In response to the justice gap, courts and communities across the United States are implementing new policy models intended to help expand access to justice.These models are important in light of the harms posed to individuals and families when proceeding without counsel in matters that may include, among others, eviction and foreclosure proceedings; domestic violence, divorce, child support and child custody proceedings; debt collection proceedings; and, criminal justice system proceedings.
The new models include new roles for judges and for court officials, new “self help centers”, new computer kiosks with automated forms, new “e-filing options”, and new roles for “non-lawyers” (including “navigators”, “court advocates”, “community based paralegals”, “limited licensed legal technicians”). The new models also include “a civil right to counsel”, sometimes referred to as “civil Gideon.”
NCAJ is working on multiple fronts to support selected new models for access to justice:
- The Justice Index – NCAJ has identified selected best models for access to justice in the Justice Index, www.justiceindex.org. The Justice Index is NCAJ’s data-intensive online resource that ranks states based on whether they have adopted best models for access to justice. Selection of models for inclusion in the Justice Index is based on NCAJ’s knowledge, the recommendations of leading institutions, the guidance of leading experts, and the early findings of a growing field of social science evaluative research focused on models for access to justice. Selected best models are posted in the Justice Index accompanied by citation information to facilitate their replication in new jurisdictions. To visit and use the Justice Index, click www.justiceindex.org. See also Justice Index on NCAJ’s web site.
- Developing New Models – NCAJ has supported and contributed to the creation of new models for access to justice. NCAJ’s Executive Director David Udell is an appointed member of the “Committee on Non-Lawyers and the Justice Gap”, established as an advisory committee to the Chief Judge of the State of New York”, and is also the chair of its Subcommittee on Legislative and Regulatory Reform which has authored draft legislation that would establish new roles for attorney-supervised non-lawyer “advocates” in housing eviction cases and in consumer credit debt collection cases. He is also a founding member of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and a founding member of the Coalition’s national Steering Committee.
- Tracking the movement to expand access to justice – In addition to NCAJ’s work on the Justice Index, NCAJ also maintains an overview of the civil legal aid movement, Taking Stock of the Civil Legal Aid Movement (4-5-16), also published as The Civil Legal Aid Movement: 15 Initiatives that are Increasing Access to Justice in the United States (NY Law School, IMPACT: Collected Essays on Access to Justice (Vol. 2, 2016), and writes about the relationship between the global and US access to justice movements (3-16-17).
- Research on New Models – NCAJ also conducts and supports research on new models for civil legal aid. Research is at the core of NCAJ’s work, and is essential to distinguish the models that work effectively to assure access to justice from those that don’t work as effectively. See Research on NCAJ’s web site.
- On September 26, NCAJ Executive Director David Udell joined more than 80 people to testify in support of Intro 214-A, a bill introduced by City Council Members Mark Levine and Vanessa Gibson that would create a right to civil counsel for low-income New Yorkers facing eviction, ejectment, and foreclosure.
- Richard Zorza, David Udell, New Roles for Nonlawyers to Increase Access to Justice, Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. XLI, pp. 1259-1315 (2014)
- David Udell, NY City Bar Association, Committee on Professional Responsibility, Issues Report Urging New Roles for Nonlawyers to Narrow the Justice Gap (June 20, 2013)
- David Udell, NY Court System Publishes 2012 Report of Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York (December 3, 2012)