Access to Justice Structure
The California Access to Justice Commission leads the state’s Access to Justice efforts.
Appointments are made by the State Bar, Judicial Council, California Judges Association,
Governor, Attorney General, President Pro Tem of the Senate, Speaker of the Assembly,
Chamber of Commerce, Labor Federation, Council of Churches, League of Women
Voters, Consumer Attorneys of California, and Council of California County Law
Librarians. The Commission is staffed by the State Bar’s Director for Legal Services
Outreach, in close coordination with staff of the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Numerous organizations in the state are actively involved in coordination efforts to
increase access to justice. The Legal Services Coordinating Committee, which includes
representatives of the Access to Justice Commission, Judicial Council, State Bar Standing
Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, Legal Services Trust Fund Commission
(IOLTA), Legal Aid Association of California, and California Clients Council, provides
institutional accountability by coordinating justice planning efforts to ensure that
planning is ongoing and projects are implemented.
Legislation creating the Equal Access Fund, which provides state funding for legal
services in California, requires preparation of a report to the legislature in March 2005
concerning the effectiveness of the work being funded and progress toward addressing
needs of the unrepresented. The Judicial Council is working closely with a task force
consisting of representatives of the State Bar’s Legal Services Trust Fund Commission,
the Access to Justice Commission, and the Legal Aid Association of California to
develop the evaluative information that will be necessary to compile a thorough,
informative report about the value of the work being funded.
The Legal Aid Association of California has organized a ten-member Loan Repayment
Assistance Committee, charged with initiating a campaign to persuade California law
schools to launch loan repayment assistance programs and creating incentives for legal
services programs to create their own programs.
In 2002, California enacted legislation requiring it to take the pro bono work of lawyers
into account when awarding state contracts for legal work. The State Bar’s Standing
Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services and the Legal Aid Association of California
are involved in the education and outreach process.
Access to Courts
In 2003, a draft policy paper on “Language Barriers to Justice in California” was
developed by the California Commission on Access to Justice and circulated for public
comment. The paper focuses attention on the barriers that exist in the judicial system for
Californians with limited English proficiency.
In 2003, the Access to Justice Commission’s Limited Representation Committee released
a Risk Management packet. This package contains instructional materials for clients and
attorneys who are interested in limited or “unbundled” representation in family law
matters. Among the documents are guides and standards on best practices, sample fee
agreements, checklists, and recently approved Judicial Council forms.
New on the Web is the Spanish-language edition of the California Courts Online Self-
Help Center, Centro de Ayuda de las Cortes de California (www.sucorte.ca.gov). The
site provides self-represented Spanish-speaking litigants with information and resources
in Spanish to help them navigate the court system, including quick access to information
about court procedures, forms, referrals to legal services, and other assistance. Also being
made available statewide is EZLegalFile (www.ezlegalfile.com/index.jsp), a document
assembly program developed by the San Mateo Superior Court to help self-represented
litigants complete necessary filings in family law, landlord/tenant, guardianship and small
In February 2004, the Judicial Council’s 20-member Task Force on Self-Represented
Litigants, created at the urging of the State Bar and the Access to Justice Commission,
presented its Statewide Action Plan for Serving Self-Represented Litigants. The plan,
which was approved by the Judicial Council, includes recommendations to the Judicial
Council, the State Bar and other institutions about additional measures that should be
considered to improve the way in which the legal system functions for self-represented
litigants. Recommendations include creation of an attorney-supervised, staffed self-help
center at every court, provision of technological and other support for those centers on a
statewide basis, and training for judicial officers on working with self-represented
A new statewide Web site, www.Lawhelpcalifornia.org, was launched in September to
provide the public with easy internet access to basic legal information and legal
resources. The site contains referral information for all the IOLTA-funded programs in
the state, including branch offices, certified legal referral services, and court-based
information. Information about libraries will soon be added. The site, built by
ProBonoNet, also contains legal education documents covering a wide range of civil
legal problems, It includes an advanced search function designed to help intake workers
at legal services programs and other social services agencies quickly find referrals for
low-income clients based on where the client lives, the nature of the legal problem, and
key eligibility factors. Litigants are now referred to the LawHelpCalifornia Web site on
the Judicial Council’s Form for Summons, which is served with complaints.
A National Conference on Community-Based Access to Justice: Volunteers, Partnerships
and Technology was sponsored by the Administrative Office of the Courts, State Bar and
other organizations to encourage the expansion of legal services through the use of Web
sites and other technologies.
The Legal Aid Association of California is working to create a statewide training
curriculum. Current initiatives include Traveling Trainings, which brings experts from
support centers to rural offices to conduct training and enhance support linkages. LAAC
and the Administrative Office of the Courts partnered to create a Family Law Conference
in San Francisco in 2003 and will repeat that conference in Southern California in 2004.
Contacts: Mary Viviano
Director, Legal Services Outreach, State Bar of California
Executive Director, Public Interest Clearinghouse
Administrative Office of the Courts