Civil Justice for All

From the President of the American Academy

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Making Justice Accessible: Legal Services for the 21st Century

Civil Justice for All, a report of the American Academy’s Making Justice Accessible project, provides a national overview of the crisis in legal services by focusing on four common categories of civil legal problems: family, healthcare, housing, and veterans affairs. By addressing these issues within the larger context of American civil justice, this report advances a set of clear, national recommendations for closing the gap between the supply and the demand for legal assistance for low-income Americans.

The Academy conceived this project in November 2015 during a two-day conference at its headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The conference brought together federal and state judges, lawyers, legal scholars, legal-aid providers, officials from each level of government, and business leaders concerned about the state of legal services for poor and low-income Americans. They gathered to explore the scope and consequences of inadequate access to civil justice for Americans who most need it.

Three related efforts grew out of the conference:

  • The Winter 2019 issue of the Academy’s journal Dædalus on “Access to Justice”;
  • A forthcoming report about data collection in civil justice; and
  • The project that produced this report, Making Justice Accessible: Designing Legal Services for the 21st Century.

The cochairs of this effort are Kenneth C. Frazier, chairman and CEO of Merck; John G. Levi, chairman of the Legal Services Corporation and a partner at the law firm of Sidley Austin LLP; and Martha L. Minow, the 300th Anniversary University Professor at Harvard University and former dean of Harvard Law School. They formed five subcommittees, covering four substantive areas of law—family (cochaired by Tonya Brito and Lance Liebman); health (cochaired by John Levi and Allison Rice); housing (cochaired by Colleen Cotter and Diane P. Wood); and veterans (cochaired by Nan Heald and Martha Minow)—plus innovation affecting each of those areas (cochaired by Elizabeth Chambliss and Andrew Perlman).

Each subcommittee met at least three times by teleconference. Focusing on issues and priorities established by the committees, a team from the law firm of WilmerHale undertook a pro bono project for the Academy, conducting 35 interviews under the masterful supervision of Lincoln Caplan, a senior research scholar at Yale Law School and a member of the veterans committee. Caplan conducted additional interviews with executive directors of legal services organizations across the country, public officials, and other experts on access to civil justice and had primary responsibility for drafting this report. His contributions to this report were indispensable.

This report is therefore the product of a project undertaken with great care and dedication by a large and diverse group of practitioners, scholars, and advocates (for a full list of subcommittee participants, see page 40). The Academy is particularly grateful to the chairs—Ken Frazier, John Levi, and Martha Minow—whose passion and leadership carried the project from the initial meetings in Cambridge, in 2015, through several years of deliberation, to this report, which appears at such a critical moment in the history of American civil justice.

Very special thanks to David M. Rubenstein, cofounder and coexecutive chairman of the Carlyle Group, who funded this project as an expression of his abiding faith in the future of American institutions.

John Tessitore, a senior program advisor at the Academy, shepherded the project over five years, with the assistance of creative and talented colleagues, Julian Kronick and Natalia Carbullido.

The Academy’s publications team—Scott Raymond, Heather Struntz, and Peter Walton (with editorial assistance from Christopher Davey), led by Phyllis Bendell—edited and published this report with rigor and craftsmanship.

The team of lawyers from the law firm of WilmerHale played an essential role in this project: Associates Michael S. Crafts and Rieko H. Shepherd in the Boston office and Mandy Fatemi and Aleksandr Sverdlik in Washington, D.C., as well as Nicole Callan, a senior associate in the Washington, D.C., office, Heather S. Nyong’o, a partner in the San Francisco office, and Christopher J. Herrling, the firm’s pro bono counsel.

At Harvard Law School, Mackenzie Arnold, Yoseph Desta, Hannah Kannegieter, Deanna Krokos, Joshua Mathew, Rose Schaefer, and William Wright contributed to the project as research assistants, and Stacy Livingston helped edit the report and recommendations.

Thanks as well to Rochael Soper Adranly and her colleagues at IDEO for counsel about how to frame this document.

As this report makes clear, “Equal justice is a right, not a privilege.” For too long, the civil justice gap—the difference between the number of Americans who need civil legal assistance and the very few who receive help of any kind—has been allowed to widen. We hope that this report helps to close the gap, so that every American, irrespective of income, will have access to legal advice and assistance when they need it most.

David W. Oxtoby
President, American Academy of Arts and Sciences