America has a civil justice gap.
The difference between the number of Americans who need civil legal assistance and the few who receive it is big and getting bigger.
According to one recent study, low-income Americans received adequate legal attention for only 14 percent of the civil problems they reported. The vast majority, unable to afford representation, too often navigate the courts and other bureaucracies on their own. The Academy produced a video to highlight the problem.
The outcomes can be devastating, including eviction, family separation, job loss, disrupted health care, and other hardships. Even before COVID-19, civil justice organizations could not meet the enormous need for legal assistance among poor and low-income Americans. The pandemic has made this problem even more urgent as evictions, unemployment, and health care costs continue to rise.
In 2018, the American Academy of Arts & Sciences launched Making Justice Accessible Initiative: Designing Legal Services for the 21st Century. The project assessed the consequences of the justice gap, reviewed existing civil justice initiatives around the country, and prioritized solutions. The project was led by Kenneth Frazier (Merck & Company, Inc.), John Levi (Sidley Austin, LLP; Legal Services Corporation), and Martha Minow (Harvard Law School).
The project's final report, Civil Justice for All, was released today. Read the report.
Civil Justice for All calls for the legal profession, the courts, law schools, tech professionals, and partners from many other fields to join together to provide legal assistance to many more people in need. The report recommends targeted investments, innovative approaches, simplified procedures, greater coordination and new partnerships among a range of fields and sectors, and new advocates who are trained and encouraged to provide assistance to people in need.
The full report – with seven overall recommendations and specific approaches in the high-need areas of family law, health care, housing, and veterans – is online in its entirety and can be ordered at no cost.