Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is the Justice Index?The Justice Index is the National Center for Access to Justice’s online resource in which data is presented that reveals the performance of state-based justice systems in assuring access to justice. The Justice Index may be viewed at www.justiceindex.org.
2. Who created the Justice Index?The NCAJ created the Justice Index. The Justice Index is a project headed by NCAJ and supported by the Pfizer Legal Alliance, Skadden Arps, Kirkland & Ellis, UBS, Deloitte, and MSDS. More on the supporters of the Justice Index is available here.
3. What is the purpose of the Justice Index?The purpose of the Justice Index is to increase public understanding of the importance of our justice system, and in so doing to encourage the adoption of best practices to increase access to justice in all parts of the country. We rely on our courts to secure the rule of law: to halt domestic violence, stop unlawful foreclosures, preserve the unity of families, obtain wages owed to employees, and in some circumstances to block unfair criminal proceedings. But, too often, people cannot get into court, receive attention from a court, obtain essential interpretation and representation, and secure a just result. In civil cases, 80% of the legal needs of the poor are unmet. In criminal cases, people unable to afford a lawyer are entitled to receive free counsel, but only the poorest obtain it, often it is late, and in many communities its quality is impaired. Nor is there any right to counsel in most categories of civil legal cases. The purpose of the Justice Index is to increase access to justice in our society, especially for people who are vulnerable. The Justice Index works by showing which states are doing a better and a worse job of assuring access to justice, so that states can benefit from the comparison and adopt the best practices necessary to improve. It specifically highlights best practices so that officials and advocates can learn about and replicate them. Over the last 50 years, public and private institutions have increasingly learned to rely on performance measurement. The Justice Index asks:
- Why should our nation’s justice system remain separate from this drive toward transparency and accountability?
- Why shouldn’t our nation have brilliant visualization strategies to help the public understand the justice system?
- Why shouldn’t our nation learn where the best policies are in place, and which states are doing better with the same resources than their neighbors?
- Why shouldn’t our nation use data to help spread best practices across the land, when everyone knows that justice shouldn’t depend on the serendipity of where you live?
4. How can I use the Justice Index?The Justice Index makes it easy for you to learn what justice systems are accomplishing in your own state, neighboring states, and across the country so that you (and everyone) can take steps to replicate in each state the best practices for assuring access to justice. The Justice Index is intended to be useful in this way to multiple audiences, including:
- court officials, including judges, administrators, and other court officials
- executive agency officials
- legislators and legislative staff
- legal services programs and the state and national entities that help to support them
- law firms and the organized bar
- legal academics and other researchers
- social services organizations
- social justice and good government reform organizations
- members of the public.
5. What is the role of pro bono attorneys and other volunteers in creating the Justice Index?The research on state-based justice systems that is presented in the Justice Index was prepared by teams of attorneys serving pro bono. Pro bono teams of researchers are well suited to carry out Justice Index research for several reasons, including the following:
- law firm attorneys are meticulous in assembling the data
- the project relies on the lawyers to perform activities within their areas of expertise
- the lawyers were also able to rely on paralegals and other support staff to help with the research
- research about state justice systems is interesting to many people, lawyers and non-lawyers alike.
6. What are the criteria for including data in the Justice Index?When deciding on data to include in the Justice Index, NCAJ considers factors that include the following:
- Does the data illuminate access to justice?
- Is new research needed to produce the data, or has the data already been produced?
- Can sources of authority readily be cited to support the findings revealed by the data?
- Does the data reveal laws, rules, or practices with statewide effect, or can they be understood in terms of the portion of the state to which they apply?
- Is the data current – was it produced within the past three years? The Justice Index web site may include data older than three years, but the indexing function of the Justice Index will generally look back only three years.
