State Access to Justice Commissions

Moreover, in an increasing number of states, leadership for these state planning efforts and state justice communities is no longer concentrated in the hands of the staff and boards of individual LSC grantees but is provided by new entities that are known generically as “access to justice commissions.” Although the exact structure of these commissions varies, in most states representatives of the courts, the organized bar, and the legal services provider community, including both LSC- and non-LSC-funded programs, work together through some formal structure to expand and improve civil legal assistance. State Access to Justice Commissions are appointed directly by these entities or by the State Supreme Court base don nominations by the other entities. They are conceived as having a continuing existence,rather than being a blue-ribbon body created to issue a report and then sunset. They have abroad charge to engage in ongoing assessment of the civil legal needs of low-income people in the state and to develop, coordinate, and oversee initiatives to respond to those needs.

There are 39 active Commissions as of 2018.

These Commissions have undertaken a variety of activities, such as:

Funding for civil legal aid: Increasing state legislative funding (appropriations and legislatively enacted filing fees add-ons), funding from changes in court rules/statutes (e.g., pro hac vice fees and cy pres distributions) and private funding from foundations, the bar and the general public. Many states run public relations and public outreach campaigns as part of fundraising initiatives.

Developmental Activities: undertaking state legal needs and economic impact studies, convening public forums across a state, developing strategic plans for access to justice, and holding access to justice seminars and conferences on general and specific topics (e.g. law schools, technology).

Self-represented litigation: simplification of court processes and forms; developing court-based self-help centers; producing educational programs, handbooks and materials; changes in the Code of Judicial Conduct; increasing language access;and cultivating partnerships with public libraries as points of access to legal assistance.

Best practices for administrative agencies, strategic plans and recommendations have also been developed to guide future endeavors.

Pro bono initiatives: implementation of Supreme Court recognition programs, mentorship and training programs, retiring and retired lawyer programs, specialized pro bono programs, regional committees, and rule and policy changes to support pro bono work.

Limited scope representation: formulating or amending rules of professional conduct or rules of procedure and developing and providing educational resources.

Legal aid delivery initiatives: expanded uses of information technology,remote video conferencing, triage approaches, portal projects, legal incubator programs, disability access initiatives, addressing racial disparities,mediation/ADR initiatives, legal answers websites, court-based

vacillators/navigators, and limited licenses for non-lawyers/legal technicians.

Law school and legal profession efforts: new law school initiatives, probono admission requirements for graduation, implicit bias training, poverty simulations, and proposals to add questions about access and poverty law to bar exams.

Thus, the manner in which the civil legal services system develops in the future will no longer be determined solely by LSC and its grantees. Instead, the future of civil legal assistance increasingly will be in the hands of a much broader partnership of stakeholders who operate within the justice system in each state.