About the Justice Index

 

Introduction

I.         Scope of the Justice Index
II.        Guiding Principles
III.       Findings
IV.       Teams & Stakeholders

Conclusion

Introduction

The Justice Index is an online, data-intensive, ranking system created by the National Center for Access to Justice that ranks the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, on the degree to which they have adopted certain best policies for access to justice. By ranking the states, and by making the best policies easy to see, the Justice Index raises the profile of these policies, shows where they have (and have not) been adopted, and helps advocates to push for their replication and implementation.

Created in 2014, the Justice Index initially included four index categories: i) attorney access, ii) self-representation access, iii)  language access, and iv) disability access. Within attorney access, the Justice Index also included a count of civil legal aid attorneys in the United States. In 2021, NCAJ updated its rankings and findings in the four original categories, and extended the Justice Index to include a new Fines and Fees Index. In 2022, NCAJ updated the Fines and Fees Index findings. In 2024, NCAJ extended the Justice Index to include a new Consumer Debt Litigation Index.

In addition to ranking the states in these six policy index categories, the Justice Index includes an Overall Rankings Index that ranks the states on the combined findings from the original four Justice Index categories, while also affording Justice Index users an option to view additional Overall Index data visualizations that rank the states based on the findings from the original four categories combined with the findings from the Fines and Fees Index,  and/or the Consumer Debt Litigation Index.

The Justice Index includes coverage of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in all policy index categories, and includes Puerto Rico in the original four categories. Puerto Rico is not included in the Fines and Fees Index or the Consumer Debt Litigation Index.

We describe below the scope of the Justice Index, the principles that guide it, highlights from its findings, and sources of support received by NCAJ in creating and sustaining it (In Methodology, we describe how the work was done to create, update, and expand the Justice Index through the years).

I.       Scope of the Justice Index

The Justice Index covers six categories of laws, rules, and practices, researched over a multi-year period (as designated below) that are essential to assuring access to justice in state justice systems: attorney access, self-representation access, language access, disability access, fines and fees, and consumer debt litigation.

A.        Attorney Access (2021). Access to a lawyer is often essential to people to protect their rights under the law and avoid serious hardship. For people of modest means, paid counsel is simply out of reach in civil legal matters. This is true even in very high stakes cases that risk the loss of people’s homes, children, savings, physical and emotional safety, and more. The Justice Index has served since 2014 as the primary source of data on the number of civil legal aid lawyers that do not receive funding from the federally supported Legal Services Corporation (i.e., “non-LSC” civil legal aid organizations). By ranking states based on the total number of civil legal aid lawyers in each state considered as a percentage of the number of low income people in each state, and by showing the total  number of civil legal aid organizations in each state, the Justice Index equips officials, activists, researchers and members of the public in all states to understand and champion the importance of civil legal aid. (Note:  In 2023, the American Bar Association (ABA), with input from NCAJ, produced ABA Profile of the Legal Profession 2023 adopting a similar approach to counting the number of civil legal aid lawyers in the United States). In addition to setting forth NCAJ's count of civil legal aid attorneys and civil legal aid organizations, NCAJ's Attorney Access Index also reports on 25 attorney access policies (including best policies for pro bono service) that every state should adopt to ensure that people are able to get help from a lawyer when one is needed. We then look at every state to determine the rankings based on each state's attorney count in combination with how many of the selected policies it has in place.

B.        Self-Representation Access (2021). Nationwide, as many as two-thirds of all litigants appear without lawyers, often in important legal matters such as  evictions, foreclosures, debt collection cases, and child custody proceedings. Too often, these self-represented litigants experience the courts as bewildering and hostile places that offer little hope of a fair "day in court." Many courts are built on a paradigm that assumes every party is represented by a lawyer – even when their dockets are overwhelmingly populated by people who are trying to navigate the system alone. Making courts user-friendly for self-represented litigants is imperative if we are to keep the promise of equal justice for all. People should have access to legal help when they need it – but they should also be able to access a fair hearing when they appear in court without a lawyer. NCAJ has identified 56 policies that every state should adopt to make equal justice accessible to self-represented litigants. We then look at every state to determine how many of these policies they have in place. 

C.        Language Access (2021). More than 25 million litigants in the United States have limited English proficiency. For these litigants understanding what happens in a courtroom can be particularly difficult. Some are lost in telling their story – whether inside the courtroom or speaking with court clerks – without the support of a trained and qualified interpreter and without translation of official court documents. NCAJ identified 35 policies that every state should adopt to ensure language access in the justice system. We then look at every state to determine how many of these policies they have in place.

