By: Thomas M. Clarke and Rebecca L. Sandefur. Published by: American Bar Foundation (ABF), National Center for State Courts (NCSC), and Public Welfare Foundation. Published on: December 14, 2016
This is the first comprehensive evaluation of a program in which appropriately trained and supervised individuals without full formal legal training provide help to litigants who would otherwise be without assistance. The study found that tenants facing eviction in New York City were able to get significantly better results under an innovative program that uses “court navigators,” who are not lawyers. The New York City Court Navigators Program seeks to address a considerable imbalance in legal representation, since, at the time of the study, approximately 90 percent of tenants did not have a lawyer, while the vast majority of landlords did. The study was conducted by researchers from the American Bar Foundation and the National Center for State Courts and funded by the Public Welfare Foundation.
- People without formal legal training can provide meaningful assistance and services to litigants who are not represented by a lawyer.
- These services can impact several kinds of outcomes, ranging from litigants’ understanding of court processes and empowerment to present their side of the case, to providing more relevant information to the decision-maker, to formal legal outcomes and the real-life outcomes experienced by assisted litigants and their families.
- The tasks Navigators are actually able to perform, and thus their impact, are influenced by the philosophy and attitude of the court in which the services are provided, including the attitudes of case processing staff and judges.
- Contributions of Navigators’ work to legal outcomes and real-life outcomes such as eviction prevention are likely similarly influenced by court environment and by the range of services and benefit programs available in the jurisdiction. The availability of such services and benefits to which Navigators can connect litigants is a major mechanism of Navigator impact. Some jurisdictions, such as New York City, have significantly more such resources than most.
- The impact of Roles Beyond Lawyers programs on legal outcomes can be greatly assisted by the availability and use of plain language, standardized legal forms, such as the Answer form, and of software programs (what in New York are called “DIY” programs) that help litigants prepare legal documents such as answers. Such programs have been developed for many jurisdictions,facilitating the replication of Roles Beyond Lawyers programs.