We are delighted to share with you the news that yesterday, the National Center for Access to Justice at Fordham Law launched the updated and expanded Justice Index 2021 at NCAJ's new website, https://ncaj.org.
Background - The Justice Index is a snapshot of the degree to which each US state has adopted selected best policies for ensuring access to justice for all people. In its 2014 and 2016 versions, the Justice Index focused on four key areas – attorney access, self-help access, language access and disability access. In 2021, it includes those areas plus policies for curbing abusive fines and fees practices. The Justice Index benchmarks and findings serve as a platform that supports policy change in justice systems across the US.
Coverage in all Benchmark Categories - The Justice Index contains findings for each state on:
- attorney access policies, such as: number of civil legal aid attorneys, civil rights to counsel, pro bono best practices, and unbundling.
- self-representation policies, such as: access to justice commissions, guidance for judges and staff on assisting self-represented litigants, improved filing technologies and forms, waiver of filing fees.
- language access policies, such as: free interpreting, tracking of complaints, notice of free language services, provision of language services at clerks' desks.
- disability access policies, such as: free sign language interpreting, admission of support animals without advance requirements, tracking and reporting of disability accommodations.
- fines and fees policies, such as: right to counsel, elimination of voting rights suspensions for failure to have paid fines and fees, assurance of hearings on ability to pay, data tracking, and data transparency.
Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count Findings - The Justice Index 2021 contains findings showing: 705 total civil legal aid organizations (129 LSC civil legal aid organizations and 576 non-LSC civil legal aid organizations) and 10,479 individual civil legal aid attorneys (5,629 LSC civil legal aid attorneys and 4,850 non-LSC civil legal aid attorneys). 24 states and Puerto Rico had fewer than 1 civil legal aid attorney per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty; 6 states (plus Washington, DC) had more than 2 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty.
More Findings, Including Fines & Fees - See the original Justice Index findings at attorney access, self-representation, language access, disability access, fines and fees. This Fact Sheet highlights key findings. Also, see NCAJ’s Justice Index Press Release, and NCAJ’s Fines and Fees Press Release.
The Access to Justice Movement - Across the nation, the consequences of the pandemic, and the urgency of the call for racial justice, are drawing attention to the need for justice system change. If your court, civil legal aid organization, bar association, access to justice commission, IOLTA foundation, community based organization, or other stakeholder institution is working to improve people's lives by changing the justice system, consider how the Justice Index’s benchmarks and findings can be useful in supporting your work.
How the Justice Index can be Useful to You - Check out the Justice Index to see how it reveals actionable policy gaps in your own state. Consider how its rankings create opportunities to call for change. Determine where your state is doing well, and the areas in which your state’s existing policies need better implementation. If you and/or any of your colleagues might like to talk with us about ideas for setting and realizing an access to justice reform agenda, please let us know, as we'd be delighted to connect with you in this way.
Our Thanks - We are grateful to the members of the legal aid community and of the state courts – so many people engaged deeply with the Justice Index research initiative, and so much of this work occurred amid the extraordinary demands of 2020. The Justice Index also received invaluable support from leaders at numerous national and local advocacy organizations, and from teams of pro bono participants at the following institutions who assisted with the Justice Index research and analytics: Deloitte, Pfizer, Fordham Law School, DLA Piper LLP, Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, Latham & Watkins LLP, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Morgan Lewis LLP, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP. NCAJ is grateful for support received from Arnold Ventures and from the Bernard F. & Alva B. Gimbel Foundation. Thank you all!
David Udell, Executive Director
Chris Albin-Lackey, Legal & Policy Director
Jamie Gamble, Director, Justice Index Project
National Center for Access to Justice at Fordham Law School