D.        Disability Access (2021). For people with disabilities, meaningful access to justice can be even more challenging than it is for others. Often, it depends on support and accommodation from the justice system. NCAJ identified 29 policies that every state should adopt to ensure access to justice for people with disabilities. We then look at every state to determine how many of these policies they have in place.

E.        Fines and Fees (2022). State and local governments use monetary fines to punish an extraordinary range of crimes, misdemeanors and violations. And those punishments are often heavy-handed. Instead of serving as a measured accountability mechanism for minor offenses, fines have become a powerful engine of economic and racial oppression. Across the country, state and local governments impose exorbitant fines defendants cannot afford. Courts routinely impose predatory and abusive user fees on top of fines—charging people for the costs of their own prosecution, their own legal defense, even their own incarceration. Later, they lock the same people up for "failing" to pay fines and fees they are unable to afford. Many officials have come to see fines and fees revenue as a politically expedient alternative to taxation, putting pressure on law enforcement and local courts to focus on extracting revenue from disadvantaged people instead of on doing justice. NCAJ has identified a set of 17 policies every state should have adopted to rein in these abuses. We then determine how many of these policies they have in place.

F.       Consumer Debt Litigation (2024).  Consumer debt litigation presents a crisis for low-income individuals and for state courts across the country. At the individual level, millions of economically struggling Americans are sued annually by creditors and debt buyers. In an overwhelming number of these lawsuits, estimated at more than 70% in some jurisdictions, those sued do not respond to or defend the suits, sometimes foregoing valid defenses. As a result, courts routinely enter default judgments against them—without reviewing the legitimacy of the claims—subjecting the individuals to burdensome post-judgment collection actions, crippling fees and interest, onerous payment plans, wage and bank account garnishment, potential imprisonment, and other destabilizing harms. States have begun to establish laws and policies to improve these proceedings, resulting in fairer treatment and outcomes for people sued, and substantially reducing new case filings. To spur ongoing progress toward greater fairness in consumer debt lawsuits, NCAJ created the Consumer Debt Litigation Index (read more about its creation in Report) which ranks the states on their progress in adopting 24 best policies selected in consultation with experts on consumer debt.

II.     Guiding Principles

The Justice Index is a valuable resource for expanding access to justice. It is used by activists, advocates, scholars, reporters, donor organizations, government officials and members of the public. A set of principles underlie its creation and guide its use:

A.        The Justice Index seeks to expand access to justice. Life in the modern world is deeply intertwined with law. The ability to access the court system and assert one’s rights can make the difference in preserving a home, keeping a family together, defending one’s life savings, keeping a job, and more. Access to justice means having a fair chance to be heard in a court or other forum that can help find a solution to the problem you face, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. Access to justice means that, at a minimum, a person should be able to learn about her rights and then give effective voice to them in a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the fair rule of law, reaches a resolution, and enforces the result.

B.        The Justice Index highlights policies that are statewide. With the exception of a few sub-benchmarks in the Fines and Fees Justice Index (pertaining to local fines and fees practices), the Justice Index tracks and highlights laws, rules, and practices, that are statewide, as contrasted with those that are local within the state. While local policies are important, the Justice Index prioritizes statewide approaches because their broader scope makes it likelier they will result in equal treatment of people similarly situated across the state, and also increases the accountability of officials charged with their enforcement. Because state court structures are highly differentiated, all states will inevitably have some policies in place in some jurisdictions that are not in place statewide. A number of states operate with more decentralized court systems that have only modest statewide administrative structures, and it can be more challenging for the more decentralized court systems to establish statewide laws, rules and practices. As a result, states with these more decentralized systems often score less well on Justice Index benchmarks. Failure to receive credit for a benchmark does not necessarily indicate that an identified policy is not in place anywhere in the state, but may indicate only that it is not in place statewide.

C.        The Justice Index is an ongoing and evolving tool. The access to justice movement is dynamic and has grown tremendously since NCAJ created the original Justice Index in 2014. Research on best policies, experiences with programs to expand access to justice, and the integration of diverse viewpoints and talents, have together helped to increase NCAJ's understanding of the policies, practices and procedures that are important for supporting access to justice. As a result, NCAJ has modified and updated the Justice Index benchmarks over the years to reflect growth in the field and to remain ambitious in vision and scope. Our consistent goal is to ensure that the Justice Index reflects the best and most current thinking on what court systems and state governments should do, now and going forward, to assure access for everyone. The Justice Index is a snapshot of the state of the art in access to justice policy formation. The engagement of court officials, attorneys, advocates and researchers on how best to measure access to justice is critical to advancing good policies across the country, and is also important in making the Justice Index the most useful tool it can be.

