The Emerging Access to Justice Consensus Among Courts, Bar and Legal Aid and the Implications for Legal Aid Leadership

This article is re-posted with permission from the Management Information Exchange Journal.

By Richard Zorza, Esq.

An emerging consensus about how to solve the access to justice problem is laying the groundwork for dramatic progress in the next few years. The four key elements of the consensus — court simplification and services, bar flexibility, legal aid efficiency and availability, and systems of triage and assignment, have developed from the practical challenges that the constituencies face in doing their jobs. 

That the elements of consensus have grown from shared experience at both national and local levels is one reason that improvements in one part of the system support and multiply the effect of changes in other parts of the system. For example, reducing costs of litigation by making changes in the courts means both that fewer people need counsel to obtain access and that the cost of access to counsel when needed is reduced. One potentially good impact of Turner v. Rogers is that it may emphasize how court innovations are a critical part of the overall solution. The three areas of consensus are:

  • Court Simplification and Services. Courts must become institutions that are easy-to-access, regardless of whether the litigant has a lawyer. This can be made possible by the simplification of how the court operates, and by the provision of informational access services and tools to those who must navigate its procedures.
  • Bar Service Innovation. The bar must, through the expansion of flexible services such as discrete task representation and pro bono, continue to become more cost effective and innovative in reaching and providing access services to both poor and middle income households.
  • Availability and Cost-Effectiveness of Subsidized Counsel. For those matters and individuals where subsidized experienced legal counsel is needed to obtain access, we must make sure that those services are actually available through pro bono, non-profit, and other subsidized methods, and that they are provided in the most flexible and cost effective way.

There is one additional area as to which there are significant hints of agreement from all the major constituencies:

  • Triage and Referral. To take full advantage of these changes, there must be some system that ensures that litigants obtain the services they need to access most efficiently and effectively.
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