FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is the Justice Index?
  2. Who creates and maintains the Justice Index?
  3. Do the courts or other institutions have any control over the Justice Index?
  4. How can I use the Justice Index?
  5. Is there a way to download and print the Justice Index findings, including just for one jurisdiction?
  6. What is the role of pro bono attorneys and other volunteers in creating the Justice Index?
  7. What are the criteria for including particular indicators in the Justice Index?
  8. Is all data in the Justice Index the result of NCAJ’s original research?
  9. In the “Best Practices Tables” on the Findings pages, what is the standard for a finding of “Yes,” “No,” or “No*”?
  10. Why isn’t my organization listed on the Attorney Access page table called “List of Civil Legal Aid Organizations”?
  11. Why are some names and scores missing from the national maps contained on the “Findings” pages?
  12. Why should I accept that the picture presented by the Justice Index – of best practices for ensuring access to justice, and of particular states performing better for having adopted these practices – is accurate?
  13. Will the Justice Index be updated and, if so, how often?
  14. What may I do if I have ideas for improving the Justice Index, or if I see information in the Justice Index that I believe should be updated or corrected?
  15. Do I need to know more about the Justice Index findings for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico?
  16. How can I help to sponsor the Justice Index?
  17. What is NCAJ?
  18. What exactly is meant by the term “access to justice”?
  19. What does “Self-Representation” mean, and how is it different from other terms like pro se??
  20. Can you clarify the question asked or standard used in X indicator?
1. What is the Justice Index?

The Justice Index is an online resource presenting findings about the presence and absence of selected best practices for access to justice in the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. It is a project of the National Center for Access to Justice (“NCAJ”). The purpose of the Justice Index and the need for greater access to justice in our courts is discussed on the About page and the Our Vision page.

2. Who created the Justice Index?

NCAJ created and maintains the Justice Index and is exclusively responsible for its content. The Justice Index would not be possible without the work of a great many organizations and people who donate their time. Their contributions are described here.

3. Do the courts or other institutions have any control over the Justice Index?

No. NCAJ created and maintains the Justice Index and is solely responsible for its contents. NCAJ, however, works with state court systems, civil legal aid programs, language rights advocates, disability advocates, and others to develop criteria for measuring access to justice, to collect data for the Justice Index and to ensure that the findings in the Justice Index are complete and accurate. All data provided by the courts or other stakeholders goes through a rigorous process of quality assurance review before NCAJ determines and posts the Justice Index’s findings. (See Methodology for more information). We wish to acknowledge the tremendous efforts of many court systems around the country to respond to NCAJ’s requests for information. NCAJ asked the Chief Justices and Chief Court Administrators in the 50 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, to complete a questionnaire consisting of over 100 questions, or indicators, and all but 7 participated in this process. NCAJ also appreciates contributions of civil legal aid programs, and many other stakeholders. The time and effort contributed by all of these people and programs have helped to make the Justice Index a far more powerful tool for improving access to justice across the country.

4. How can I use the Justice Index?

To learn to navigate the data on the Justice Index, please see the “Navigating the Data” links provided near the Performance Maps on the Findings pages. To learn more about how the Justice Index can help to expand access to justice by supporting research, journalism, advocacy, and policy design, see the Our Vision page or read our article “The Justice Index and Civil Legal Aid: Q&A,” Mgmt. Info. Exch. J. (Winter 2014), http://ncforaj.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/MIE-Journal-JI-Article.pdf

5. Is there a way to download and print the Justice Index findings, including just for one jurisdiction?

Yes, there are several ways to download and print our findings and data. First, you can go to the Findings landing page and download our Justice Index 2016 Highlights in PDF format. Second, you can go to the Findings landing page and download our Data Workbook, an Excel document that presents nearly all of the underlying data and findings for each jurisdiction, including our findings for each indicator, the weight accorded to each indicator in our scoring system, and the source or citation provided for every “Yes” finding and for selected “No” findings. You can also manipulate the Data Workbook’s presentation of specific indicators, jurisdictions, and indexes, making the Data Workbook particularly useful for creating a report specific to your state.

Third, you can download specific findings for specific jurisdictions on specific indicators directly from the data visualizations on the Findings page. The first step is to follow instructions in the “Navigating the Data” links to highlight the jurisdiction’s data that you would like to download. To download findings for a single state, click on the desired state in the map or, alternatively, click on its name in the other visualizations. At the very bottom-right of the page, click on the word “Download” to expand a window that will offer formatting options for downloading the findings. In most instances, the best option to click is “Data,” which will expand a window on which you can then click “Download all rows as a text file.” A spreadsheet containing data for the jurisdiction you selected will then download, allowing you to arrange it within Excel as you like, and then to save it or print it in your discretion.

Other options for downloading data from the Justice Index visualizations (for example, in color pdf format) are also available.

6. What is the role of pro bono attorneys and other volunteers in creating the Justice Index?

The Justice Index could not have been produced without the help of a large number of very talented pro bono attorneys and other volunteers. Please see The Team describing the tremendous volunteer initiative behind the Justice Index. Please see Methodology where we explain how NCAJ collects and assures the accuracy of the Justice Index findings by relying on the help of many volunteers.

7. What are the criteria for including particular indicators in the Justice Index?

NCAJ has chosen indicators that we believe address essential elements for expanding access to justice and that also provide a broader sense of the level of commitment made by each state to an accessible legal system. In general, the Justice Index incorporates indicators that are widely accepted by civil legal aid programs, access to justice organizations, court systems, and experts in the field. Please see Methodology for a description of some of the specific sources consulted by NCAJ in deciding upon this set of indicators.

8. Is all data in the Justice Index the result of NCAJ’s original research?

Nearly, but not all. Findings for four of the indicators were drawn from the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, and findings for one of the indicators were drawn from the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent Defendants. (See Methodology for more information about the research process).

9. In the “Best Practices Tables” on the Findings pages, what is the standard for a finding of “Yes,” “No,” or “No*”?

For a full explanation, see the sections titled “Our Process and Standard for Making ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ Findings” and “Addition of the “No*” Finding to Justice Index 2016” on either the Findings page or the General Methodology page

10. Why isn’t my organization listed in the Attorney Access Index “List of Civil Legal Aid Organizations”?

Please see Attorney Access Methodology for the criteria governing inclusion in the Justice Index of civil legal aid programs.

Generally, NCAJ included all LSC-funded organizations by using data provided by LSC.

The remaining organizations on the list are non-LSC-funded legal aid organizations that met the Justice Index criteria and that responded to our request for their number of full-time equivalent attorneys who provide direct legal services to people under 200% of the federal poverty line. If you believe an organization qualifies under the Justice Index criteria and that its attorneys should be counted, please contact us at justiceindex@ncforaj.org.

11. Why are some state names and scores missing from the Performance Maps contained on the Findings pages?

Due to space constraints, the data visualization software sometimes omits the state abbreviations and scores from the Performance Maps. This helps to make the overall map legible, and is not intended to signify anything specific about the states or scores that are not visible. If you hover the cursor over the jurisdiction in which you are interested, its name and score will appear. Scores for the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are also all listed in the other tables and charts under the Performance Maps.

12. Why should I accept that the picture presented by the Justice Index – of best practices for ensuring access to justice, and of particular states performing better for having adopted these practices – is accurate?

NCAJ believes that the Justice Index relies on appropriate indicators and has produced accurate findings with respect to them. Nevertheless, the justice systems of the 52 jurisdictions we researched are complex and varied; it would not be possible to create a comprehensive or definitive picture for even one of those systems that did not invite debate and disagreement. Moreover, insofar as the Justice Index tracks laws, rules and policies as set forth on paper, it does not measure operational performance (with some exceptions) in effectuating those laws, rules and policies.

The Justice Index should be thought of as the beginning, not the end, of a conversation. By distilling and comparing the promises made under law to assure access to justice, it seeks to drive a national conversation, including a research agenda, about whether these promises truly reflect best approaches, and about whether they are, in actual fact, being fulfilled. The goal of the Justice Index is to promote responsible comparisons, based on reliable data, that deepen understanding, and that in turn, drive reform. We seek to make the Justice Index as credible and powerful a tool for reform as possible.

13. Will the Justice Index be updated and, if so, how often?

NCAJ intends to update the Justice Index and to examine trends over time. Justice Index 2016 contains data collected between March and September of 2015, and posted in April 2016. The original Justice Index contains data collected between 2012 and 2013, posted in March 2014, and corrected in part in December 2014. Going forward, we will update on a schedule that ensures current knowledge while not overburdening the court systems and volunteers who collect and verify the data.

14. What may I do if I have ideas for improving the Justice Index, or if I see information in the Justice Index that I believe should be updated or corrected?

If you have suggestions for strengthening the Justice Index, or if you see information in the Justice Index that you believe is in need of correction in any respect, please email our team at justiceindex@ncforaj.org. We will respond to you as quickly as possible.

15. Do I need to know more about the Justice Index findings for Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico?

Yes. Because Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are not states, the Justice Index findings for these jurisdictions require additional explanation.

Washington, D.C., is the highest-scoring state in the civil legal aid Attorney Access category by a considerable margin. While we do not know all the possible reasons for this result, we find it worth noting that, as a city, Washington, D.C., has a vastly denser population than any state (10,589 persons/square mile as compared to the most densely populated state, New Jersey at 1,210 persons/square mile and a national average 86). It also has more attorneys per capita than any state. The extreme differences in density of people raise interesting questions about the distribution of civil legal aid services between urban and rural areas. Though such research is beyond our present capabilities, we hope the Justice Index findings will promote research of this nature.

Although Puerto Rico recognizes both Spanish and English as official languages, Spanish is the language of virtually all government and public affairs, including the Puerto Rico judiciary (La Rama Judicial de Puerto Rico). While this posed certain challenges for our researchers, we were able to gather and verify data successfully by working closely with Puerto Rican court officials, legal aid attorneys, and other stakeholders. The one exception is the category of Language Access, which uses indicators that are inapt for Puerto Rico because they all relate to practices to help people with limited English proficiency. As such, we did not score or rank Puerto Rico in this category, though we did include informational citations where relevant information was available. Relatedly, for the Composite index, we computed the composite score for Puerto Rico by averaging its scores for the other three categories, excluding Language Access. We are working to develop an appropriate way to evaluate Puerto Rico’s provisions for those who do not speak Spanish or English proficiently but have not yet been able to do so.

