January 01, 2014

New York’s Template to Address the Crisis in Civil Legal Services

By Judge Jonathan Lippman

In the face of our nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, millions of vulnerable, low-income individuals navigate our state civil justice systems without lawyers. This lack of representation impairs their ability to pursue their rights and remedies, imposes tremendous costs on both litigants and their families, and places an untenable burden on our courts and communities.

It has been my central objective as New York’s chief judge to confront the acute need for civil legal assistance in our state. Today’s declining and unpredictable funding streams and rising poverty rates have made this effort all the more urgent. Nonetheless, New York’s judiciary, with the support of our partners in government and the legal community, has begun to address the justice gap that exists in New York. In this article I describe how we have done so, which I hope others may find helpful. New York State is not alone in identifying the critical importance of this issue. Our work is part of a growing movement nationwide that recognizes the vital necessity of civil legal representation for the poor and near-poor to sustaining a functioning legal system and protecting equal justice for all.

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