METHODOLOGY

Research, Data Collection, and Indexing

We describe below the methods the Justice Index team used generally and for each subject matter index specifically, including our processes for research, data collection, score calculations, indexing, and quality assurance.

General Methodology

This section provides a general summary of the process used by the Justice Index team to conduct research, collect data, and present findings for Justice Index 2016.

The Researchers

The research for Justice Index 2016 was carried out in 2015 under the supervision of NCAJ’s staff by 37 pro bono attorneys from five law firms. These law firms are:

Kirkland & Ellis LLP
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
O’Melveny & Myers LLP
Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP
Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP
The Initial Outreach to States

To determine laws, rules, and practices across the United States, NCAJ invited the Chief Justice and Chief Court Administrator of each state, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to complete a Justice Index Questionnaire. NCAJ then worked with teams of pro bono attorneys to conduct a quality assurance review of the responses for accuracy. The origin of the access to justice indicators contained in the Questionnaire is described here.

To determine the count of civil legal aid attorneys for the Attorney Access Index, NCAJ relied on data provided by the Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”) and on outreach to non-LSC-funded legal aid organizations.

In 45 of the 52 jurisdictions, officials provided NCAJ with their responses to the Justice Index Questionnaire. The work required to assemble these responses was substantial and NCAJ and its law firm volunteers are grateful to the court systems, judges, attorneys, and staff who participated in preparing and providing each response.

For each of the 45 responsive jurisdictions, the pro bono attorneys, working in teams from each firm, reviewed the responses and conducted a quality assurance review that included a variety of steps such as corresponding with court officials, reviewing citations and sources, and conferring with other volunteer attorneys and NCAJ staff.

For the seven jurisdictions that did not provide responses to the Justice Index Questionnaire – Alaska, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and South Dakota – NCAJ and the pro bono attorneys carried out original research on the respective states’ laws, policies, and practices.

The Quality Assurance Review Process

The pro bono attorneys reviewed the responses and sources provided by each jurisdiction and set forth their recommendations as to whether to award or deny credit with respect to each indicator.

NCAJ staff conducted at least two rounds of review of the proposed determinations and citations, during which NCAJ worked with the pro bono attorneys to invite state officials to provide clarification or further information where necessary. NCAJ then notified officials in each jurisdiction via email of the proposed findings and, in instances where NCAJ considered further clarity necessary, explained the bases for the proposed findings, and invited comments, questions, and supplemental materials.

NCAJ conducted an additional round of review and correspondence with state officials who responded to the proposed findings. As a final step, NCAJ emailed the states a non-public version of Justice Index 2016 before making the website publicly available.

Our Process and Standard for Making “Yes” and “No” Findings

For each indicator, state court officials were invited to respond “Yes” if the state had adopted the law or practice on a statewide level, and to provide a source to support the “Yes” response.

As stated on the Questionnaire provided to the states, the default source required for a “Yes” finding was “a statewide statute, rule, regulation, appropriation, or other written guidance.” We made exceptions to the documentation requirement for certain indicators where written sources were less likely to be available, such as training questions or questions about employees or offices designated to perform specific tasks. For these indicators, we generally considered a source sufficient if it (i) identified the court official who oversees the practice or oversaw the training; (ii) includes the official’s contact information; and (iii) includes some level of specific background information, such as when the training was held or what authority designated the employee or office to perform the specific task.

NCAJ conducted several rounds of quality assurance review in which we provided our state correspondents with opportunities to change or supplement sources to establish that the state had adopted the practice in question. We requested written, public sources where available, explaining that in most cases they would be required a for a “Yes” finding. If NCAJ determined that a source established the presence of the statewide practice or law, a “Yes” finding was made. All final “Yes” findings receive the full number of points allocated to that indicator based on the Justice Index weighting system.

If a state did not respond “Yes” for an indicator, or if a state responded “Yes” but did not provide sources that were found to be sufficient during our quality review process, a “No” finding was made. It is important to note that a “No” finding means only that a “Yes” finding was not established; it does not mean that NCAJ has affirmative support for a finding that the state has not adopted the subject law or practice. Nor does it mean that the state is not, in actuality, currently carrying out the practice in some form or in some place – as stated above, most “Yes” findings required written citations; we generally considered unwritten policies insufficient. Our reason for this is because, if a practice can be stopped at any time without the notice and public attention that comes from having to first amend a written document, then it is not a best practice. In recent years, budget cuts have resulted in at times drastic reductions in court services, and it is the services based on informal, unwritten policies that are likely the first to go. Changes in justice system administration, or in administration outside the justice system, may also put certain unwritten policies in jeopardy. For these reasons, we believe that requiring written sources for practices promotes accountability, predictability, and fair notice.

Addition of the “No*” Finding to Justice Index 2016

In addition to the “Yes” and “No” findings in the Best Practices tables, this year we added “No*” findings that carry an asterisk (“*”). The asterisk denotes that we have included sources, citations, or other information that we believe will be of potential interest to Justice Index visitors because these materials illuminate what the state is doing that is relevant to the specific indicator, even though the practice itself, or the supporting documentation, was not sufficient to establish a “Yes” finding. Several “No*” findings were made for made for the type of unwritten policies referenced above, i.e., for indicators where a state official explained the practice, but did not point to a written source authorizing, requiring, or encouraging the practice. To maximize the information provided in the Justice Index and to maintain transparency, we have attempted to include all substantive citations and comments provided by the states despite our negative finding on that indicator.

A Note on Responsibility
NCAJ stresses that it, alone, is responsible for Justice Index 2016. No state, district, territory, institution, organization, or other entity or person other than NCAJ is responsible for the Justice Index, including for its evaluative indicators, research process, or process for integrating findings and producing scores. NCAJ is also responsible for all specific findings, except and unless in instances in which NCAJ has expressly acknowledged that it relied on specific entities or sources for final findings, as follows:
  • National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (“NCCRC”) – NCAJ included in the Justice Index four “civil right to counsel” indicators and their respective findings as drawn from the national interactive map maintained by NCCRC at civilrighttocounsel.org/map. The indicators appear in the Justice Index categories of Self-Representation (#32 and #33) and Disability Access (#12 and #13). NCAJ has included these findings in the Justice Index with the explicit permission of NCCRC.
  • American Bar Association (“ABA”) – NCAJ incorporated into the Self-Represented category (#28) the ABA’s findings as to whether a state has an Access to Justice Commission or “other access to justice entity.” These findings and the links to all of the Access to Justice Commissions appear at http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_aid_indigent_defendants/initiatives/resource_center_for_access_to_justice/atj-commissions/commission-directory.html.
Overall Guidance

NCAJ Executive Director David Udell, Senior Attorney and Justice Index Director James Gamble, and Staff Attorney Aaron Sussman are responsible for Justice Index 2016, including the vision, methodology, findings, quality assurance review process, presentation, and other dimensions. Aaron Sussman led the research (and several other) initiatives for Justice Index 2016, providing support and direction to the pro bono law firms and their attorneys, as described above.

Index Calculation Methodology

This section explains the role of our 112 access-to-justice indicators, the process of assigning a weight to each indicator, and our method for calculating the scores for the four subject matter indexes and the Composite Index.

The Indicators

The indicators used by the Justice Index take two basic forms. For the Self-Representation Index, Language Access Index, and Disability Access Index, each indicator asks whether the jurisdiction has adopted certain practices “through a statewide statute, rule, regulation, appropriation, or other written guidance.”

For the Attorney Access Index, the Justice Index relies on a single indicator, the “civil legal aid attorney ratio,” for producing the Index score. To calculate this ratio, we divide the number of full-time-equivalent civil legal aid attorneys employed in the state by the number of people in the state with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Justice Index 2016 presents additional indicators and data sets that, while not used to calculate the Index scores, help provide a more complete picture of access to justice in the 52 jurisdictions. Such indicators and data sets, which can be found on the Findings pages and in the downloadable documents, include, for example, Comparison Charts analyzing the Index scores in relation to median income, region, population, and specific demographics; ratios of civil legal aid attorneys to all attorneys; and the number of civil legal aid attorneys and legal aid organizations in each jurisdiction.

Composite Index Calculation
To produce the Composite Index, each of the four subject matter index scores are added together and then divided by four, according an equal weight of 25% to each category’s set of indicators.
Weights of Indicators

Two weighting systems are used in the Justice Index. For the Self-Representation Index, Language Access Index, and Disability Access Index, NCAJ assigned a weight of 1, 5, or 10 to each of the indicators. This scale, with its three basic values signaling contrasting levels of importance, was selected for ease of understanding and usability. For the Attorney Access Index, NCAJ did not assign a weight, but rather accorded a value to the single indicator based on the arithmetically obtained score, adjusted to a scale of 100, reflecting the civil legal aid attorney ratio (i.e., a higher ratio translated into a higher score).

In setting weights at 1, 5, or 10, NCAJ relied on its staff’s expertise and on consultations with national subject matter specialists. NCAJ took into account (i) the importance of the law, rule, or practice for access to justice; (ii) the relative importance of the law, rule, or practice as compared to other indicators in the same subject matter index; and (iii) the cumulative weight of multiple indicators that track aspects of the same issue (for example, where a court’s website is evaluated based on consideration of multiple indicators).

To determine a score for each jurisdiction with respect to each indicator, NCAJ made a finding of either “Yes” or “No.” (As stated above, it is important to note that a “No” finding means only that a “Yes” finding could not be established; it does not represent an affirmative finding that the practice has not been adopted.) Points were awarded for “Yes” findings in the values 1, 5, or 10, reflecting the weights assigned to each indicator. No partial points were awarded for any indicators.

Standardization of All Index Scores to a 100-Point Scale

The Composite Index and the four subject matter indexes rely on a point scale of 0 to 100.

For the Self-Representation, Language Access, and Disability Access Indexes, each jurisdiction’s scores for all indicators were added together to determine a total raw score for the category index. The raw score was then divided by the maximum number of points that could be earned in the category, and multiplied by 100 to yield the scaled index final score.

For example, consider this hypothetical category with three indicators/questions and the following assigned weights:

QUESTION #

WEIGHT

Q1

10

Q2

5

Q3

1

Assuming a “Yes” for each indicator, the maximum raw score possible for a state in this category is 16 (10 + 5 + 1). If a state received a finding of “Yes” for Q1 but not for Q2 or Q3, it would have a raw score of 10, which is the weight assigned to Q1. To determine the scaled index score, the raw score, 10, would be divided by the maximum number of points available, 16, resulting in a quotient of 0.625, which would be multiplied by 100 for a scaled index final score of 62.5.

To calculate a score in the Attorney Access category for each state, NCAJ began by treating each state’s civil legal aid ratio as the state’s raw score.

The raw score was then converted to a 100-point scale suitable for inclusion in the Composite Index, by comparing it to a civil legal aid ratio used by NCAJ as a benchmark goal (the “benchmark civil legal aid ratio”). NCAJ set this goal at 10 civil legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Thus, a state with a raw score of 10 or higher (matching or exceeding the benchmark goal) would earn the maximum Attorney Access scaled index score (for inclusion in the Composite Index) of 100.

To calculate each state’s actual scaled index score, we divided the state’s raw score by 10 (the benchmark civil legal aid ratio figure), and then multiplied by 100. Thus, the scaled index scores are expressed as a percentage of the benchmark figure. (See “Attorney Access Methodology” for more information).

Computation of the Composite Index

The four category index scores were given an equal weight of 25% and averaged together to produce each state’s score for inclusion in the Composite Index, which also relies on a scale of 0 to 100.

For example: If a state has the following category index scores:
CATEGORY CATEGORY INDEX
Attorney Access 22
Self-Representation 39
Language Access 65
Disability Access 22
Then the composite index score for this state is = (22 + 39 + 65 + 22) / 4 = 37.
An exception to this formula was made for Puerto Rico, for which the Composite Index score excludes the category index for Language Access.
Visualizations Relying on Additional External Data
For three categories of data, the Justice Index also presents data visualizations that draw comparisons between the Justice Index’s findings and certain external data sources. The Justice Index categories for which these visualizations have been prepared, and the external data sources, are the following:

Attorney Access

American Bar Ass’n, ABA National Lawyer Population Survey (2015), http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/market_research/national-lawyer-population-by-state-2015.authcheckdam.pdf (providing the number of active lawyers for the 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico).

Legal Services Corporation, Number of Attorneys Per LSC-funded Organization (on file with NCAJ)

U.S. Census Bureau, “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014,” 2014 Population Estimates, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2015_PEPANNRES&src=pt

U.S. Census Bureau, “Poverty Status in the Last 12 Months,” 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_14_1YR_S1701&prodType=table (providing data by state for “[a]ll individuals below 200% of poverty level”).

Self-Representation

U.S. Census Bureau, “Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014” (full citation above under Attorney Access)

U.S. Census Bureau, Median Household Income by State – Single-Year Estimates: 2014, http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/statemedian/ (see downloadable spreadsheets under “Historical”)

U.S. Census Bureau, “Selected Economic Characteristics,” 2014 Puerto Rico Community Survey, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_14_5YR_DP03&prodType=table (providing median household income for Puerto Rico).

Language Access

Camille Ryan, U.S. Census Bureau, Language Use in the United States: 2011, at 11 (Table 4), available at http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acs-22.pdf (figures used in the Justice Index for state percentages of people with limited English proficiency were determined by adding together the percentages in the columns “Spoke English ‘not well’” and “Spoke English ‘not at all’”).

Disability Access

U.S. Census Bureau, “Percentage of People with a Disability – States and Puerto Rico,” 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_14_1YR_GCT1810.US01PR&prodType=table

Attorney Access: Counting the Number of Lawyers for the Poor

This section explains the our process for counting how many civil legal aid attorneys are available for every 10,000 people in poverty in each jurisdiction and across the nation.

General Methodology

For the Attorney Access Index, the Justice Index relies on a single indicator, the “civil legal aid attorney ratio,” for producing the Index score. To calculate this ratio, we divide the number of full-time-equivalent (“FTE”) civil legal aid attorneys employed in the state by the number of people in the state with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Researchers investigated and determined the following figures to calculate the civil legal aid attorney ratio and other findings presented in the Attorney Access Index:

  • the number of civil legal aid attorneys in each state, relying on the criteria and method described below;
  • the number of people in each state living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level based on 2014 census data, available here. (Note: users will need to follow the website’s instructions for setting filters to see the relevant state-level data);
  • the number of attorneys in each state in 2015, using data from the ABA, available here; and
  • the number of people in each state based on census data, relying on 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, available here.
The decision to focus on the number of civil legal aid attorneys in each jurisdiction was prompted by consideration of the following sources that describe the role of civil legal aid attorneys in assuring access to justice:
Criteria for Counting Civil Legal Aid

To calculate the civil legal aid attorney ratio, NCAJ had to first identify the “Qualifying Organizations,” which we defined as legal aid organizations that employ FTE attorneys and provide direct legal services to clients with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. NCAJ chose a 200% cutoff level because most Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (known as “IOLTA” or “IOLA”) funding entities use the 200% figure when determining whether to fund civil legal aid programs.

For Justice Index 2016, NCAJ counted a total of 370 Qualifying Organizations. The Legal Services Corporation (“LSC”) provides funding to 134 of these organizations and provided us with the number of FTE attorneys employed at each organization. By law, LSC-funded organizations serve constituents who live in households with annual incomes at or below 125% of the federal poverty guidelines. (See www.lsc.gov for more information). After outreach by the pro bono attorneys and NCAJ staff, 236 legal aid organizations not funded by LSC provided us with their number of FTE attorneys who provide direct legal services to clients with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level.

Method of Identifying and Contacting Civil Legal Aid Programs

As noted above, LSC provided NCAJ with the results of its annual tracking of the number of FTE lawyers at LSC-funded organizations. That data is included as one part of the Justice Index’s civil legal aid attorney count.