D.         The Justice Index Allows for Longitudinal Research, With Important Limiting Factors. It is possible and interesting to compare Justice Index figures over time, however research of this nature must proceed cautiously in light of the following factors: i) some benchmarks have been added and others removed over time; ii) some benchmarks that remained essentially the same have been reformulated to improve clarity; iii) some research methodologies have been changed (e.g., a more comprehensive approach to counting civil legal aid lawyers in 2021 may have contributed to an increase in the count in 2021, as compared to 2014 and 2016); and iv) a small number of late-identified errors in Justice Index 2016 have been corrected in the archived version of Justice Index 2016.

E.        The Justice Index relies on indexing selected policy benchmarks to promote understanding and improvement. Court systems and legal regimes are complex, employing thousands of people, handling millions of cases and applying statutes ranging from traffic laws, to housing, to family laws, to debt collection and many, many more. “Indexing” is a powerful tool that highlights a relatively small number of benchmarked features as a means of enabling people to understand and improve systems that, if considered in their entirety, would be more difficult to understand. Index tools are used to improve complex institutions and functions in many sectors of society, and the Justice Index was inspired in part by The Democracy Index: Why Our Election System Is Failing and How to Fix It (2009), in which author Heather K. Gerkin, Yale Law Professor, now Dean of Yale Law School, makes the case for indexing as a means of bringing about voting system reform (and proposes a model for voting reform that has now been implemented in the Elections Performance Index).

F.        The Justice Index highlights selected best laws, rules and practices in state justice systems. The Justice Index highlights selected best laws, rules and practices which serve as indicators of one aspect of the well-being of state justice systems. The primary focus of these indicators – or benchmarks – is on the policy landscape that has been established in and around state court systems. Each benchmark is an essential element of policy-making for access to justice, but the set of benchmarks is not encyclopedic. Rather, it is the opposite, consisting of a relatively small number of important data points that allows users to form a responsible judgment about the well-being of the whole. The Justice Index covers important and indicative policies, but we recognize that its formation and its evaluative mechanism involve judgment calls and that there are some who will disagree with some of NCAJ’s decisions. However, we believe the vast majority of experts will agree that the benchmarks included in the Justice Index are valuable to assuring access to justice. Because the Justice Index tracks selected policies, it sets forth in some instances explanatory notes about other policies adopted in some states that do not match Justice Index benchmarks but that we believe will be of interest to the public. (Note:  In the four traditional Index categories, attorney access, self-representation access, language access, and disability access, these policy explanations are denoted by a finding of "No*" without an award of partial credit; in the Fines and Fees Index, partial credit is awarded for "secondary  benchmarks" that reflect policies that are not considered as important as those reflected in the primary benchmarks; and, in the Consumer Debt Litigation Index, policy explanations are offered for all findings, whether the state's policy answer is "Yes", or "No", and with credit awarded only for findings of "Yes".) If you believe that there are key benchmarks that should be included in the Justice Index that currently are not, or if you believe a state has scored better (or more poorly) than it should, NCAJ invites communication as to why. Please email NCAJ at ncaj@fordham.edu.

G.         The Justice Index focuses on policy, not implementation or outcomes. An important goal of the Justice Index is to establish and promote policy norms for state justice systems. The Justice Index findings empower members of the public, government officials, members of the bar, and other stakeholders (potentially you, the reader) to hold state officials accountable to the state’s claimed policies and also to persuade state officials to adopt additional best policies that are contained in the Justice Index but not yet a part of the state’s policy landscape. The Justice Index also facilitates research by scholars, including on such important questions as whether selected laws, rules and practices have been implemented, and whether they are effective in influencing outcomes. Implementation and effectiveness are important areas of study, and many organizations and individuals are carrying out research efforts to study them.

H.        The Justice Index is a resource for practical changes in your state. Whether you are seeking to hold your state accountable for implementing the policies it has in place or pressing for your state to adopt policies long ago embraced by other states, the findings in the Justice Index offer insights unavailable anywhere else. Our state justice systems are working hard to deliver justice, often under difficult circumstances. The Justice Index can help. You, your court, your organization, your department in government, can use the Justice Index to advocate for better and more effective state justice systems. Justice Index findings, to date, have had a variety of impacts in different states, from establishing an access to justice commission, to increasing funding and staffing of civil legal aid organizations and of courts, to prompting changes in state laws and court rules.

