The Division of Access to Justice, is one of five divisions that together, form the Office for Justice Initiatives. The Office for Justice Initiatives is led by Hon. Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson, Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Justice Initiatives. The Division of Access to Justice develops, supports, and provides oversight for many programs and initiatives that enhance the court user’s experience including Help Centers, volunteer attorney programs, self-help services, community outreach, programs tailored for vulnerable populations and more to carry out its mission to serve unrepresented litigants in all New York State courts.
Hon. Richardson-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 Division of Access to Justice, 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 Division of Access to Justice develops resources, including self-help services and pro bono programs, to equalize the playing field for all litigants.
Read more about our work in our Annual Reports.
The Division of Access to Justice oversees the Unified Court System’s Volunteer Attorney Programs. Relying on the experience and skills provided by lawyers, law students and other professionals, the Division of Access to Justice 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 people’s lives, as well as the ever-rising numbers of unrepresented litigants in these case types. The Division of Access to Justice 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 Division of Access to Justice has provided free continuing legal education training credits to a growing number of trained volunteer attorneys in exchange for their volunteer hours.
The Division of Access to Justice also oversees the Unified Court System's Help Centers throughout the state. Court based Help Centers, are located in courthouses and Public Access Law Libraries. They operate on a first come, first serve basis to any unrepresented litigant, regardless of income. Help Centers are staffed by a combination of court attorneys and court clerks. These offices provide free comprehensive procedural and legal information related to the types of cases that the court handles. Help Center staff are unable to provide legal advice and no attorney-client relationships are created. 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 as well as free court forms and publications. Unrepresented litigants can also use the internet for legal research and to access DIY Form Programs in many Help Centers.
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 Division of Access to Justice provides various self-help resources for unrepresented litigants. This includes the Unified Court System’s statewide website CourtHelp, as well as contributing to the publication of various court guides and court forms, which are written in plain language to make it easier for people to understand. The Division of Access to Justice 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 Courts and Community Center is 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 Division of Access to Justice oversees programs and initiatives aimed at assisting litigants with diverse needs who are unable to meaningfully avail themselves of available resources. Learn more about these programs and initiatives, specifically developed to address the needs of vulnerable landlord-tenant litigants living in New York City.
The Division of Access to Justice 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 understand the needs of diverse populations. During a simulation, participants live for four simulated weeks (each week being fifteen minutes) as members of low or no-income families.