Each year, more than 30 million Americans encounter civil legal problems without the help of a lawyer. Many of the issues these individuals face, such as debt collection, eviction, foreclosure, child custody, bankruptcy, and disability claims, can have profound, even life-changing, implications.
Outside of the criminal courts, litigants have no constitutional right to a lawyer, and affordable legal help is hard to come by. This lack of available support forces millions of people each year to sift through forms, search websites, and show up to court with little or no assistance. Often this leads to delays and increased costs for courts and litigants, as well as procedural errors that can cause cases to be decided without all parties having their day in court.
Nearly everyone involved with the civil legal system—judges, attorneys, and litigants—agrees it must be made more fair and efficient. However, no consensus exists regarding what courts or local and state policymakers can or should do to accomplish that goal.
The Pew Charitable Trusts’ civil legal system modernization project seeks to address this problem and to support efforts to deliver a system that is more accessible and effective through four key pathways: