Nonlawyer Navigators in State Courts: An Emerging Consensus

By: Mary E. McClymont. Published by: The Justice Lab at Georgetown Law Center. Published in June 2019.

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As shown in this report, low-income individuals suffer from a distinct lack of legal assistance nationwide. According to sources cited in this report, it is estimated that “86% of the civil legal problems of low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help” and 30 million individuals report a lack of legal representation in state courts yearly (Justice Gap Report from the Legal Services Corporation). One innovative approach to addressing the access to civil justice crisis is the utilization of “nonlawyer navigators”, who have no formal legal training but who help self-represented litigants (SRLs). These navigators assist SRLs in court with otherwise daunting and intimidating civil legal problems such as family law matters, domestic abuse cases, etc. As this report shows, many navigator programs are designed to increase public trust in the courts, facilitate SRL access to justice, take some of the workload off of lawyers, and enhance court effectiveness.

The Georgetown Justice Lab conducted a survey of twenty three current national navigator programs in fifteen states (and Washington, D.C.) to compile a comprehensive report. The report provides an overview of an emerging design in access to justice initiatives. Many different aspects of the programs were collected including case types, navigator tasks and backgrounds, and individual program objectives. The report’s findings highlight the significant variance that exists amongst programs across the country, noting that this is indicative of the inherent flexibility of the navigator model. The report also features seven recommendations to improve program effectiveness and sustainability despite inadequate funding.

Recommendations:

  • Those who worked to create these programs should continue to work to secure sustainable funding
  • Creating pilots has benefits and secures buy-ins from stakeholders
  • Court leaders should continue listening to SRLs and navigators to understand simplification and efficiency
  • Securing data to measure and determine results of navigator programs is vital to program decisions
  • Connect various programs to meet SRL demand and stakeholders should survey their own ecosystem to meet the same goal SRL network should consider creating community of practice to share insights and create tool kits
  • Independent research (such as this report) is necessary to make the best use of navigator efforts


Categories: Courts, Self-Help, Legal Aid Practitioners, Policymakers and Funders, Researchers and Academics, News Media, National, General/Unspecified Clients, Self-Represented Litigants

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