The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program is one of the Unified Court System’s many programs and initiatives which strive to increase access, improve the delivery of justice and promote public confidence in the courts. The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program is overseen by Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives. The Access to Justice Program employs a range of resources including Help Centers, volunteer attorney and other volunteer programs to carry out its mission to serve unrepresented litigants in all New York courts. Judge Mendelson and the Office for Justice Initiatives (OJI) work closely on access to justice issues with the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, as well as with the Advisory Committee on Access for People with Disabilities, the Center for Court Innovation (CCI), the Division of Technology, the Forms Committees, the Grants Office, the Office of Language Access, and law schools.
As reflected by our goals, the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program is dedicated to improving equal access to justice for New Yorkers of low-income and modest means who cannot afford an attorney by making it easier to navigate the court system. The NYS Courts Access to Justice program develops resources, including self-help services and pro bono programs, to equalize the playing field for all litigants.
Read more about our work in the NYS Courts Access to Justice Programs Annual Reports.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program oversees the Unified Court System’s Volunteer Attorney Programs. Utilizing lawyers, law students and other professionals, the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program works hard to foster the development of low and modest-means income court-based pro bono programs. The chronic lack of free or low-cost legal assistance has led to a crisis in the courts. The crisis is reflected by both the volume of cases filed that affect everyday people’s lives, as well as the ever-rising numbers of unrepresented litigants in these case types. The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program has created a structure where volunteer attorneys are recruited, trained and supervised so they can provide limited scope representation to litigants in family, divorce, consumer credit, and landlord-tenant cases. The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program has provided free continuing legal education training credits to a growing cadre of volunteer attorneys in exchange for their volunteer hours. The volunteer attorneys can also stay connected through the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program - Volunteer Attorney Program facebook page: www.facebook.com/NYCourtsVLP.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program also oversees the Unified Court System's Help Centers throughout the state. The Court Help Centers are located in the courthouse and operate on a first come, first served basis to any unrepresented litigant, regardless of income. The Court Help Centers are staffed by a combination of court attorneys and court clerks. These offices provide free comprehensive procedural and legal information on Supreme Court special proceedings (i.e., Article 78), matrimonial/family, real property/housing and other civil assistance. The Help Center staff does not provide legal advice and no attorney-client relationships are created. The Court Help Centers offer referrals to full-service representation, pro bono attorney providers, legal clinics and other low cost legal service providers. They provide referrals to alternative dispute resolution and social service support systems. Unrepresented litigants can also use the internet for legal research and DIY Forms in many Help Centers. In addition, unrepresented litigants can get free court forms and publications in the Help Centers.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program has published a Best Practices for Court Help Centers: A Guide for Court Administrators and Help Center Staff Inside and Outside New York State. For more information about Court Help Centers email: DCAJ-OJI@nycourts.gov.
Many unrepresented litigants lack knowledge of their rights or court procedures when appearing in court. This places them at a clear disadvantage when attempting to access the justice they seek and deserve. To address this problem, the NYS Courts Access to Justice Program provides various self-help resources for unrepresented litigants. This includes the Unified Court System’s statewide website CourtHelp, as well as the publication of various court guides and court forms, which are written in plain language to make it easier for non-attorneys to understand. The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program also develops and implements self-help document assembly programs called DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Form programs, which have proven an effective tool to assist the ever-increasing numbers of unrepresented litigants in need of information.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program established a Courts and Community Center dedicated to educating the public about the judicial system and removing barriers to justice for New York State residents through community outreach and education. The Courts and Community Center's outreach programs, such as the Community Seminar Series, Law Days, and others, help empower communities and ensure equal access to justice. Through the Community Leaders Roundtables and the Public Librarians' Program, the Courts and Community Center educates community leaders, public librarians, neighborhood agencies, and government offices on available resources.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program oversees a number of programs and initiatives aimed at assisting litigants with diverse needs who are unable to meaningfully avail themselves of NYS Court Access to Justice Programs. Learn more about these programs and initiatives, specifically developed to address the needs of vulnerable landlord-tenant litigants living in New York City.
The NYS Courts Access to Justice Program also periodically conducts training programs for court personnel to heighten awareness of the needs of our indigent population. Poverty Simulations are an effort to ensure that judicial and non-judicial court staff continue to be understanding of the needs of these litigants. During a simulation, participants live for four simulated weeks (each week being fifteen minutes) as members of low or no-income families.