What We Know and Need to Know about the State of “Access to Justice” Research

In the U.S., legal researchers, unlike medical professionals, do not have the benefit of drawing funds from a federal agency like the National Institute of Health, which provides more than $30B in grants annually to medical researchers. As such, systemic efforts to collect data about the health of legal systems have been lacking.

There has been somewhat of a renaissance in access to justice research in recent years, which Elizabeth Chambliss, Renee Newman Knake and Robert L. Nelson explore in their paper entitled, “Introduction: What We Know and Need to Know About the State of ‘Access to Justice’ Research”.

At the forefront of this access to justice renaissance there has been a collection of 16 seminal White Papers published through the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. According to Chambliss et al, the collection has two primary goals:

  1.  To inform the Commission and its audience about the facts on the ground by presenting the most recent research on issues of relevance to the Commission
  2. To promote the development of shared conversations among academic researchers, legal services providers, and legal services regulators

To use the words of Chambliss et al, “taken together, these sixteen White Papers offer a rich, empirically grounded survey of ‘what we know and need to know’ about the future of legal services.”

For information about the various White Paper topics and themes as well as other access to justice initiatives, view the Report .

Developing a Financially Sustainable Legal Service Model: Law and Development Partnership Report

One of the most pressing access to justice challenges facing low and middle-income countries is being able to offer basic legal services in a financially viable manner. As a means of addressing this problem, the UK-based Law and Development Partnership recently wrote a report entitled “Developing a portfolio of financially sustainable scalable basic legal service models.”

Looking at 17 countries as case studies, the report calculates the costs of taking particular interventions to scale by factoring variables such as population size and delivery costs. In terms of its methodological approach, the report seeks to answer three key questions:

  1. What do we know about the unit costs of basic legal services and how can we calculate them;
  2. How can scaled up legal services be financed sustainably; and
  3. What are the political conditions that enable justice models to be taken to scale?

Beyond suggesting increases in government funding, the report looks at a variety of other options to scale up delivery, drawing on examples from health and education sectors as well as private sector sources. Some of the report’s key recommendations include:

  • Using legal needs surveys more widely in justice sector interventions to gain a better understanding of basic legal services demand
  • Piloting more innovative financing mechanisms and modalities, as well partnerships between donors and private investors to open up funding streams
  • Incorporating the collection of a broader range of cost and benefit data in basic legal service programing to asses the value for money of provision

View a brief description of the report or read a full version of the “Developing a portfolio of financially sustainable, scalable basic legal service models” report.

CALL FOR PROPOSALS: Connect, Create, Communicate – Public Legal Education and the Access to Justice Movement

On October 21 and 22, LawConnect Ontario (a collaboration of CLEO and OJEN) and The Action Group on Access to Justice (TAG) will be hosting a conference on public legal education and information (PLEI) and access to justice. The conference, “Connect, Create, Communicate 2016”, welcomes participation from members of the legal profession, community workers, students, and others working in access to justice and PLEI.

TAG and LawConnect Ontario invite proposals for workshop sessions that will engage the public on issues pertaining to PLEI and Access to Justice.

Proposals can be submitted using the web form available at http://bit.ly/1Pa0PgX. All proposals must be received by 6pm on Monday June 27, 2016.

For more information, visit: http://bit.ly/TAGLCnnct-Proposals
Questions and comments can be directed to: http://info@lawconnectontario.ca.


Rise Women’s Legal Centre Opens in Vancouver

A new access to justice initiative has opened in Vancouver: The Rise Women’s Legal Centre.

The Centre is a full service nonprofit law firm focused on family law, and is a partnership between West Coast LEAF and the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law.  It is the “first of its kind in BC and will focus on providing women with much-needed legal representation in family law and related areas”.

For more information visit: http://www.westcoastleaf.org/2016/05/24/rise-womens-legal-centre-open-today/.

The Cost of Justice in Canada: Overview Report, Methodology and Survey

The Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ) has released several new publications from their Cost of Justice research project, which examines the cumulative social and economic costs associated with everyday legal problems. Stemming from this project are the following recent publications:

1)   “The Everyday Legal Problems and the Costs of Justice in Canada: Overview Report”

Gathering data from over 3,000 survey respondents, the Overview Report, available on the CFCJ website here, looks at the public’s experience with the justice system and the various costs (ex: monetary, physical and emotional) that it imposes.

2)   “Design And Conduct of the Cost of Justice Survey” 

This publication sets out the specific methodology used by the CFCJ research team to collate the survey data. The method of sampling, data collection, and data processing are discussed at length here.

3)   “Everyday Legal Problems and Cost of Justice: Survey” 

The Cost of Justice Survey was structured to determine the number of respondents who had experienced 84 specific legal problems. The 84 problems were grouped into 17 types, with a section of the survey being devoted to each type. The Survey can be accessed here.

4)   “Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada: Fact Sheet”

This (updated and revised) Fact Sheet summarizes some of the key findings arising out of the Overview Report. The Fact Sheet can be accessed here.

Access to Justice in the Northwest Territories: Survey Results, Inventory Project and Terms of Reference

In response to growing access to justice concerns in the Northwest Territories, the NWT Access to Justice Committee recently surveyed 36 justice stakeholders to uncover specific access to justice barriers and potential responses to address them.

Survey Results:
The survey respondents included resident lawyers, non-resident lawyers, court workers staff, crown witness coordinators, and social workers. In addition to selecting from several listed potential barriers, respondents were invited to include and elaborate upon non-listed barriers.

The top 3 access to justice barriers as identified by respondents all pertained to the issue of self-representation:

1)   Ineligibility of middle-income litigants for Legal Aid

2)   Inadequate resources for self-represented litigants

3)   Difficulty finding local lawyers with requisite legal expertise

Some of the other identified barriers were more of a systemic nature, including the inaccessibility of courtroom facilities and services for persons with disabilities, intimidating courtroom formalities, and a lack of adequate legal education.

For a more comprehensive view of the access to justice barriers and creative solutions offered by survey respondents see: Survey results report- April 21.

Inventory Project:
Commissioned by the NWT Access to Justice Committee, Yellowknife consultant Aggie Brockman recently produced an inventory to provide litigants and justice professionals with a comprehensive listing of legal services information. The inventory is arranged alphabetically by legal problem type (ex: Elder Abuse, Employment, Family Violence, Privacy, Youth…etc.) and contains web links, email addresses and phone numbers for convenient access. In order make the inventory as user-friendly as possible, Aggie received structural suggestions and input from 35 project participants (all justice stakeholders). The Inventory Project Report explains how the project was conducted with some insightful quotes and anecdotes from project participants. Furthermore, the actual inventory can be accessed  here: Access to Justice – Inventory and Gaps- 2016.

Terms of Reference:
From an access to justice perspective, there are many distinct challenges facing the NWT including geographic, cultural and language barriers as well as infrastructural barriers. The aim of the NWT Access to Justice Committee (“Committee”) is to identify the barriers that impede access and to recommend firm responses to address them. To see the Terms of Reference that characterize the purpose, structure, and scope of the NWT Access to Justice Committee, click here: TOR – Committee – Final. Also, to view the National Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Law’s (“NAC”) Final Report upon which the Committee will make its recommendations click here.