What is Access to Justice?

A few years ago I was listening to Dan Lear speak about something related to changing face of the legal profession, and he said that he didn’t like the phrase “access to justice” because people think about the word justice and they think huge things like people protesting in the street. I think he had some other point, and I think I remember disagreeing with him at the time, but he was right about the justice thing – it’s often not the little guy fighting against a huge corporation or someone wrongly accused of a crime fighting for their freedom. It’s often mundane things like getting a building permit or just wanting to read the law because your condo association did something you didn’t agree with. Justice often requires lots of paper work.

Access to justice isn’t just for poor people, either. It’s for everyone. Although it does mean leveling the playing field as much as possible so things like wealth (or educational or social or etc.) status don’t matter. If I were the benevolent dictator of society, I’d take out the phrase “the best attorney money can buy” because all attorneys should be equally able to represent their clients. If you haven’t looked into the issue, the work loads of public defenders and legal aid attorneys is horrific. A friend shared this image on Facebook and I think it encapsulates what I’m trying to say:

So anyway, in my quest (and psychological need) to define everything, I’ve been thinking a lot about what access to justice means, who participates, and what aspects of it can be improved via technology. So I made a mind map. (Another mindmap?? Yes. Another mindmap. I’m a visual thinker.) I think there’s a lot areas that can be improved via technology simply because they don’t require an attorney to complete. (And there’s the third rail conversation which is which of the attorney activities can be replaced by technology?) A lot, though, depends on government funding, and that’s going to be a problem. It’s a work in progress, and, as always, I’m open to suggestion.

Editor’s note – this article is republished with the permission of the author from her terrific blog.

Posted in: Civil Liberties, Legal Profession, Legal Research