News: The National Center for Access to Justice revised The Justice Index, www.justiceindex.org, on November 13, 2014 to reflect additional research and to respond to comments and corrections received from officials and others in 21 states following its initial publication on February 25, 2014. The new findings, which were finalized on November 21, 2014, changed the rankings for many of the states, and we encourage visitors to explore the site to see how the new results inform discussion about access to justice in your state and region, and in the nation as a whole.
Behind the News: The Justice Index is NCAJ’s online resource in which data is presented that reveals the performance of state-based justice systems in assuring access to justice. The Justice Index examines four elements of state-based justice systems – number of lawyers for the poor, self-represented litigants assistance, language assistance, and disability assistance – relying on our knowledge that these elements have been treated over time as important by the courts, the bar, the legal aid bar, good government organizations and social justice organizations. The Justice Index shows the states that are leaders overall and those that are lagging behind. It shows where best practices are present and where they are absent. The Justice Index makes it easy for you to learn what justice systems are accomplishing in your own state, neighboring states, and across the country so that you (and everyone) can take steps to replicate the best practices for assuring access to justice.
Findings. Here are some of the findings from The Justice Index showing the extent to which states have adopted certain best practices for assuring access to justice:
- 84% of states prohibit courts from charging money for sign language interpreting services
- 78% of states require the use of courtroom interpreters who are “certified”
- 59% of states authorize court clerks and other staff to provide information to people who are not represented by counsel
- 53% of states authorize judges to take steps to help assure fair treatment of people who are not represented by counsel
- 43% of states require the use of interpreters at clerk’s desks (outside the courtroom)
- 29 states have fewer than 1 civil legal aid lawyer per every 10,000 people in the state who have low incomes.
Dialogue. While we are in touch with officials and other contacts in many states, we have not heard from access to justice leaders everywhere. It is likely, in fact it is certain, that judges, court administrators, attorneys, advocates and litigants will disagree with some of the information on the site, the weightings we have assigned and the relative rankings that result from NCAJ’s work. That’s understandable, and in a larger sense it is good. Our goal is to encourage data-based dialogue about the effectiveness of access to justice initiatives around the country. While we will not be doing another interim update, we will shortly be reaching out to court systems and access to justice leaders around the country with a new survey for The Justice Index and in so doing we will address as many questions and concerns that have been brought to our attention as we are able.
Reaction. Reaction to The Justice Index has been enthusiastic. Initial news coverage is available here, https://ncforaj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/National-Law-Journal-3-3-14-Justice-Index.pdf. Statements of access to justice leaders are collected here, https://ncforaj.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Justice-Index-Experts-Comment-3-3-14.pdf, and include the following:
- New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, in the New York Law Journal said: The Justice Index is an “extraordinarily useful tool” that shows “there are certain commonalities in different states’ access issues that we can measure and compare through empirical analysis.”
- Jim Silkenat, then President of the American Bar Association, said: “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.”
- Jo-Ann Wallace, President and CEO, National Legal Aid & Defender Association, said: “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.”
The Team. NCAJ is grateful to the many pro bono supporters and partners who helped to build The Justice Index:
- The Pfizer Legal Alliance (PLA) led the research to build The Justice Index.
- A team from Skadden Arps carried out the bulk of the research, including the substantial work to research and revise the data now included in the November 12, 2014 edition of The Justice Index.
- A team from Kirkland & Ellis and a team from UBS helped with the research. Law students from Cardozo School of Law and University of Pennsylvania School of Law contributed as well.
- Deloitte analyzed the data, calculated the indices to rate state performance, 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.
Feedback. The Justice Index is part of a national and international, conversation on the use of metrics to improve access to justice, and we welcome feedback on the results of our research, our choice of criteria, and the weights we applied in creating the rankings. Email us at email@example.com.
Post Publication Clarification: This post was published on November 13, 2014 and then updated on November 22, 2014 to state in the headline and in the first paragraph that the data were “finalized on November 21, 2014.” In stating the date on which the data were finalized, the post is referring to the fact The Justice Index now includes a few pieces of data that had been omitted when the revised data were posted on November 13, 2014.
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