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They Had “Access,” But They Didn’t Get Justice (28 GJPLP 321 (2021))


Recommended reading for anyone who thinks more tech, online forms, and better legal design will substitute for professional legal services, i.e. People Need Lawyers (and lawyers in public service need more support):

“They Had Access, But They Didn’t Get Justice: Why Prevailing Access To Justice Initiatives Fail Rural Americans,” by Michele Statz, Hon. Robert Friday, and Jon Bredeson, published in:
Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law and Policy, Volume XXVIII, Number 3, Spring 2021, 321

From the synopsis:

In the United States, access to justice (A2J) initiatives are developed by people and institutions in urban areas. Accordingly, A2J supports are often premised on technological, professional, and infrastructural capacities that simply do not exist in many rural regions. Until now, no one has empirically examined the consequences of this metrocentric approach. Drawing on over three years of mixed-methods research across the Upper Midwest, this Article offers an urgent response…”

In rural Minnesota, a custody case came before the district court where both
parties were unrepresented …. [See article for description of the authors’ example.]

“This case is an example of something that occurs with increasing frequency
across the United States. In one sense, following the expectations behind prevailing
civil access to justice initiatives, these parties were “successful.” They were able
to locate court forms, follow the instructions, and perfect a lawsuit. They had
access to the court and the adjudicative process. In another sense, however, critical
questions remain—both for the court, which in its efforts to explain law and
process and elicit information typified “active judging” as an A2J intervention,5
and likely for the parties involved. The absence of counsel is intimately felt and of
profound consequence, impacting procedural and substantive dimensions of the
courtroom encounter. For these reasons, there is no substitute for direct
representation. And yet, the experience of not being alone, the intimacy and dignity
of having counsel, is another critical aspect of “success”—and one that until now
has not been explicated in the rural A2J context ….” [Link to law review article.]

(Article archived at the Internet Archive.)

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