For the other part, NCAJ researchers identified non-LSC-funded Qualifying Organizations (“QOs”) through the following steps: (i) reviewing the 2014 Justice Index list of programs; (ii) contacting the IOLTA/IOLA organizations in the state both to determine the funding criteria used and to obtain a list of organizations receiving IOLTA/IOLA-based funding; (iii) contacting each organization identified in steps i and ii to verify that the organization meets the requirements of a QO; and/or (iv) asking each organization to identify additional organizations that might also be QOs. In addition to the foregoing, as data was collated, NCAJ did further outreach to programs across the country to identify additional QOs.

NCAJ followed a protocol for contacting potential QOs. After an initial email, researchers called each organization and made at least two follow-up emails and calls seeking to make contact. NCAJ staff estimate that approximately 10% of the organizations identified by researchers did not respond to these repeated inquiries. Thus, the data presented in the Justice Index does not account for the presence of attorneys working in the non-responding organizations.

The Data
The Justice Index presents a ratio reflecting the number of full-time-equivalent civil legal aid attorneys in each state per 10,000 people in each state with incomes equal to or below 200% of the federal poverty level. The Justice Index includes the actual count of civil legal aid lawyers in each state, available as a downloadable document in the Attorney Access section and on the Findings landing page. The Justice Index also presents a listing of the names of the specific civil legal aid qualifying organizations included in the count.
Index Calculation

To calculate an Attorney Access score for each state, NCAJ began by treating each state’s civil legal aid ratio as the state’s raw score.

The raw score was then converted to a 100-point scale suitable for inclusion in the Composite Index, by comparing it to a civil legal aid ratio used by NCAJ as a benchmark goal (the “benchmark civil legal aid ratio”). NCAJ set this goal at 10 civil legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Thus, a state with a raw score of 10 or higher (matching or exceeding the benchmark goal) would earn the maximum Attorney Access scaled index score (for inclusion in the Composite Index) of 100.

To calculate each state’s actual scaled index score, we divided the state’s raw score by 10 (the benchmark civil legal aid ratio figure), and then multiplied by 100. Thus, the scaled index scores are expressed as a percentage of the benchmark figure.

NCAJ chose the benchmark civil legal aid ratio of 10 because 10 is approximately 25% of 40.31, which is the national average of the number of active attorneys per 10,000 people, as calculated using census data and ABA statistics. (See “Overall Methodology” section above for links to sources).

Several things should be noted about NCAJ’s use of the benchmark of 10 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people with incomes at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. The simplest approach would be to set the benchmark for the number of attorneys dedicated to serving those who cannot afford one as equal to the number of attorneys available to serve an equivalent number of people in the general population. This standard would be based on the notion that access to legal representation should be equally distributed across the population and determined by one’s legal needs, not one’s ability to pay. Some would instead argue that the benchmark ratio should be higher for civil legal aid attorneys than for attorneys generally because those living in poverty often face issues requiring legal assistance that people who are more affluent do not, or face more rarely. Others, however, would argue that the 40-to-10,000 ratio for the general population is an inapt baseline for a civil legal aid benchmark because it includes corporate lawyers, government lawyers, and others who do not serve individual clients.

Our benchmark of 25% of the national average reflects two critical points. First, it is a very conservative figure for estimating the need for civil legal aid lawyers. It is hard to argue credibly that those living at or below 200% of the federal poverty level do not need at least one-quarter of the access to counsel that others have. Second, no state is even close to the reaching the index benchmark of 10 civil legal aid attorneys per 10,000 people in poverty. The index figure is demonstrative of a large unfilled need and, if anything, grossly understates that need.

The Researchers
NCAJ is grateful to the pro bono researchers at all five of the volunteer law firms, all of whom participated in counting the civil legal aid lawyers. NCAJ is also grateful to the Legal Services Corporation for the data it provided that has been included in the count. NCAJ staff attorney Aaron Sussman provided guidance to the firms, and also carried out research to complete the count.

Self-Representation: Measuring Access for People Without Lawyers

This section describes the process by which NCAJ determined which statewide practices are essential elements for helping people without lawyers, and the methods used to obtain data on where such practices are present or absent .

