judge Espinosa is active in the community, having served in leadership positions on numerous local, state, and national boards including the Denver Crime Prevention and Control Commission, the Colorado Supreme Court Access to Justice Commission, the ABA Standing Committee on Client Protection, and the Colorado Hispanic Bar Association.