I.         The Justice Index also drives change by spurring debate about which policies are best. The Justice Index is not just about the findings. It’s also about the debate over the selection of the benchmarked policies, the degree to which the policies are implemented in the states, the degree to which the policies are effective in accomplishing their goals, the degree to which newer and different policies surpass them, and more. As NCAJ and its partners plan subsequent installments of the Justice Index, we seek your input via email to ncaj@fordham.edu. What policies in your state should be incorporated in the Justice Index going forward? What methodological refinements are critical? What do you believe are the essential benchmarks for monitoring the health of state justice systems? Access to justice is important to every one of us. It is part of a duty we all owe to each other as members of our communities, our states, and our nation. The Justice Index helps us understand whether we are making good on our common obligation to ensure that the rule of law is not only enforced, but that it is just.

J.        NCAJ, alone, is responsible for the Justice Index, but grateful to many contributors. NCAJ alone is responsible for the findings in the Justice Index but could not have produced the Justice Index without the contributions of many individuals and institutions. Experts in the respective fields covered by the Justice Index consulted with NCAJ to identify and to build out the policy benchmarks that guided NCAJ's research. Many state court officials were generous with their time and knowledge in helping NCAJ collect data and understand their state’s access to justice efforts. The Justice Index is a far better picture of access to justice because of the support of experts and of court officials. NCAJ cannot thank enough the many people who helped through the years. The lawyers and others who volunteered their time to conduct the research with NCAJ on all phases of the Justice Index's creation have also been invaluable and NCAJ is indebted to them, as well as to the philanthropic foundations that have supported our work on the Justice Index. NCAJ is also indebted to certain organizations whose expert support, and independent research findings were useful resources for Justice Index researchers, as we describe in greater detail below. But all final findings were made by NCAJ. There are instances for every state in which NCAJ’s final judgment has differed from the assertion by state officials as to whether a benchmark is satisfied. The fact that a state official participated in the research process by providing input to NCAJ  is not and should not be taken as the state agreeing to or approving the final decision of NCAJ. NCAJ is solely responsible for selecting the benchmarks, designing the research process, making final findings, and producing scores and rankings.

III.    Findings

The Justice Index uses data visualizations that offer the best way to review the findings. We encourage everyone to view the data in context in those visualizations. We offer below a small set of highlights to provide perspective to visitors new to the Justice Index:

A.        Attorney Access Findings (2021). The overall scores for the states ranged from a low for Puerto Rico at 9.35 to a high for Washington, D.C., 81.00 out of a possible 100. Two benchmarks tied for status as most adopted – all 52 jurisdictions now “Recognize a right to counsel in involuntary mental health commitment cases” and also “Count and publish, by case type, the number of cases filed each year.” At the other end of the spectrum, zero states “Collect data … in … civil cases in which the state provides discretion to a decision-maker to decide whether to appoint counsel.”

Our Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count findings for each state reflect how far almost all the states are from reaching the Justice Index policy goal. Key findings include:

  • 27 states and Puerto Rico had fewer than 1 civil legal aid attorney per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty. 
  • only 6 states (plus Washington, DC) had more than 2 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people below 200% of poverty.
  • the total number of individual civil legal aid attorneys is 10,479, consisting of 5,629 LSC civil legal aid attorneys and 4,850 non-LSC civil legal aid attorneys.
  • the total number of civil legal aid organizations is 705, consisting of 129 LSC civil legal aid organizations and 576 non-LSC civil legal aid organizations.

B.        Self-Representation Findings (2021). The state scores ranged from a low for Rhode Island of 5.12 to a high for California of 91.6, out of a possible 100. The benchmark adopted by the most states, 47 in total, is “Maintain on the state judiciary website a single, easily located page that provides SRLs with links to all required forms . . . and identify all required supporting materials for all critical litigation steps . . . for a domestic violence victim to obtain an order of protection." At the other end of the spectrum, zero states have adopted the benchmark policy “Maintain computer-based document assembly self-help programs to assist litigants in the following types of actions: Defense of mortgage and tax foreclosure actions.”

C.        Language Access Findings (2021). The scores ranged from a low for South Dakota of 11.32 to a high for New Mexico of 89.31, out of a possible 100. The two most widely-adopted benchmarks – across 42 jurisdictions each – are “Require judges and court staff to offer, language services at the request of a party or when the judge or court staff are unable to understand the person or if the person does not appear to be fluent in English” and “Certify interpreters.” At the other end of the spectrum, only one state has adopted the benchmark policy that calls for including “in all notices” an “explanation in the most commonly spoken languages of how to file a complaint regarding the deficiency or poor quality of language services” and zero states have adopted the benchmark policy that calls for “Provide notice that language services will be provided without charge upon request in all brochures, publications, notices and direct written communications and in the most common languages spoken.”

