In response to the justice gap, communities across the United States are trying new policies to help expand access to justice.These models can make a difference for people without counsel in matters that 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”, and “limited licensed legal technicians”). The new models also include “a civil right to counsel” in matters affecting basic human needs, 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 – As part of a comprehensive effort to improve the prospects for vulnerable people in the American justice system, NCAJ has identified selected best model policies for access to justice, determined where they are present (and absent) and posted the findings in the Justice Index, www.justiceindex.org. The Justice Index is a data-intensive online resource that ranks the states, compared to one another, on whether they have adopted these best policies. Selection of policies for inclusion in the Justice Index is based on NCAJ’s knowledge, the recommendations of leading institutions, the guidance of leading experts, and the findings of a growing field of social science evaluative research focused on policies for increasing access to justice. Selected best policies are posted in the Justice Index (accompanied by citation information) to make it easy for reformers and officials to replicate them in their own states. 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 believes that people should have a right to counsel in civil matters affecting basic human needs. NCAJ is a founding supporter and active member of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and of the National Steering Committee for the National Coalition.
- Legal Empowerment through Legal Aid Beyond Lawyers – In addition to the right to counsel in matters affecting basic human needs, NCAJ believes that people should be able to obtain legal aid from qualified individuals who are not lawyers, and should also be able to rely on useful technologies for legal help. NCAJ favors modifying laws that, with the goal of prohibiting the unauthorized practice of law by nonlawyers, sweep too broadly, making it impossible for people to obtain the help they need. NCAJ has filed comments in support of proposed reforms in the California State Bar’s 2019-20 notice and comment process, which has led to a recommendation to create a “regulatory sandbox,” which if finalized would allow for evaluation of new models of civil legal aid. Chris Albin-Lackey, NCAJ’s Legal & Policy Director, authored California Should Embrace Non-lawyer Provider2 (10-20-19), explaining NCAJ’s support for changes in California. NCAJ’s Executive Director David Udell, as a member of the “Committee on Non-Lawyers and the Justice Gap”, established by the Chief Judge of the State of New York, helped develop the innovative “Navigator” model which was evaluated as successful in New York. Udell co-authored with Richard Zorza New Roles for Non-lawyers to Increase Access to Justice (March 2016). Udell chaired a subcommittee authoring, Roles for Non-Legal Practitioners (2013), a report endorsing UPL rules reform published by the Committee on Professional Responsibility of the NYC Bar Association.
- 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)