The subject of my remarks this evening is how the judiciary, conceptually and in practice, should be and is in fact the leader of the access-to-justice revolution that is taking place in our state and in our country. It is no secret that our nation faces a crisis in access to justice. The distressing lack of civil legal aid for the poor is one of the most daunting challenges facing the justice system today, but all of the players—the providers, the academy, the profession as a whole, and in particular the judiciary—are increasingly and dramatically confronting this crisis and taking action to balance the scales of justice, to guarantee the rights and liberties of all, and to preserve the rule of law.
As I will discuss in detail tonight, New York’s judiciary has taken a leadership role in the access-to-justice reform—securing substantial funding in the judiciary budget for civil legal services; encouraging pro bono work by the bar; asking aspiring lawyers to provide legal assistance to those most in need; harnessing the legal talents of baby boomers and corporate counsel; and exploring novel methods of delivering legal services, including the use of nonlawyers to provide assistance inside and outside the courtroom. The judiciary’s leadership role is an analytical, multifaceted, incremental approach to closing the justice gap in our state, built around the leverage and credibility of the judiciary and its leadership. This approach utilizes all of the financial and programmatic resources available to the judicial branch, along with the great talent and energy of our partners in the legal profession, academia, and legal services communities.