D.        Disability Access Findings (2021). The states’ scores ranged from a low for South Dakota of 5 to a high for Connecticut and Hawaii, tied at 62.5 out of a possible 100. The policy adopted by the most states, 47 in total, is “Provide sign language services at no cost to the litigant, when requested by a litigant with hearing impairment or otherwise deemed necessary by the court.” At the other end of the spectrum, zero states have adopted the benchmark policy that calls for states to “Collect and publish data on the number, type, and resolution of disability access complaints, including Americans with Disabilities Act & Section 504 complaints” nor have any states adopted the policy that calls for “Where courts provide childcare services, ensure that childcare staff trained in working with children with disabilities are available when needed to allow a litigant who is a parent or care-taker of such child to access court services.”

E.        Fines & Fees Findings (2022) The states’ scores ranged from a low for Alabama of 7 to a high for Washington of 59, out of a possible 100. The policy adopted by the most states, 30 in total, was “The state does not condition restoration of voting rights on payment of fines, fees, costs, assessments, or surcharges, including any payments that are a condition of probation or parole.” At the other end of the spectrum, zero states had adopted the following two benchmarked policies that track:

  • "the state has abolished all fees, costs, surcharges and assessments in all matters involving a violation of law. This includes but is not limited to charges for: i) appointed counsel; ii) probation or parole supervision; iii) electronic monitoring; iv) diversion programs; v) services such as treatment and drug testing; and vi) costs of incarceration including room, board and health care," and
  • "the state collects and publishes key data at the state, county and municipal levels."

F.        Consumer Debt Litigation Findings (2024). The states’ scores ranged from a low for Hawaii, Louisiana and Montana, tied at 7, to a high for the District of Columbia of 53. The policy adopted by the most states, 48 in total, is “Does the state make it easier to respond to consumer debt lawsuits by never requiring defendants to have an Answer notarized before filing?" At the other end of the spectrum, zero states had adopted the following two benchmarked policies:

  • "Does the state place the pleading burden on the consumer debt plaintiff to allege in the Complaint the timeliness of each claim, including each of the following:
    a.  applicable statute of limitations;
    b.  date that claim accrued; and
    c.  date that statute of limitations expires?" and
  • "Does the state prohibit use of bail to pay the creditor in all contempt proceedings, or in other proceedings in a consumer debt lawsuit in which incarceration is a possible outcome?"

G.        Composite Index Findings. In the Composite Index, multiple combinations of findings are viewable as follows:

  • The top and bottom ranked states based on the four traditional Justice Index categories of attorney access, self-representation, language access, and disability access (2021) are District of Columbia with the overall top score at 64.80 and South Dakota at bottom with score of 11.36.
  • The top and bottom ranked states based on the traditional Justice Index findings (2021) plus the Fines and Fees findings (2022) are Maryland at top with score of 58.74, and South Dakota at bottom with score of 14.49
  • The top and bottom ranked states based on the traditional Justice Index findings (2021) plus the Consumer Debt findings (2024) are the District of Columbia with the top score at 62.44) and South Dakota at bottom with score of 11.89.

IV.  Teams and Stakeholders

To build the Justice Index, NCAJ relied on teams of volunteers, engaged state justice system officials in dialogue, consulted with subject matter experts, and enlisted many other sources of support.

A.       Law Firm and Corporate Pro Bono Teams. Commencing with the original creation of the Justice Index in 2014, NCAJ has worked closely with pro bono attorneys from multiple law firms and from corporate in house teams. The Pfizer Corporation, Deloitte and UBS companies have each provided invaluable support. See "Methodology" for a more complete discussion of the activities involved in this effort. Here is a brief description of the respective rounds of research, and of the pro bono support involved in each round:

