National Center for Access to Justice

National Center for Access to Justice Launches Justice Index

The National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) has launched the Justice Index – a new online tool providing a visual and data-based picture of the quality of access to justice in state justice systems.  The Justice Index is live at www.justiceindex.org.  The Justice Index has been profiled in the National Law Journal, here.

The Justice Index uses cutting edge interactive map technology to show geographical distribution of best practices for access to justice.  It is fundamentally a roadmap for reform that all stakeholders — including courts, access to justice commissions, bar associations, legislatures, executive branch officials, legal services programs — can rely on to increase access to justice in the states.

David Udell, executive director of NCAJ, stated, “The Justice Index is a wake-up call to state leaders about the importance of assuring that state justice systems have the resources and strategies in place that are necessary to deliver on the promise of equal justice.”

Initial reaction to the Justice Index has been enthusiastic.

  • New York’s Chief Judge, Jonathan Lippman, in the New York Law Journal, praised the Justice Index as an “extraordinarily useful tool”, explaining, “It shows that there are certain commonalities in different states’ access issues that we can measure and compare through empirical analysis.”
  • Jim Silkenat, President, American Bar Association, stated:  “The new Justice Index meets a real need.  It provides, on a state-by-state basis, the same kind of impartial analysis on access to justice issues that the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index provides for countries internationally.   It shows where the most serious gaps exist and points the way to remedying those gaps in the future.”  Experts’ reactions to the Justice Index are collected here.
  • Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, stated:  “In our work, we recognize the importance of using data to help the public understand the importance of access to quality representation in civil and criminal matters, and to aid in our advocacy for a fair, effective justice system. We see the development of the Justice Index by the National Center for Access to Justice as a breakthrough tool.”  Experts’ reactions to the Justice Index are collected here.
  • In the profile of the Justice Index in the National Law Journal, advocates in  best and worst performing states agreed that the Justice Index will help to increase access to justice in the states.

The Justice Index examines the presence, or absence, in state justice systems of best practices for:  i) providing attorneys for people in poverty; ii) providing interpreting and translation  for people with limited English proficiency; iii) providing support for people with disabilities; and iv) providing support for people proceeding without lawyers.  The Justice Index’s key findings include:

  • Some states have fewer than one civil legal aid attorney per 10,000 people who are poor while there are 40 attorneys for every 10,000 people across the nation.
  • 24 percent of states do not have a rule authorizing court clerks to provide informational assistance to people who have no lawyers.
  • 45 percent of state judiciary web sites do not provide information in any language other than English.
  • 25 percent of the states don’t yet assure quality by using language interpreters that are “certified.”
  • 22 percent of states don’t prohibit judges from charging a deaf or hearing impaired person for the cost of a sign language interpreter.
  • 47 percent of states do not authorize judges to take steps to ensure that unrepresented individuals are fairly heard.

The Justice Index  provides two types of overall scores allowing comparisons of states to one another:  i) a composite score shows the overall performance of each state in all categories of data combined; ii) a categorical score shows the overall performance of each state in each individual category.

NCAJ guided the development of the Justice Index as an unprecedented collaboration among multiple pro bono supporters:

  • The Pfizer Legal Alliance (PLA) led the research for the Justice Index.
  • A team of 10 attorneys and staff from Skadden Arps (a PLA firm) carried out the research to produce the first installment of the Justice Index.
  • Additionally, teams of law students from Cardozo School of Law and University of Pennsylvania School of Law contributed to the research.
  • UBS also helped to carry out the research for the Justice Index.
  • Deloitte analyzed the data, calculated the indices, and deployed the latest visualization tools to display the results in the Justice Index.
  • MSDS, the NYC based web design firm, built the Justice Index web site that houses the data, making it available to the public.

For the full results of the Justice Index visit www.justiceindex.org.  To learn more about the National Center for Access to Justice, or to sign up for future blog posts or our newsletter, visit: www.ncforaj.org.