7. Why should I accept that the picture presented by the Justice Index – of best practices for ensuring access to justice, and of particular states performing better for having adopted these practices – is accurate?The exercise of indexing reflects values judgments made by the indexing system’s authors about the elements to include, their importance, their importance relative to one another, and the weights to be accorded to the sub-parts of each element. In this initial version of the Justice Index, we included four elements of state justice systems – number of lawyers for the poor, self-represented litigants assistance, language assistance, disability assistance – based on our knowledge that these elements have been treated over time as important by the courts, the bar, the legal aid bar, good government organizations and social justice organizations. We consulted with other experts, too, and also took into account standards for justice system performance created by established organizations. We gave all four elements equal weight. We did not discern a rationale for giving any one element greater weight than any other. Within each element, we gave each sub-part a weight of 1, 5, or 10, based on our judgment of the relative importance of the sub-part. We assigned more weight to fundamental requirements (such as the expectation to use interpreters who are certified) and less weight to features derived from the basic requirements (such as the requirement to train court staff on how to use interpreters). We assigned more weight to a sub-part if it measured a single distinctive feature of access to justice, and less weight if it was joined with other sub-parts to comprise a larger issue. We did this to avoid giving excess weight to the larger issue through accrual of sub-parts. For example, we gave less weight where a particular part measured as aspect of a court web site, if other sub-parts focused on other aspects of the same web site. Of course the reliability of the Justice Index depends ultimately on the quality of its research. The research was carried out by law firm attorneys and staff, corporate attorneys and staff, and law students, and was supervised the National Center for Access to Justice. Every effort has been made to verify its accuracy. If you believe any of our findings to be inaccurate or incomplete, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. to submit a detailed response. Questions and suggestions are also welcome. For more information on the indexing system for the Justice Index, see Methodology. See also Abel and Udell, The Justice Index: Measuring Access to the Courts, Management Information Exchange (2011), http://staging.ncforaj.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/abel-udell-mie-justice-index-article-2012.pdf.
8. Will the Justice Index be updated and, if so, how often?The NCAJ intends to update the Justice Index and to examine trends over time. We are consulting with our partners and experts in the field to determine how often to update the specific data contained in the Justice Index. Currently, NCAJ intends for the Justice Index to look back three years from when the data is posted.
9. What may I do if I see information in the Justice Index that I believe should be updated or corrected to more accurately describe the justice system?The Justice Index is intended to present accurate information about the quality of access to justice in state justice systems. If you identify information in the Justice Index that is incomplete or inaccurate, please email our team at email@example.com. The Justice Index was published on the internet on February 25, 2014, and revised on November 13, 2014. While another interim update will not be done, we will soon be reaching out across the country with a new survey, and we will address as many questions and concerns that have been brought to our attention as we are able. We welcome your comments and suggestions to help us make the next edition of The Justice Index a still more powerful tool.
10. Why does the Justice Index include a note in the chart titled, “Comparison of Civil Legal Aid Attorneys to All Attorneys” advising readers to visit FAQ Question 10 before relying on DC data?We want readers to know that care must be taken in comparing Washington, D.C., with states. D.C.’s population density is approximately 10,589 persons/square mile. The most densely populated state, New Jersey, has approximately 1,210 persons/square mile and the national average is only 86. The extreme difference in density raises interesting questions about the distribution of civil legal aid between urban and rural areas. That research is currently beyond our capabilities.
11. Can I print data or images from the Justice Index?Yes, it is possible to print data and images from the Justice Index. The main printing command is a symbol of a small tray with a rightward arrow hovering above it, located at the bottom center of each page of the Justice Index that contains data. To print, click on this symbol, and you will have the option of printing a pdf of the page you are viewing, or of printing the data contained in the particular visualization you are viewing (note: if the option to print data is grayed out, click again on the page you wish to print, and then try the print command again). By using the print command, you should be able to print whatever images and data you would like to print. Please note that you will also be offered the opportunity to download the Tableau software, however it is not necessary to download the software in order to use the print command to print data and images from the Justice Index.
12. How do I communicate with the people responsible for the Justice Index?To be in direct contact with staff at the NCAJ, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
13. How can I help to sponsor the Justice Index?Please consider contacting NCAJ staff about the Justice Index at email@example.com. There are many ways to help support the Justice Index, including the following:
- Please consider making a financial contribution to NCAJ at www.ncforaj.org/donate
- Please consider sharing data with NCAJ. NCAJ will always acknowledge organizations that provide data used in the Justice Index, and will also direct Justice Index users to visit the web site that is the home of the data.
- Please consider participating in the research effort to support the Justice Index.
- Please consider helping the Justice Index with your own skill in data analytics, web design, and related fields.