A Big Day — The Justice Index is Launched

The Justice Index, the pioneering state by state index of access to justice measures, developed by a partnership led by the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School, is up, and its very well worth the wait.

The index, the first of its kind for the US, creates for each state an index for each of four areas, dealing with self-represented litigants, availability of lawyers for the poor, disability, and language access.  The score for each state and each separate index is calculated based on responses to specific questions, which vary for each index.  The answers are all listed — indeed, the whole index is transparent.

The four separate indexes are then combined into a “composite” index that shows the overall state of access for the state.  The state results for each index and the composite are ordered, and distributions are plotted, also showing whether most states seem to be the same or different.

At this point, most of you will want to see where your state is, so here is the link to the list. (Not to be glib, but it’s a little like bookshops in DC, where everyone goes to the index to see if they are in the latest political book.)  Knowing where a state stands can be helpful, but really the power comes from seeing what can be done to improve things.  Not all the scored items are necessarily expensive, such as assigning a person in the court system to be responsible overall for access for the self-represented.

For those interested in comparisons, there are powerful tools that allow you to edit what shows on the map, by score and by region.  This can be done for the composite, and for each of the sub-indexes (self-represented here.)

Here is something I did not expect — look at the chart below of state score distribution.

index Note that some of the scores are very clustered — especially legal aid attorneys  — and others much less so — disabilities.  This is interesting because generally we think of legal aid funding as very varied.  Note how, because of LSC there is no zero in that score.  This score is not an absolute number, but compares the number of legal aid attorneys per 10,000 poor people to the number of attorneys per 10,000 of the population as a whole.  (Chart here). It is typical of the transparency that the organizations included in this count are explicitly listed, one of many ways in which the Index invites improvement by crowd-sourcing.

But what really interests me is that each sub-index is much more distributed than the composite.  I think this often happens when you combine scores, but here is is somewhat counter-intuitive.  We tend, for better or worse, to assume that is a state is “good” in one of these areas it will be good in all or most.  This suggests otherwise.  I like to think of that as good news, because it means that every state is relatively good in one area, and that there is a foundation on which to build out in the other areas.

Here is another fascinating counter-intuitive finding.  Below is the chart comparing the percentage of state population with the scores.  My intuitive read gives me the sense that there is no correlation at all, so this suggests that good policies are not driven by sheer voting power, but by other forces.

disabCongratulations to an amazing team for a breakthrough product.  Too big a team to list, but follow the link.

I could go on and on, but leave with one observation and two requests.  The observation is that while the natural and valuable tendency is to look at ones own state, and be thinking about how to use these results in the emerging communications battle — one that the research shows us we will win, this index should be used for much more.  It provides an opportunity and base for careful analysis of the whole picture of access to justice.

Now the requests:  Please, if you see something wrong, don’t focus your energy on attacking the index, no matter what it shows, send in the correction to info@ncforaj.org, and think about the broader lessons.  Second, please do send me thoughts on the overall lessons of these numbers. I will give serious consideration to publishing such analyses as guest posts on this blog.  We need to learn from this and use it as a base.

Disclosure: I have served as an informal adviser to David Udell, the director of the project.  We are also co-authors of a forthcoming article on non-lawyer practice.



About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Access to Justice Generally, Legal Aid, LEP, Research and Evalation, Self-Help Services. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to A Big Day — The Justice Index is Launched

  1. I find both the report and your blog comments to be very interesting. One thing that jumps out to me in the civil legal services methodology is that there doesn’t seem to be any accounting for private attorney involvement. Both pro bono and judicare are a big part of the delivery system in Minnesota, with private attorneys closing more than 30% of all cases in our state last year. Do you know why these were exluded?

    • richardzorza says:

      While I do not speak for the project, I think they are working on including pro bono in the next version of the Index. As you know, data availability on this varies very much from state to state. I think you can be confident that there is no desire to “diss” pro bono.

      • I agree measuring pro bono and using it in this type of index would be a challenge. However, it would be relatively easy to turn judicare hours in to an FTE and include that in the next index measure release with staff FTE. I’ll take you up on the suggestion from your post to use the info@ncforaj.org email to provide constructive feedback. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: The Justice Index: Quantitative measures of access to justice in U.S. states | Legal Informatics Blog

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