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What is “access to justice”?

“The fair chance to secure your rights under the law.” Access to justice means that when people encounter challenges that require a solution through legal processes, they are able to obtain a fair outcome. Access to justice bridges the gap between legal services and low-income communities.

Source: National Center for Access to Justice 

Barriers to Justice

 

Language Access

 

According to the National Center for Access to Justice, there are over 25 million individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) in the United States. Language barriers pose difficulties to individuals who are trying to understand the legal jargon during courtroom procedures. LEP individuals are unable to tell their story comprehensively without the support of a qualified and trained court interpreter

 

Language access services allow LEP individuals access to a wide range of services to ensure they receive the help they need. Current efforts to enhance language access in the legal field include the following: 

  • Expanding online translation services and translation hotlines

  • Use of translation software in legal aid and the courts

  • Continue to evaluate language access policies and procedures

  • Trained interpreters on staff in many courts

  • Translating legal documents into multiple high-need languages

Attorney Access

Attorney Access is the ability to acquire legal services through a legal professional. This means overcoming obstacles like finances to fully get help with a legal issue. Three components that may influence an individual's ability to access an attorney are listed below. 

 

Attorney Fees-- According to the 2019 California Justice Gap StudyCalifornians with incomes at or below 125% of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) are eligible to seek legal assistance from legal aid organizations that are funded by the State Bar. However, many Californians with incomes above 125% of the FPL may still be unable to afford a private attorney as the average hourly rate of a private attorney is $323 in California.

Legal Aid Attorney Shortage-- Low-income Californians are often unable to get all their civil legal needs met. According to the California Justice Gap Study in 2019, an additional 8,961 full-time attorneys, and an additional $900 million in legal aid funding would be needed to resolve all civil legal problems of low-income Californians each year. 

Attorney Deserts-- The California Commission on Access to Justice (CCAJ) describes attorney deserts as "places where too few attorneys live and work, leaving unmet legal needs." The issue of attorney deserts is most prevalent in rural parts of California as the majority of California's attorneys are based in metropolitan areas. Attorney deserts are associated with higher poverty, higher levels of pre-trial incarceration, and greater instances of conflicts of interest in legal representation. 

Research and Informational Resources

This is a non-exhaustive list of publications, in no particular order, that may be useful for orienting your research. You may examine these pieces’ author lists and reference pages for ideas of where to look next.