Last Thursday, IAALS gathered with partners and friends for our 15th Annual Rebuilding Justice Award Dinner, celebrating the year’s awardees and recognizing our collective efforts to build a justice system that is accessible, constantly innovating, and puts people from all walks of life at its center. 

“When I joined IAALS in 2012, I knew I was entering an organization that was critical to solving the toughest problems in the American legal system,” said Brittany Kauffman, IAALS CEO. “Over time, I have come to understand much more about the full scope of those problems, as well as the urgency with which they need to be addressed.” While marking IAALS’ key successes to improve access to justice across our legal system and profession, Kauffman also recognized our founders’ vision in making everything possible. In a special tribute video, IAALS honored co-founder John Moye, who passed away last year but whose legacy and vision live on through our work. “John’s presence is in everything we do at IAALS, down to the building we walk into every day,” said Kauffman. “John, and all of IAALS’ founders, are inspirations.”

IAALS presented the 2023 Rebuilding Justice Award to former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, in recognition of her leadership, innovation, and role as an agent for systemic reform. In her remarks to the packed room, McCormack addressed what, exactly, has been standing in the way of meaningful change in our system, including the legal profession’s culture and leadership. Chief justices, though, could have a powerful voice should they choose to use it. 

“What’s at stake is not just the high number of our neighbors who are struggling with civil legal problems but can’t solve them. It’s the rule of law itself. The rule of law is only a set of ideas, and the set of ideas is only as good as the public’s confidence in it. If people believe those ideas don’t account for them, they’re not going to continue to think those ideas matter.” 

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She invited the audience to imagine what could be built if we let go of old ways of doing things, such as new pathways into the legal profession with holistic skills taught along the way, different ways to measure competence and license legal service providers, innovative business models that aligned the needs of lawyers and clients, and dispute resolution methods that centered people, not judges.

IAALS also presented Ariadna M. Godreau-Aubert, who Jim Sandman described as “not only a creative thinker, but an architect, builder, implementer, and doer,” with the Alli Gerkman Legal Visionary Award. 

Godreau-Aubert spoke about her journey to founding Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico after seeing and experiencing firsthand how the “law violently crashes against people based on gender, based on class, based on race, based on the position where you are at a particular moment in your life.” 

“If I wanted to say anything tonight, I wanted to say that I love to build things. I love to build things out of indignation, out of being tired, out of ‘just because,’ but also out of hope and love. I think that indignation—the realization that the system is broken—is able to get us to move, but will never be enough for us to sustain strategies that transform. And I think that has a lot to do with love and with hope and with possibility—and with the realization that things are still possible.” 

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“We are at a tipping point, the likes of which our justice system has never seen—and the momentum that we have gained must be maintained,” Kauffman said in her closing remarks. “IAALS is poised to do just that.” Thank you to everyone who joined us for an inspiring evening. We will carry the momentum from this night forward as we continue to build a better civil justice system for all.