  • 2021 Update to Traditional Four Index Categories (following initial creation of the Index in 2014, and an earlier update in 2016). Six law firms—DLA Piper, Kirkland & Ellis, Latham & Watkins, Morgan Lewis, O’Melveny & Myers, and Simpson Thacher—worked with NCAJ to research the findings for the four traditional Justice Index policy categories of attorney access, self-representation, language access, and disability access. DLA Piper also participated with NCAJ and its other partners to create the Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count. Pfizer and by Deloitte also joined in the 2021 research initiative, having also participated in the earlier efforts to create the Index in 2014 and update it in 2016 (with additional support provided by UBS for the 2016 initiative). Dozens of attorneys and many law firm staff participated in the Justice Index 2021 Research Initiative.
  • 2021 Extension and 2022 Update to Include Fines and Fees Index. Strook & Strook carried out the initial research to test the viability of the fines and fees policy benchmark formulations. Hughes Hubbard conducted the original legal research to establish the fines and fees findings in all 50 states. NCAJ updated the Fines and Fees Findings in 2022 in house, and gratefully acknowledges the substantial amount of very high quality work done by NCAJ's summer research fellow, Caroline Gillette, to complete this phase of the research.  
  • 2024 Extension to Include Consumer Debt Litigation Index. Teams volunteering from multiple law firms carried out the research for the Consumer Debt Litigation Index, including: DLA Piper, Hughes Hubbard & Reed, Morgan Lewis, Simpson Thacher, Ropes & Gray, and White & Case. Attorneys from UBS's in house counsel's department also helped to carry out the research in 2024.

B.       National Organizations. The Justice Index attributes all findings to cited sources, however NCAJ wishes additionally to recognize and thank the following institutions and organizations for their contributions to the field that served as resources to the Justice Index: the American Bar Association, Fines & Fees Justice Center, Legal Services Corporation, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, National Consumer Law Center, National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the Pro Bono Institute.

C.       Law School and Undergraduate Student Support. For the 2021, 2022, and 2024 updates and extensions of the Justice index, NCAJ received support from law students in diverse settings, including from law students and undergraduates in internship programs with Pfizer, Deloitte, and other pro bono partners. Over the years, NCAJ also has received assistance from students at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Cardozo Law School, and Fordham Law School. NCAJ extends special thanks to the talented law students who have performed essential roles in strengthening and extending the Index, with Carolyn Gillette contributing to the Fines and Fees Index update in 2022, and with Carolyn Gillette, Athena Karavasilis, Jane Kim, and Ryan Pollock all contributing to the Consumer Debt Litigation Index in 2023 and 2024.

D.        Court Officials and Justice System Supporters. NCAJ recognizes the hard work contributed to the Justice Index initiative by court officials, civil legal aid leaders, Access to Justice Commission leaders, bar leaders, IOLTA leaders, and many other justice system stakeholders. NCAJ has been privileged to participate in a very extensive dialogue about the Justice Index benchmarks and the Justice Index findings with justice system officials across the country. We see and respect the dedicated work that is being done in courts, legal aid organizations, and many other institutions, often with resources that are stretched and tested, in their efforts to assure access to justice for those who are vulnerable in our country.

E.        Foundations and Other Financial Supporters. NCAJ is grateful to its broad and growing group of individual benefactors, law firm supporters, and private sector corporate contributors who support the Justice Index through their contributions, and who have helped NCAJ to sustain its work to increase access to justice. NCAJ has received support for the various parts and iterations of the Justice Index from philanthropic foundations that have included: Arnold Ventures, the Bernard F. and Alva B. Gimbel Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and The Pew Charitable Trust. The views expressed in the Justice Index are NCAJ's  and do not necessarily reflect the views of those who have so generously supported this project.

F.        Consulting Experts. NCAJ is grateful to the many experts who consulted with NCAJ on a volunteer basis to help NCAJ develop and refine the policy benchmarks, and also appreciates that some organizations developed data sets that were valuable to Justice Index 2021 researchers when carrying out the research to support the findings in the Justice Index.

     1) Attorney Access Benchmarks (2021). The Attorney Access Index contains several sub-categories of benchmarks specific to civil right to counsel, pro bono policies, additional policies for promoting access to attorneys, and a civil legal aid attorney count. NCAJ consulted with experts and relied on researchers for these Index sub-categories as follows:

