About the Justice Index

Introduction to the Justice Index

The Justice Index is an online resource that relies on findings, indicators, indexing and other data-analytics tools to help ensure that a person’s ability to protect and vindicate her rights in a state justice system does not depend on whether she can afford a lawyer, speak and understand English, or navigate the legal system without an accommodation due to a physical or mental disability.

The Justice Index scores and ranks the 50 states, District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico on their adoption of selected best practices for ensuring access to justice, creating incentives for state officials to replicate those practices.

The Justice Index also shows where the best practices are present and where they are absent, making it easy for everyone to see and identify the practices, and easy for state officials to take steps to adopt them. (See “Our Vision” to learn more about our mission and about access to justice).

The Justice Index calculations take into account, first, the number of civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people in poverty in each state and, second, whether the selected practices — in the form of statutes, rules, regulations, appropriations and other written guidance — have been adopted on a statewide level.

The National Center for Access to Justice (“NCAJ”) launched the Justice Index in 2014 using data collected in 2012 and 2013 (See the 2014 Justice Index here.) At the time of its launch, the original Justice Index was the first publicly available resource of its kind. The Justice Index 2016 is now updated and expanded, and contains new data collected in 2015.

Innovations in Justice Index 2016
More Data, Indicators, and Sources
As detailed in the chart below, Justice Index 2016 now contains 68 more indicators, 3,593 more data points, and 2,270 more cited sources than Justice Index 2014. Justice Index 2016 now also includes, for the first time, Puerto Rico.

Justice Index 2014

Justice Index 2016

Total Indicators






Language Access



Disability Access



Attorney Access



Total Data Points



“Yes” Findings



“No” Findings



Attorney Count Findings



Legal Aid Organizations






For “Yes” Findings



For “No” Findings



In Justice Index 2016, we have added new indicators, modified others, and deleted some as well. The 2016 indicators all set forth in the Justice Index’s familiar four categories: Attorney Access, Self-Representation, Language Access, and Disability Access. Some of the more notable changes in indicators include the following:
  • Self-Representation – New indicators track the use of court forms for seven different types of legal cases, track the presence or absence of certain “civil right to counsel” laws, track the use of policies for gathering data on appointments of free counsel, and track policies regarding the accessibility of waivers for court filing fees.
  • Language Access – New indicators track policies for interpreting and translating in 12 different types of legal cases.
  • Disability Access – New indicators track policies for assuring access to justice for people with mental disabilities.
  • Attorney Access – A new indicator now tracks the number of civil legal aid attorneys in each state. Also, the indicator tracking the ratio of civil legal aid lawyers to 10,000 people in poverty has been modified; it now relies on a definition of poverty that is “200% of the federal poverty line” rather than “125% of the federal poverty line.”
In addition, visitors to justiceindex.org can now view and download the highlights of Justice Index 2016 and selected expanded data sets. Links for this purpose are posted on the Findings 2016 page and on each of the four subject matter indexes landing pages.
Refined Research Methodology

To research Justice Index 2016, NCAJ used a new methodology. NCAJ invited all chief justices and chief court administrators to answer a questionnaire about their jurisdictions’ laws, rules, and policies, and also made calls to obtain names of court employees in all 52 jurisdictions with whom to communicate about the questionnaire. The 2016 methodology is described here. The 2014 methodology is described here.

Officials in 46 jurisdictions returned completed questionnaires, and NCAJ with teams of pro bono lawyers communicated with the officials to validate, clarify, and augment the responses. For six jurisdictions in which officials declined to respond to questionnaires, NCAJ relied on pro bono lawyers to conduct original research, which typically involved both online research and outreach to stakeholders and experts in the state.

NCAJ carried out a quality assurance process that included multiple stages in which teams assessed of whether each particular “Yes” answer received from the states should be credited based on the specific standards applied for each indicator. In some instances, the indicators and standards were different than the corresponding indicators in Justice Index 2014, thus resulting in certain reversals of credit in 2016 where states had been awarded credit in 2014. State contacts were notified of all modifications and of any denials of credit. Further explanations for certain indicators are also provided in the FAQ.

A Note on Comparing 2014 and 2016 Findings

Visitors to the Justice Index 2016 are encouraged to examine and compare the specific findings contained in the 2014 and 2016 versions of the Justice Index. Some important caveats, however, should be kept in mind when making such comparisons:
  1. In light of the changes made in Justice Index 2016, the picture of performance that is presented in Justice Index 2016 is more thorough and more precise than the picture presented in Justice Index 2014.
  2. The changes in indicators between the two versions of the Justice Index – which, as described above, include expansions, modifications, and deletions – should caution against drawing automatic conclusions about performance based on changes in rankings and scores in the Composite Index and in the four subject matter indexes.
  3. As noted above, the indicator tracking the ratio of civil legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty has been modified; it now relies on a definition of poverty that is “200% of the federal poverty line” rather than “125% of the federal poverty line.”
  4. If your state (or one you are studying) has had a significant change in results between 2014 and 2016, please look closely at the indicators and at the findings to understand why. If you would like to receive assistance with this analysis, please contact us at justiceindex@ncforaj.org and we will be happy to help.
NCAJ is fully committed to continue the process of strengthening the Justice Index so that it will become an even more powerful and precise resource, and so that it can be used to track changes in performance of access to state justice systems over time.