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What will happen if American leaders do not make the provision of civil justice a national priority?
Ongoing research and uncoordinated innovation will have positive effects on the civil justice gap. But the crisis will persist. LSC and its partner organizations—the ABA, the American Bar Foundation, and many others—will continue to do essential and exemplary work. Yet the sheer size of the problem of civil justice will continue to threaten and undermine the promise of equal justice in America.
People at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder will suffer the gravest consequences of this failure: family separations, poor health outcomes, substandard housing and evictions, homelessness, and veterans living on dangerous city streets and in downtrodden rural corners, feeling betrayed and abandoned by the nation they defended.
To right the many wrongs apparent in the system of civil justice, the nation must do what this report calls for:
- Dedicate a consequential infusion of financial and human resources to closing the civil justice gap, and seek a significant shift in mindset—extending beyond lawyers the duty and capacity to assist those with legal need—to make genuine strides toward “justice for all”;
- Increase the number of legal services lawyers who focus on the needs of low-income Americans;
- Increase the number of lawyers providing pro bono and other volunteer assistance, to supplement the corps of legal services lawyers;
- Bring many new advocates—service providers who are not lawyers—into the effort to solve civil justice problems;
- Foster greater collaboration among legal services providers and other trusted professionals—such as doctors, nurses, and social workers;
- Expand efforts to make legal systems easier to understand and use through the simplification of language, forms, and procedures, and the wider use of technology; and
- Create a national team, or even a new national organization, to coordinate the efforts listed above, collect much-needed data on the state of civil justice, and help identify and publicize effective innovations that improve access.
In the absence of these initiatives, the nation will continue to fall well short of the great promise enshrined in the Constitution’s pledge to “establish Justice.”