Finally Some Real National Access Data — ABF Releases Mapping Study

This is a big step in understanding our system.  The American Bar Foundation has released its ACCESS ACROSS AMERICA: FIRST REPORT OF THE CIVIL JUSTICE INFRASTRUCTURE MAPPING PROJECT.  Executive Summary here.  Full text here.

The study maps, for all the 50 states and DC, a number of access to justice measures, including, as described in the study:

  • Who is eligible for free civil legal information, advice or representation (civil legal assistance services);
  • How civil legal assistance services are produced and delivered;
  • How eligible people may connect with services;
  • How civil legal assistance is funded; How civil legal assistance is coordinated;
  • How both no-fee and fee-generating limited-scope civil legal services are regulated.

This may be the most important chart in the whole report.  It shows the incidence of different delivery components (note however that is shows not penetration within states, but only the percentage of states that have at least one instance of each delivery system.) Click on the image to see a more legible version. 

Perhaps most important, for the first time the reporting includes both court based and non-profit based services — at last we are looking at the system as a whole.

Here, by way of example, is the full information on California.  It gives a sense of the breadth of the information collected.  To retain formatting, I have made a graphic of the relevant pages.

Obviously, not everything is here, not by a long shot, (most obviously missing is percentage of need met) but at least this is  starting point for states to self-assess as to the comprehensiveness and appropriateness of their delivery system in their own particular context.  After all, just because every state is different does not mean that every state has attained the most effective combination of delivery services or the most appropriate coordination mechanism.  I would strongly urge each state to start by reviewing their report, comparing it with the national summary, and with states that are similar to them in politics, economy, and population mix.  This should be a major focus for Commissions and equivalent bodies.

It is worthy of praise, and a positive signal for the future that funding was provided by the ABF, by Friends of Legal Services, and by LSC for this study.

We will be discussing the full implications of the study, and potential next mapping and research steps with one of the authors, Rebecca Sandefur, in a NewsMaker Interview in the near future.

I conclude this post with a quote from the preface by Robert Nelson of the ABF — it should provide a wake up call that goes beyond the traditional one of lack of resources:

The results [of the study] are sobering. They underscore a fundamental absence of coordination in the system, fragmentation and inequality in who gets served and how, and arbitrariness in access to justice depending on where one lives. While documenting these challenges, the report also suggests that lawyers and other providers of access to justice have been enormously creative in their efforts to provide civil legal assistance to those who need it.

All materials from the Report quoted/incorporated are: © 2011 Rebecca L. Sandefur, and are used with permission.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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