  • Civil Right to Counsel Benchmarks: NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of civil right to counsel benchmarks with two leaders of the civil right to counsel movement, John Pollock, Executive Director, National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and Russell Engler, Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Legal Programs, New England Law | Boston, and also consulted with the Steering Committee of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel of the Choices (NCAJ’s executive director, David Udell, is a member of the Committee). Justice Index 2021 researchers also relied on the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel’s “Status Map” as a valuable resource when carrying out research for Justice Index 2021.
  • Pro Bono Policy Benchmarks. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of pro bono benchmarks with Eve Runyon, President and CEO of the Pro Bono Institute, Cheryl Zalenski, Counsel, Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service, American Bar Association, and Latonia Haney Keith, then the Associate Dean of Academics, Concordia University School of Law. Professor Keith also authored a law review paper on the subject of Justice Index criteria for tracking and promoting pro bono. NCAJ also co-led (with these experts) attendees at sessions of the Equal Justice Conference jointly hosted by the National Legal Aid & Defender Association and the American Bar Association in discussion about ideas and opinions on the pro bono policies to include the Justice Index. Justice Index 2021 researchers also relied on the Pro Bono Institute’s Corporate Pro Bono report, and on sources at the American Bar Association’s website as valuable resources when carrying out research for Justice Index 2021.
  • Additional Attorney Access Policy Benchmarks. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of attorney access policy benchmarks with the following experts Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Martha Bergmark, Executive Director, Voices for Civil Justice; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Danielle Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Alan W. Houseman, President, Consortium for the National Equal Justice Library; Karen A. Lash, Practitioner-in-Residence, American University Justice Programs Office; and, Lauren Sudeall, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of Center for Access to Justice, Georgia State University College of Law.
  • Civil Legal Aid Attorney Count Benchmarks. The Attorney Access Index counts the number of the civil legal aid attorneys in the United States, and also the corporate identity of the organizations whose attorneys are counted. In considering the formulation of a definition of civil legal aid lawyer and civil legal aid organization, in creating a database from previously developed databases, and in determining how best to connect with civil legal aid organizations through the use of a survey instrument and other approaches, NCAJ consulted with Shubi Deoras, Counsel/Director, Resource Center for Access to Justice Initiatives, American Bar Association; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Carlos Manjarrez, Chief Data Officer, Office of Data Governance and Analysis, Legal Services Corporation; Don Saunders, Senior Vice President, Policy, National Legal Aid & Defender Association; Jason T. Vail, Director, Division for Legal Services, Chief Counsel, Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defense, American Bar Association.

     2) Self-Representation Access Benchmarks (2021). The Self-Representation Access Index tracks 56 self-representation policies that include Access to Justice Commissions, plain language requirements, the use of common forms, options to waive filing fees. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the self-representation access benchmarks with: Katherine Alteneder, Executive Director, Self-Represented Litigants Network; Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Martha Bergmark, Executive Director, Voices for Civil Justice; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Danielle Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Claudia Johnson, Program Manager, Law Help Interactive, Pro Bono Net; Karen A. Lash, Practitioner-in-Residence, American University Justice Programs Office; Lauren Sudeall, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of Center for Access to Justice, Georgia State University College of Law; Margaret Hagan, Director of Stanford Legal Design Lab.

     3) Language Access Benchmarks (2021). The Language Access Index tracks 35 language access policies that include a guarantee of free interpreting services, the use of certified interpreters where available, translation of court forms into commonly used languages, and notice of free interpreting services at all points of contact with the public. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the language access benchmarks with: Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Gillian Dutton, Associate Professor of Lawyering Skills, Seattle University School of Law; April Faith-Slaker, Associate Director of Research Innovations, Access to Justice Lab, Harvard Law School; Danielle Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Lauren Sudeall, Associate Professor and Faculty Director of Center for Access to Justice, Georgia State University College of Law.

     4) Disability Access Benchmarks (2021). The Disability Access Index tracks 29 disability access policies that include creation of a strategic disability access plan, provision of sign language interpreting services without charge, preferential use of certified interpreters, training for judges and court staff on working with people with disabilities, and access for service animals without prior approval. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the disability access benchmarks with: Ruth Lowenkron and Maureen Belluscio, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest; Sandra McAlister Ambrozy, Former Senior Fellow, Civil Legal Justice, The Kresge Foundation; Kevin M. Cremin, Director of Litigation for Disability and Aging Rights, Mobilization for Justice, Inc.; Bruce J. Gitlin, Executive Director, New York Center for Law and Justice; Danielle Elyce Hirsch, Principal Court Management Consultant, National Center for State Courts; Carla Villarreal López, Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation International Policy Fellow, supporting the mandate of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

