Summary and RecommendationsBack to table of contents
As the companion report from this initiative, Civil Justice for All, shows, there is a crisis in civil justice in this country. Many people are not able to get the legal help they need, access the courts, or arrive at fair resolutions to civil justice problems. Currently, the essential facts necessary to answer fundamental questions about the fairness and accessibility of American civil justice are sorely lacking.
However, there are important opportunities to remedy these shortcomings, engaging both public and private actors and reaching out beyond lawyers and the courts.
- Existing surveys fielded by government statistical agencies, like the United States Bureau of the Census, should add questions about the justice experience to regularly administered surveys, including the American Community Survey. Such additions would provide valuable information about who experiences justice issues, whether those issues land in court, and how those issues affect the people who experience them. Similarly, the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ annual National Crime Victimization Survey should be expanded to include civil justice issues. When necessary, federal statutes should be modified to require the collection of civil justice data.
- Legal needs often accompany other kinds of needs, such as needs for medical care, income support, or housing. Organizations that provide services to the public, such as social and human services, health services, and legal services, should learn about, identify, and collect data about their clients’ civil legal needs. This information could be linked to the demographic data about race/ethnicity, gender, language facility, age, ability, and income that these organizations often collect.
- Information about people’s needs and problems is often revealed through their searches for information. Search engine and social media companies should collaborate with researchers, courts, and legal services providers to identify common legal needs based on the searches people initiate.
- Courts should collect and distribute information about cases and litigants using case definitions and record-keeping standards that are consistent across jurisdictions.5 States should make the data collected available to researchers and the public.
- To understand the effectiveness and impact of legal services, service providers should follow up with recipients to inquire about the outcomes and impacts of the problems for which they provide help. Alternatively, they could connect their records with other administrative records that provide information about the outcomes of justice problems.