A team of Community Advocacy Clinic students assisted the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission, which the Oklahoma State Supreme Court created in 2014 to address the crisis in access to justice in the state. The student team conducted research and made recommendations to the Commission on two proposed access to justice interventions — unbundled legal services and court navigator programs. They also helped the Commission understand the nature of the access to justice problem in Oklahoma and helped make strategic recommendations for the future of the Commission’s work.
The student team’s report is titled, A Roadmap for Reform: A Continuum of Interventions for Access to Justice in Oklahoma.
Chair of the Commission, David Riggs, described his experience as an CAC client in this way:
“As a new organization, the Oklahoma Access to Justice Commission was struggling to grasp and fully understand the issues confronting it, and to develop an agenda to deal with those issues. The research and report produced by the Family Advocacy Clinic was precisely what the Commission needed to sharpen its focus and identify workable solutions to access to justice problems in Oklahoma. The final report of the clinic’s student team was well researched, fully documented, and concisely and clearly written. It will be a valuable resource as we implement changes in our legal system to better accommodate the needs of individuals who have limited financial means or who face other impediments, which have historically denied them full access to our justice system. The final report of the Clinic materials will be very useful to the Commission as we attempt to educate and better inform both lawyers and judges regarding the reforms which must be made to increase access to justice in Oklahoma.”
In A Roadmap for Reform, the student team found that states report 70 to 90 percent of cases in family law, housing, small claims, and domestic violence involve at least one unrepresented litigant. Additionally, the vast majority of people who have justice problems never seek assistance from a lawyer or a court. Thus, civil justice problems are common, they cascade, and they deeply affect individuals and communities.
The CAC team concluded that a number of interventions designed to increase access to justice could be implemented in Oklahoma. The students suggested initiatives and programs that would make Oklahoma’s civil justice system more accommodating to the needs of the people it serves, including the three stages of an access to justice continuum with corresponding discrete interventions. The stages were: (1) the point of conflict—when a justice problem first arises; (2) preparing to go to court—when a person has decided to take their problem to court; and (3) entering the court—when an unrepresented person attempts to navigate the courthouse.
For stage one, the CAC team recommended co-locating lawyers in non-traditional settings, such as hospitals, where they can help individuals identify and make appropriate choices about managing a justice problem. For stage two, they recommended simplified and unified court forms for use by the public. For stage three, they recommended a pilot project as a court-based intervention.