16. How can I help to sponsor the Justice Index?

Please contact NCAJ about the Justice Index at justiceindex@ncforaj.org to explore the many ways to help support the Justice Index, including the following:

  • sharing data with NCAJ. NCAJ will always acknowledge organizations that provide data used in the Justice Index, and will also direct Justice Index users to visit the web site that is the home of the data.
  • participating in the research effort to support the Justice Index.
  • helping the Justice Index with your own skill in data analytics, web design, and related fields.
  • making a financial contribution to NCAJ at www.ncforaj.org/donate

17. What is NCAJ?

The National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School (“NCAJ”), www.ncforaj.org, is the academically affiliated national law and policy organization dedicated to policy reform, based on data, that helps people obtain justice in the courts. NCAJ works closely with the Bar, the judiciary, law schools, the legal services community, and many other stakeholders including social services agencies and client groups. In addition to data, indicators and indexing, NCAJ’s tools include litigation, reports, policy advocacy, conferences, and data analytics. NCAJ makes its home at Cardozo Law School where its staff have taught the Access to Justice Clinic and the Pro Bono and Legal Services Seminar. NCAJ is guided by Executive Director David Udell, Staff Attorney Aaron Sussman, and Director of the Justice Index Project (pro bono) James Gamble. To learn more about NCAJ, visit ncforaj.org. Inquiries of all kinds are welcome at info@ncforaj.org.

The NCAJ staff is Executive Director David Udell, Staff Attorney Aaron Sussman, and Director of the Justice Index Project James Gamble. To learn more about NCAJ, its staff, its Board of Directors, and its various projects and campaigns, visit ncforaj.org

18. What exactly is meant by the term “access to justice”?

NCAJ has developed and uses the following definition of “access to justice”:

“Access to justice means having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. It means that a person can learn about her rights and then give voice to protect her interests through a neutral and nondiscriminatory, formal or informal, process that determines the facts, applies the rule of law, and enforces the result.” (See more on the “Our Vision” page).

Access to justice is important. Every year, tens of millions of people in the United States encounter critical and difficult moments in their lives. Women seek refuge from domestic violence. Children seek protection from abuse, exploitation and neglect. Parents struggle to contend with the pain and problems of divorce. Families fight unfair evictions and foreclosures. People seek fair treatment and accountability from powerful institutions. These scenarios and others like them, occurring so commonly in the United States, occur as well around the world.

Access to justice is used most frequently in the context of the civil justice system, but the concept is broad enough to be relevant as well in the context of the criminal justice system. To date, the Justice Index focuses on civil justice system problems, however some of its indicators –such as those used to index performance with respect to language access and disability access – are pertinent in both the civil justice system and the criminal justice system.

19. What does “Self-Representation” mean, and how is it different from other terms like pro se?

In criminal cases, the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to the free and effective assistance of a court-provided lawyer at almost all stages of the case. In most categories of civil cases, however, a person who cannot afford an attorney does not have a federal constitutional right to free appointed counsel. In actual fact, as many as two thirds of people appearing in civil proceedings in courts across the country do so without a lawyer.

In many parts of the country, court officials rely on the term “self-represented litigant” to refer to people who have civil legal matters that involve them with state court systems but who do not have representation by a lawyer. Some courts and certain other stakeholders may use different terms to convey this same meaning. Terms in common usage include pro se (Latin for “on behalf of themselves”), pro per (an abbreviation of the Latin term in propria persona, meaning “for oneself”), and “unrepresented” (which is self-explanatory).

Some stakeholders have emphasized that the terminology is important, particularly the difference between “pro se” and “unrepresented” on the one hand, and “self-represented” on the other. Thus, the Hon. Fern Fischer, Director of the N.Y. State Courts Access to Justice Program, has explained “The latter term [‘self-represented’] seems to indicate that individuals who appear without attorneys have elected not to be represented and not that they have no access to one. It is a misconception that litigants choose to be pro se; the overwhelming majority have no choice.” http://www.nycourts.gov/ip/nya2j/pdfs/Fisher_Testimony2010.pdf).

The Justice Index uses the term “self-represented” rather than “unrepresented” because the former term seems to be more commonly used across the country, and because consistent usage in the Justice Index helps to facilitate the experience of visitors to the Justice Index. However, the authors of the Justice Index recognize that many people who are referred to as “self-represented” in fact, as explained by Judge Fisher, do not have access to a lawyer, and do not voluntarily choose to represent themselves.

20. Can you clarify the question asked or standard used in X indicator?

We have identified certain indicators that we believe would benefit from further information as to the question asked and/or standard applied. Because this information is too lengthy to include with the indicators on the Findings pages, we compiled it into one document, which you can access here (Annotated Indicator Guide – FAQ 20).