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, court officials, “self help centers”, computer kiosks with automated forms, “e-filing options”, and “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 develop, evaluate, and support selected new models for assuring access to justice:
- 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.
- Civil Right to Counsel – NCAJ is a founding supporter and member of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and a founding member of the National Coalition’s national Steering Committee.
- Non-lawyers – NCAJ is supporting initiatives to develop and test new models for access to justice, including new roles for non-lawyers. On September 23, 2019, NCAJ filed comments in support of the California State Bar’s recommendation 2.0, which proposes to test and develop new roles for non-lawyers (The California State Bar is collecting and posting all comments here). NCAJ’s comments highlight the importance, as a matter of legal empowerment, enabling low income and vulnerable people to turn to non-lawyers as an option in low income communities where private attorneys are too often both unavailable and unaffordable. NCAJ’s Executive Director David Udell served as an appointed member of the “Committee on Non-Lawyers and the Justice Gap”, established by the Chief Judge of the State of New York” where he helped to develop the “Navigator” concept that has been shown to be successful in New York, and where he also served as chair of its Subcommittee on Legislative and Regulatory Reform which authored model legislation that, if adopted as law, would establish attorney-supervised non-lawyer “advocates” in housing eviction cases and in consumer credit debt collection cases.
- Civil Justice Reform Movement – 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).
- Civil Justice Research – On July 23, 2018, the National Science Foundation (NSF)announced a new award to promote AtJ scholarship, naming Rebecca Sandefur (MacArthur Fellow) as principal investigator, and naming Alyx Mark & David Udell co-principal investigators.The focus of the effort will be on growing the field of AtJ scholarship and building an agenda for AtJ research by identifying scholars doing pertinent work in diverse fields, and by bringing the scholars together for a intensive workshop in June 2019. NSF explains: “This project will consist of a census-style survey of academic disciplines engaged in access to justice scholarship and an intensive workshop. It is designed to build a research field and an evidence base by identifying emerging access to justice researchers, coordinating collaboration across academic disciplines, and producing a research agenda and original scholarship to give access to justice research the vigor and definition of a field.To learn more about the project, see the NSF’s announcement.
- New Models for Judiciary, Engaged & Neutral Judging – The National Science Foundation supported a research project to examine whether “engaged and neutral judging” can improve judicial review of proposed stipulations of settlement in eviction proceedings in the New York City Housing Court. The final paper, now published in the Journal of Forensic Psychology: Research and Practice under the title Perceptions of Access to Justice among Unrepresented Tenants: An Examination of Procedural Justice and Deservingness in New York City Housing Court observes that tenants hold judges in high regard even before the introduction of the model of engaged and neutral judging , and that the tenants’ perceptions of proceedings as fair are not necessarily linked to whether outcomes are, in fact, fair. Authors on the paper in addition to David Udell, executive director of NCAJ, are social scientists Larry Heuer, Barnard College; Angela Jones, Texas State University (previously a post-graduate fellow at Barnard); and Steve Penrod, John Jay College of Criminal Justice. To learn more about the project, see the NSF abstract and the final Journal article.
- 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)