The New York Law Journal has just published an excellent article on the Navigator program (full article accessible for free) in part of the Brooklyn Housing Court and part of the Bronx court dealing with consumer credit matters. As described in the article:
The pilot program permits trained nonlawyer volunteers to help litigants fill out paperwork, organize documents and even accompany litigants to court appearances where, upon court direction, they can answer factual questions such as which benefits a person has applied for and whether a building is rent regulated. They may also direct litigants to legal service programs or help centers where court-employed attorneys give legal and procedural information to unrepresented parties.
Navigators are prohibited from giving legal advice.
After describing the help given to one individual, the article reports on the anxieties of certain of the bar, and the state bar president’s quote that: “If navigators can be helpful to people who don’t have, and can’t afford, a lawyer and are not engaged in practicing law” as the administrative order instructs “then we’re open to see how it works in practice,”
I encourage everyone to read the full article, that explores the questions the bar has in more detail, is specific about what navigators are permitted to do, explores the reaction of tenant advocates, and discusses Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern Fisher’s long term perspective and willingness to learn from the pilot.
The overall sense I took is that the program seems to be working, but that certain of the profession are anxious. In short, the article is well summarized by the headline: Navigator’ Program Launches; Skeptics ‘Wait and See’.
Disclosure: I am on the Committee on Non-Lawyers and the Justice Gap, established by Chief Judge Lippman, that recommended the pilot. On a personal level, I am very encouraged by the apparent success of the launch, and confident that as so often with access to justice innovations, the skeptics will find the changes much less disruptive than they fear. I hope that more detailed evaluation of such programs will let us craft them for optimum effect.
Special thanks to the New York Law Journal for making this important article generally available to all.