The Emergence of Access to Justice Commissions

The latest edition of the ABA Division for Legal Services’ Dialogue newsletter includes a piece on the phenomenon of state jurisdictions creating blue-ribbon Access to Justice commissions (or ATJs), and their close ties with the state Interest on Lawyers Trust Account (IOLTA) programs that fund civil legal services.  ATJs, which are often composed of high-level players from the bench, the private bar, and the public interest community, tend to work on the systemic level, developing big-picture solutions for and bringing attention to shortcomings in the justice system that affect poor and socially marginalized citizens. 

The idea of the organized bar, the courts, legal aid providers, funders, and other stakeholders working together to expand access to civil justice for low-income and disadvantaged people is not new. What is novel about ATJ commissions is that they institutionalize these relationships, typically under the aegis of the state supreme court, providing the group’s recommendations with built-in visibility and credibility and facilitating their implementation.

The piece goes on to talk about the relationship between ATJs and IOLTA programs which, while having some divergence in mission, unite around the goal of ensuring equal access to justice in their jurisdictions.

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