Data Collection

This data was collected through the Justice Index Questionnaire (see “General Methodology”).

Sources of Authority Prompting Research

Research to determine indicators and best practices for self-represented litigants was prompted by consideration of the following sources:

NCAJ also consulted with stakeholders including with certain members of the Self-Represented Litigants Network (“SRLN”) regarding the indicators. Those discussions informed NCAJ’s decision as to what to include in the questionnaire and how to phrase questions. These discussions were valuable to NCAJ, but NCAJ is responsible for the final form of the questions distributed, and the final selection of indicators of best practices set forth in the Justice Index. Stakeholders, including SRLN, are not responsible for the final survey questions, nor were they consulted on how NCAJ interpreted some questions, answers, and citations to sources. NCAJ acknowledges that some stakeholders, including members of consulted organizations such as SRLN, may disagree with some of the indicators that NCAJ has included in the Justice Index. NCAJ is grateful for SRLN’s assistance and for its continued work in this area.

Findings Incorporated from Other Sources

For the following indicators, NCAJ drew its data from other sources and did not make findings based on original research or correspondence with the state courts:

  • Q.28, regarding whether states maintain an ABA-recognized Access to Justice Commission. NCAJ incorporated the ABA’s findings as to whether a jurisdiction has an Access to Justice Commission or “other access to justice entity.”

  • Q.32 & Q.33, regarding right to counsel laws in housing cases and abuse/neglect cases. NCAJ incorporated the findings made by the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (“NCCRC”) which are maintained on the NCCRC’s Status Map. NCAJ only credited a state with a “Yes” finding if the NCCRC’s Status Map identified that state as having a “Categorical Right to Counsel.”

    The NCCRC Status Map does not include Puerto Rico. For Puerto Rico, NCAJ conducted original research in consultation with Puerto Rico court officials and the NCCRC staff.

    Please note the following disclaimer from civilrighttocounsel.org: “No information in the map should be taken as legal advice. Moreover, information in the map is to be taken as-is, with no guarantees of its accuracy. . . . The information in this map is current as of late 2013, and while we add new information as we learn of it, we cannot ensure the information is always to-date.”

  • A note on Q.9, regarding counting self-represented cases as recommended by the National Center for State Courts (NCSC). NCAJ takes full responsibility for the findings as to this indicator; they are not endorsed by or based on data provided by the NCSC. The NCSC prescribes a particular method for counting and collecting data on cases involving self-represented litigants. After consultation with NCSC officials, NCAJ decided to apply a broad standard to this indicator, crediting states if they could demonstrate implementation of a statewide program in in the past year that collected quantitative data on cases involving self-represented litigants in a given venue.

Further Information on Selected Indicators

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). The Self-Representation Index indicators included in the document are the ones listed above (Q.9, Q.28, Q.32, and Q.33), plus:

  • 1. DEDICATE A COURT EMPLOYEE TO HELP PEOPLE WITHOUT LAWYERS. Dedicate a court employee or court office to design and advance initiatives to enhance access to courts for self-represented litigants?
  • 2. AUTHORIZE JUDGES TO TAKE SPECIFIED STEPS. Authorize or encourage judges to take specified steps (for example, by providing information to the litigant about evidentiary requirements) to ensure that self-represented litigants are fairly heard?
  • 6. AUTHORIZE UNBUNDLING. Authorize lawyers to perform discrete tasks for parties without first obtaining judicial permission and without incurring an obligation to continue representation that requires judicial permission to withdraw?
  • 8. FUND A SELF-HELP CENTER. Fund a court-based “self-help center” in the past 12 months to help self-represented litigants?
  • 10. REQUIRE PLAIN ENGLISH WRITTEN MATERIALS. Require court written materials intended for the public to be a) in plain English, or b) at a designated reading level?
  • 11. ENCOURAGE PLAIN ENGLISH IN THE COURTROOM. Authorize or encourage judges to use plain English when communicating orally with self-represented litigants?
  • 12. DESIGNATE RESPONSIBILITY FOR PLAIN ENGLISH IN COURTROOM. Designate a court employee responsible for encouraging judges to use plain English when communicating with self-represented litigants?
  • 13. PUBLISH A PLAIN ENGLISH STYLE GUIDE. Publish a style guide that provides guidance on how to draft forms and instructions in plain English?
  • 16. MAKE ELECTRONIC FILING ACCESSIBLE. Require that electronic filing systems be accessible to self-represented litigants?
  • 17. WAIVE CIVIL FILING FEES. Permit courts to grant a waiver of civil filing fees for people who meet a designated financial eligibility standard (aka “in forma pauperis” standard)?
  • 24(a-g). LIST ON WEB PAGE FORMS FOR [X CASE TYPE]. List on a single page of the state judiciary website all court forms necessary to fulfill the minimum filing obligations for [X CASE]
  • 25(a-g). LIST ON WEB PAGE MATERIALS FOR [X CASE TYPE]. List on a single page on the state judiciary website all supporting materials necessary for a court to consider the merits of a petition by a [A PARTY IN X CASE TYPE]
  • 26(a-f).REQUIRE COURTS TO ACCEPT COMMON FORM, [X CASE TYPE]. Require that all courts in the state accept common statewide court form(s) from [A PARTY IN X CASE TYPE].
  • 24(g), 25(g), 26(g). These indicators all concern court forms regarding a defendant’s response to a mortgage foreclosure action.
  • 27(a-g). MAINTAIN DOCUMENT ASSEMBLY PROGRAM, [X CASE TYPE]. Maintain a computer-based document assembly self-help program to assist litigants in actions seeking [X REMEDY]

Language Access: Locating Best Practices for Non-English Speakers

This section describes our evaluation of the services available in each jurisdiction for the more than 25 million people in the U.S. with limited English proficiency (“LEP”), particularly with respect to certified court-provided interpreters and translations available on state court websites.

Data Collection

This data was collected through the Justice Index Questionnaire in 2015 and NCAJ’s quality assurance review process. (See “Overall Methodology”).

Sources of Authority Prompting Research

Research to determine indicators and best practices for people with limited English proficiency (“LEP”) was prompted by consideration of the following sources:

  • ABA, Standards for Language Access in Courts (2012)
  • Brennan Center, Language Access in State Courts (2009)
  • National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, Increasing Access to Justice for Limited English Proficient Asian Pacific Americans: Report for Action (2007)
  • Conference of State Court Administrators, White Paper on Court Interpretation: Fundamental Access to Justice (2007)
  • U.S. Dept. of Justice, Guidance to Federal Financial Assistance Recipients Regarding Title VI Prohibition Against National Origin Discrimination Affected Limited English Proficient Persons, 67 Fed. Reg. 41455, 41471 (June 18, 2002)
  • National Center for State Courts, Court Interpretation: Model Guides for Policy and Practice in State Courts (2002)
  • Consortium for Language Access in the Courts, 10 Key Components to a Successful Language Access Program in the Courts (undated)
Note Regarding Puerto Rico

The Justice Index indicators for measuring Language Access refer specifically to practices for people for whom English is not their primary language. These questions are not apt for the Puerto Rico court system, in which the official language is Spanish. As such, we did not score or rank Puerto Rico in this category, though we did include informational citations for Puerto Rico where relevant information was available. For the Composite Index, Puerto Rico’s composite score was calculated by averaging its scores for the remaining three categories, excluding Language Access.

Further Information on Selected Indicators

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). The Language Access Index indicators included in the document are:

  • 8. INCLUDE CLERK-COUNTER INTEPRETERS IN LANGUAGE ACCESS PLAN. Maintain a Language Access Plan to ensure that in areas in which a significant number of people speak languages other than English, clerk counter staff have resources available to assist with communication with LEP litigants?
  • 9. REQUIRE INTERPRETERS AT SELF-HELP CENTERS. Require that self-help centers in areas in which a significant number of people speak languages other than English have present during all hours of operation either certified interpreters (where available) or bilingual staff fluent in commonly spoken languages?
  • 12. TRANSLATE ON WEBSITE WHEN INTERPRETERS ARE PROVIDED. Explain on the state judiciary website the cases for which the state will provide certified interpreters, in the languages other than English that are commonly spoken by litigants?
  • 14(A)(1-12). REQUIRE APPOINTED INTERPRETERS BE CERTIFIED, [X CASE TYPE]. Require certified interpreters (where available) for LEP parties in [X CASE TYPE]?
  • 14(B)(1-12). REQUIRE INTERPRETERS BE FREE-OF-CHARGE, [X CASE TYPE]. Prohibit requiring payment (including fees, costs, or other expenses) for court-provided interpreters in [X CASE TYPE]?
  • 15. TRANSLATE ON WEBSITE AVAILABILITY OF COURT FORMS. Describe on the state judiciary website, in languages (other than English) commonly spoken by litigants, the availability of self-help forms?
  • 16. POST TRANSLATED COURT FORMS ON WEBSITE. Make electronic forms available on the state judiciary website in languages (other than English) commonly spoken by self-represented litigants?

Disability Access: Assessing Services for People with Disabilities

This section explains the procedure we used to identify indicators and locate best practices for removing barriers to justice for people with physical and mental disabilities.

Data Collection
This data was collected through the Justice Index Questionnaire in 2015 and NCAJ’s quality assurance review process. (See “Overall Methodology”).
Sources of Authority Prompting Research

Research to determine indicators and best practices for people with disabilities was prompted by consideration of the following sources:

  • National Association of the Deaf, Communication Access in State and Local Courts (2008)
  • Debbie Howells et al., Court Web Site Disability Access (National Center for State Courts 2008)
  • Dave Yanchulis, Achieving Accessible Courthouses, Building Safety Journal (2007)
  • U.S. Access Board, Justice for All: Designing Accessible Courthouses (2006)
  • Mark Van Bever, Implementing the Americans With Disabilities Act in a Trial Court (National Center for State Courts 2002)
  • Western Law Center for Disability Rights et al., Access to the Courts: A Guide to Reasonable Accommodations for People With Disabilities (2d ed. 2003).
  • Jo Williams, Communication Accessibility in the Courts (National Center for State Courts 2002)
  • The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, www.bazelon.org

Findings Incorporated from Other Sources

For the following indicators, NCAJ drew its data from other sources and did not make findings based on original research or correspondence with the state courts:

For two of the indicators in the Disability Access Index, #12 and #13 (regarding right to counsel laws in involuntary commitment and guardianship cases), NCAJ incorporated the findings made by the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (“NCCRC”), which are maintained on the NCCRC’s Status Map. NCAJ only credited a state with a “Yes” finding if the NCCRC’s Status Map identified that state as having a “Categorical Right to Counsel.”

The NCCRC Status Map does not include Puerto Rico. For Puerto Rico, NCAJ conducted original research in consultation with Puerto Rico court officials and the NCCRC staff.

Further Information on Selected Indicators

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). The Disability Access Index indicators included in the document are the ones listed above (Q.12 and Q.13), plus:

  • 2. REQUIRE APPOINTED SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS BE CERTIFIED. Require courts to use only certified sign language interpreters?
  • 4. EXPLAIN ON WEBSITE HOW TO REQUEST ACCOMMODATION. Explain on the state judiciary website how to request an accommodation because of a disability?
  • 5. NAME ON WEBSITE THE CONTACT FOR ACCOMMODATIONS. Provide on the state judiciary website the name and mailing or email address of a person to contact to request an accommodation?
  • 6. EXPLAIN ON WEBSITE HOW TO FILE DISABILITY ACCESS COMPLAINT. Explain on the state judiciary website how to file a complaint about difficulty due to a disability in accessing: a) court facilities, or b) court services?
  • 7. NAME ON WEBSITE THE CONTACT FOR DISABILITY ACCESS COMPLAINTS. Provide on the state judiciary website the name and mailing or email address of a person to contact to file a complaint?
  • 8. REQUIRE ACCESS FOR SERVICE ANIMALS. Require courts to allow service animals?
  • 11. PROVIDE FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL AS ACCOMMODATION. Identify the provision of counsel at public expense to litigants with disabilities as a form of reasonable accommodation?