PLEASE NOTE: Publication for public comment is not, and shall not be, construed as a recommendation or approval by the Board of Trustees of the materials published.
State Bar of California, Civil Justice Strategies Task Force Report and Recommendations
In November 2013, the State Bar Board of Trustees approved the creation and appointment of the Civil Justice Strategies Task Force (CJTF) as a special committee of the board.
The charge of the task force was to analyze the reasons for the existing “justice gap,” to evaluate the role of the legal profession in addressing the crisis, to seek the input of groups who have been working to expand access to justice to understand what efforts have worked and which have not been successful, to study creative solutions being considered in other states and other countries, and to develop an action plan with recommendations for steps that should be taken to fill the justice gap and achieve true access to justice in California.
Development of the action plan included a series of public meetings with presentations by experts to obtain input from key stakeholders, including those who have long struggled to address the justice gap, as well as others who may be able to suggest creative solutions. The task force was chaired by Luis Rodriguez (2013-14 State Bar President) and was comprised of members of the State Bar Board of Trustees, Solo, Small Firm and Large Firm representatives, Public Sector representatives, Modest Means representatives, Bar Associations, Lawyer Referral and Information Services, Public Members, Academics and liaisons from the California Supreme Court and the California Commission on Access to Justice.
Seven all-day public hearings were held by the task force to consider input and make recommendations to the Board of Trustees.
Chair Luis Rodriguez created three subcommittees of the task force to help guide the work of the full task force and with the hope that the task force could arrive at a consensus about how to improve the access to justice problem and lay the groundwork for dramatic progress in the next few years.
The three subcommittees were: (1) the “Now Group” which was tasked with a review of the current access environment in order to identify what approaches are working now and what may be scalable or can be replicated; (2) the “New Group” which focused on innovations that currently are being considered or implemented in other jurisdictions; and (3) a “Law School Debt Group” that examined the intersection of law school debt and access to justice.
This report includes the following sections: an acknowledgement by Luis Rodriguez; a brief introduction of the problem the task force set out to address; lists of the topics and witnesses included in each hearing; a summary of key recommendations; excerpts from the testimony; and the individual reports from each of the Civil Justice Strategies Task Force’s subcommittees.
In addition to supporting increased funding for legal services, the State Bar is working to find other ways to expand access to courts and lawyers for low and moderate income Californians. As noted above, the Task Force on Civil Justice Strategies, chaired by then State Bar President Luis Rodriguez was charged with analyzing the “justice gap.” The Task Force evaluated the role of the legal profession in addressing the crisis, sought input from groups working in this area, studied creative solutions being considered in other states and countries, and developed recommendations to help fill the justice gap and achieve true “access to justice” in California. It is important that the Board of Trustees solicit further input focusing on innovative strategies to address California’s “justice gap.”
1. Funding: recommend that the State Bar boost promotion of the Justice Gap Fund in order to increase donations to the fund by lawyers and law firms.
2. Incubators/Modest Means: recommend that the State Bar track the trajectory of incubator participants; and recommend that the State Bar help create a framework (e.g., mentors, toolkits, forms, etc.) to assist modest means practitioners.
3. Unbundling: recommend that the State Bar do more to promote and incentivize limited scope representation.
4. Improved Coordination: recommend greater coordination between the State Bar and Judicial Council, including in efforts to link the various stakeholders involved in providing affordable legal services.
5. Civil Gideon: recommend that the State Bar support efforts to secure universal representation starting with the following four areas: Land Lord / Tenant, Family, Domestic Violence, Immigration; and recommend that State Bar help to market what’s working in the pilot projects, publicly support them, and help to scale them.
1. Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT): The State Bar should study the design of a pilot program, in one subject matter area, and, with input from the Supreme Court, address how the governance, oversight, and “licensing” would be handled. It is important to allow the time for the Court to have input at the early stages, rather than after design is complete.
2. Alternative Business Structures (ABS): The State Bar should monitor the ABS concept in other jurisdictions, with particular attention to the impact on pro bono and public impact litigation in jurisdictions that adopt these practices. Until this information is available to consider and understand, the Bar should not proceed with new rules or programs.
3. Re-engineering: recommendation for a pilot project, perhaps in landlord-tenant, using a joint working group of the bar, the courts, and perhaps relevant social scientists and tech people, to explore how the system could be redesigned to streamline the process, make it easier to use, and provide protection for the parties’ rights.
4. Navigators: A program should be designed to be piloted in one or more self-help centers, to provide volunteer assistance to self-represented litigants in attending hearings. Permission should be requested to have the navigator sit at counsel table with the litigant, but not to address the court. Based on experience in other jurisdictions, the focus should be on this as a volunteer program, not as a for-profit method of assistance.
1. Info Clearinghouse: The Bar should serve as a clearinghouse of information on student debt management and repayment programs and key student loan debt and repayment information.
2. California Young Lawyers Association: Working through CYLA, the Bar should develop mechanisms and new approaches to assist young lawyers in better understanding and proactively addressing the implications of their student debt obligations.
3. Creating an Enhanced Understanding of Student Debt Data, Concerns and Implications: The Bar should continue to put a spotlight on the issue of law school debt, promote an enhanced understanding of the link between student debt and broader community access to justice and public safety concerns, and assist others working to study, quantify and better define the implications of student loan indebtedness.
4. Assess Relationship to Misconduct: The Bar should work through its discipline arm to assess whether student debt is precipitating or contributing to lawyer misconduct.
5. Work with Law Schools: The Bar should use both its law school regulatory power as well as its established relationships with law school leaders to encourage enhanced counseling, strategies and disclosures in regard to student debt.
6. Participate in National Dialogue: The State Bar should consider ways to add its voice to the national dialogue seeking to develop and promote enhanced loan forgiveness and repayment approaches.
7. Encourage New Law School Cost Models: The State Bar should help encourage new and innovative models that seek to address law school cost concerns.
To be determined
Board Committee on Stakeholders and Access to Justice
5 p.m. Monday, May 11, 2015
180 Howard St.
San Francisco, CA 94105-1639