June 21, 2021

Every year, millions of Americans who need help with their legal problems find out that there is no such help on offer. Some are left to go it alone in court, where they may stand little chance against a better-equipped adversary. Some lose their homes, their savings and their children in cases they might have won with the right kind of help. Others avoid the legal system altogether, in situations where it could help vindicate their rights or win reparation for abuse.

On June 8, 2021, NCAJ published a new report that asks how new models of legal services delivery-- by people other than lawyers-- might help bridge the access to justice gap. The report, which you can find here, draws on interviews with more than 60 people who have a sharp, firsthand perspective on America’s access to justice crisis and the kind of change they think is needed. None of them are lawyers. Most work directly, every day, with people who suffer for want of legal help. We've collected and put forward some of the most vital, inspiring and provocative perspectives that emerged from those interviews.

One key finding is that the policy debates around these ideas need to be much more inclusive than they generally are. Faced with the vast scale of unmet legal need, several US states are finally moving to embrace alternative models of legal services delivery. They are leading the way forward with real, concrete steps to improve access to legal services. Unfortunately, most of these reform efforts have suffered from a defect that sharply limits their potential. In state after state, debates around legal services reform have been devoid of non-lawyer perspectives.

Fortunately, there is an entire universe of people who encounter unmet legal needs every day and have keen perspectives on their urgency, as well as the best ways to confront them. They are not lawyers. They are librarians, legal document assistants, social workers, community organizers, tenant advocates, and others. Those professionals, community leaders and activists often have a sharp perspective on the kind of change states should embrace to empower their residents to get the right kind of help.

Our report draws a wealth of fresh new thinking about reform from these interviews. In so doing, it also shows why it's so essential for policy debates around these issues to include these perspectives at center stage.

Recent Articles

New Findings on Fines & Fees Policies, Released Today by the National Center for Access to Justice, Rank the States & Provide a 50-State Policy Reform Agenda

In 2016, a court in Lexington County, South Carolina ordered Twanda Marshinda Brown, a single mother who worked at Burger King, to pay $2,300 for two traffic offenses. Although she told the court she could only afford to pay $50 each month, the judge ordered her to pay $100 in monthly installments. Ms. Brown managed to make the payments for five months but she fell behind when her son was hospitalized and several checks from her employer bounced. The sheriff’s office ...

NCAJ Files Amicus Brief to Protect Access to Justice for Indigent People in Prison

On June 25 the National Center for Access to Justice filed a brief as lead amicus (“friend of the court”) in Rosa v. Doe in the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On behalf of nine organizations, the amicus brief urges the Circuit Court to guide its federal district courts on how to ensure that people in state prison are not forced by substantial federal court filing fees to choose between pursuing justice in court and covering their “necessary expenses” including their expenditures for family members.

NCAJ Launches 2021 Justice Index

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.

Next Steps for the Justice Index

The Justice Index is NCAJ’s comprehensive national resource that since 2014 has collected and presented data on the presence of selected best access to justice policies in each state...