The Journal’s history
Since 1981, Iowa Legal Aid has been keeping a large audience of readers informed of current legal issues through a client-centered newsletter. Originally known as the Poor People’s Press, the newsletter became the Equal Justice Journal in 1991 and changed to a tabloid format on newsprint, now sent quarterly to over 7,000 households. The “EJJ” reflects the program’s commitment to providing legal information to Iowans with a focus on plain language and accessibility. These days, the EJJ and other legal information booklets are being made available online. Pat McClintock, Deputy Director, and David Huston, publications and website coordinator, explained the process of converting a wide range of printed legal aid materials into an online format, and the challenges and benefits that have occurred as a result.
Converting to Online Format
In 2003, with the launch of their LawHelp website, Iowa Legal Aid began to move printed materials online. Over 30 information booklets were published at one point, and conversion of the booklets to pdf format greatly increased availability and expanded distribution. It has helped greatly to reduce costs associated with printing and mailing hard copy. While printed materials are still available for clients who may not have or use access to the internet, the booklets in particular are also available in an online format. People who do not qualify for free legal help are required to purchase printed material but can get most items free of charge online. Booklets cover topics including Landlord Tenant relations and Domestic Abuse, can be viewed online here. Though measuring the exact reach of the online materials is harder compared to the printed materials, the distribution of the program’s community legal education information has increased considerably. For now, only the most recent issues of the Equal Justice Journal remain up on the website but the creation of an archive with previous issues is underway.
Creating the Equal Justice Journal
The process for creating each edition of the Equal Justice Journal is similar to that of a more traditional newspaper. The attorneys on staff monitor intakes and keep an eye out for reoccurring issues that could benefit from a quick response in the newsletter, then take 3 to 4 weeks to write their articles. While most content is original, there are occasional updated reprints on perennial issues. Proposed articles are reviewed and the content of each issue is planned by the Equal Justice Journal Editorial Board, which consists of Executive Director Dennis Groenenboom, three attorneys, and David Huston. The Equal Justice Journal tends to be shorter and more concise than the informational booklets, which are more in-depth reviews of specific topics. Keeping articles accessible and written in plain language is a persistent concern. The editorial board ensures that the legal information in the EJJ is not only accurate, but easy to understand. The editorial process has been described as “sometimes grueling” and usually involves multiple rewrites, but in the end a great deal of useful information makes its way into the final product. After content is finalized and approved, the issue goes to the printer while the individual articles are made available for ongoing use as new resources on the lh3 website. Newsletter content is continually evolving, with local issues featured less than information which is applicable statewide.
The most recent issues of the Equal Justice Journal are viewable online here, and further questions about its publication or extending distribution through the online format can be directed to David Huston.