     5) Fines & Fees (2022). The Fines and Fees Index tracks 17 primary benchmarks, and 43 secondary benchmarks, examining whether states have abolished “user fees,” limited recovery of fines to what a person is able to afford, eliminated suspensions of drivers' licenses and voting rights for failure to pay, adopted policies for data collection and transparency, and reduced the burdens imposed by fines and fees practices during the pandemic. NCAJ consulted on the selection and formation of the fines and fees benchmarks with 19 experts and activists, 18 of whom agreed to be identified here, as follows: Samuel Brooke, Deputy Legal Director, Economic Justice Project, Southern Poverty Law Center; Nusrat Choudhury, Legal Director, ACLU-Illinois; Beth Colgan, Professor of Law, UCLA Law School; Jessica Feierman, Senior Managing Director, Juvenile Law Center; Lisa Foster, Co-Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center; Sarah Geraghty, Managing Attorney, Impact Litigation, Southern Center for Human Rights; Beth Huebner, Professor, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri-St. Louis; Juliene James, Director of Criminal Justice, Arnold Ventures; Matt Menendez, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice; Mitali Nagrecha, Director, National Criminal Justice Debt Initiative, Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Policy Program; Adeola Ogunkeyede, Legal Director, Civil Rights and Racial Justice Program, Justice and Legal Aid Center; Ricard Pochkhanawala, formerly Research Attorney, Institute for Justice; Jeff Selbin, Clinical Professor of Law and Faculty Director, Policy Advocacy Clinic, UC Berkeley Law School; Abby Shafroth, Attorney, National Consumer Law Center; Anne Stuhldreher, Director, The Financial Justice Project, Office of the Treasurer for the City and County of San Francisco; Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid and Defender Association; Joanna Weiss, Co-Director, Fines and Fees Justice Center; Carson Whitelemons, Criminal Justice Manager, Arnold Ventures.

     6) Consumer Debt Litigation Index (2024). The Consumer Debt Litigation Index tracks 24 benchmarks, examining whether states have taken steps to help people know when they are being sued and where to find help, make it easier for people to respond to a lawsuit, require the creditor to provide evidence of a valid debt claim, require consumer debt collection actions to be brought within a reasonable time of non-payment, prohibit attorneys' fee shifting, and cap interest, reduce the likelihood that consumer debt collection actions leave people homeless, or perpetuate a cycle of debt, eliminate debtors' prison, prevent government from undue intervention on behalf of creditor, and collect data to improve the system.

In creating the Consumer Debt Litigation Index, NCAJ conducted an extensive literature review and consulted with experts in the field to identify the major problems for unrepresented defendants in debt collection litigation, as well as the most promising policy solutions to increase fairness in the litigation process and outcomes. NCAJ brought together some experts in an expert advisory group to help with the process of selecting best policies, formulating benchmarks, and assigning weights to benchmarks:

  • Advocates: Caroline Coffey, Mobilization for Justice (NY); April Kuehnhoff, National Consumer Law Center; Lisa Stifler, NC General Assembly, former Director for State Policy, Center for Responsible Lending); 
  • Scholars: Dalie Jimenez, Professor at University of California, Irvine, School of Law; Claire Johnson Raba, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois, Chicago, School of Law;
  • Court Officials: Nathanael Player, Court Self-help Official, Utah Courts; Katie Hennessey, National Center for State Courts, former Counsel to Michigan State Bar;
  • Consultants: Neil Steinkamp of Stout; Jeffrey Reichman, January Advisors).

NCAJ also consulted with additional experts, including: Judge Ed Havas, Pro Temps Judge (volunteer), Small Claims Court, Utah; Bonnie Hough, Principal Managing Attorney (retired), Judicial Council of California’s Center for Families, Children & Courts; Frederick Wherry, Professor of Sociology, Princeton Debt Collection Project details); David Reid, General Counsel, Receivables Management International (RMI); Don Maurice, Counsel (to RMAI), Maurice Wutscher Law Firm.

NCAJ also is indebted to Pamela Bookman, Professor of Law, Fordham University Law School for providing feedback to NCAJ on preliminary findings established for the Consumer Debt Litigation Index.

Last, NCAJ recognizes the unique contribution of national policy expert April Kuehnhoff of the National Consumer Law Center who shared insights with NCAJ during the many phases of the project and who also arranged for NCAJ’s  pro bono attorney researchers to obtain free access to NCLC’s excellent and unique publications, including No Fresh Start 2023, which were so useful in carrying out our work to build the Index.

Conclusion

We hope this About the Justice Index Essay helps visitors to the Justice Index understand the scope, principles, contributors, and other essential elements of the Justice Index. Please also see Methodology for more on the research strategies and activities leading to the creation of the Justice Index, including its research initiatives in 2021, 2022, 2024. The views expressed in the Justice Index are those of the National Center for Access to Justice, and do not necessarily reflect the views of those who have so generously supported this project, including Arnold Ventures, the Gimbel Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and The Pew Charitable Trust. At NCAJ, we are enormously grateful to all who have contributed to the creation of the Justice Index and to its capacity to help increase access to justice for all.