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The Justice for All Initiative

Making America’s justice system more responsive to people’s everyday civil legal needs through innovation, collaboration and support of statewide efforts.

At the heart of the Justice for All initiative is a reframing of the concept of what the justice “system” really means. No longer does it begin at the courthouse doors. In the Justice for All approach, anyone—with or without a lawyer’s help—can access often-needed components of the system at their local library, school, domestic violence shelter or other social service agency, or even from their own smartphone or computer. And once across the initial threshold, users will encounter a continuum of services from self-help materials to alternative dispute resolution to limited-scope or full legal representation.

The Justice for All initiative involves a broad range of stakeholders in reform in order to address the needs not only of those already in the court process, but also of people with unmet civil legal problems who could benefit from legal help—even if they don’t yet realize their problems have a legal solution.

Housed at the National Center for State Courts and operating in partnership with the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN), the Justice for All initiative offers a framework for engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to systematically expand access to justice. Through broad collaboration, it ensures there is no wrong door through which to enter the civil justice system.

Building on decades of innovation

Judges, court administrators, private bar leaders, and civil legal aid and pro bono providers nationwide have long been experimenting with a range of innovations, including:

  • self-help centers providing unrepresented litigants legal information and standardized forms;

  • language access initiatives for court users with limited English proficiency; 

  • accommodations for court users with disabilities  

  • judicial and court staff education efforts to address the needs of self-represented litigants with procedural fairness and compassion; 

  • the adoption of technologies that reduce trips to the courthouse and enable court users to find legal help and resolve their disputes online; 

  • and, in certain jurisdictions, efforts to simplify court processes to meet the needs of the unrepresented users.

While these innovations have led to improvements, they are often limited to a single area such as family law or else limited in their scope, either by geography or by a focus only on users already engaged in the court process.

Through grants and engagement with 14 states, the Justice for All initiative has supported systems-oriented strategic planning that has built on decades of innovation to address the needs of all people with unmet civil legal issues and ensure they get the help they need, in the form they need it, when they need it. Going forward, the initiative will focus on sharing what has been learned through these pilot projects while continuing to support those states still undergoing their strategic planning process.

As part of this work, state-level teams form new collaborations among diverse partners, including non-legal stakeholders such as direct human services providers, libraries, schools, community organizations, and other state and local branches of government.

Addressing an increasing need with a comprehensive solution

With rising poverty, diminishing resources for civil legal aid and pro bono programs, and a massive spike in self-represented litigants showing up in state courts, the need to improve access to justice has become increasingly urgent.

Our system of state courts was designed by and for trained legal advocates, but this lawyer-centric approach is not meeting the needs of the majority. Recent studies, including two from the National Center for State Courts, show that most civil and family law cases involve at least one self-represented party. Furthermore, social science research by MacArthur Genius Fellow Rebecca Sandefur has revealed that the number of people grappling with unresolved civil legal problems—about 100 million a year—is actually much larger than the number coming to court, and that vulnerable communities face disproportionately greater numbers of unmet legal needs.

By creating new entryways into the system, as well as a guided continuum of pathways through it, the Justice for All initiative seeks to provide 100 percent access to civil justice in accordance with the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA) resolution on Meaningful Access to Justice for All. (See also CCJ/COSCA  Resolution 3.)

The project is chaired by the Honorable Ralph Gants, Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, and the Honorable Laurie Zelon, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal. It is supported by Public Welfare FoundationThe Kresge Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and The JPB Foundation, and it is staffed by National Center for State Courts and SRLN.

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Lessons Learned

Since 2016, the JFA initiative has awarded over $2 million in grants to 14 states to develop and implement comprehensive, statewide action plans with the goal of achieving 100-percent access to effective assistance for civil legal needs. The first cohort of seven states began their JFA journey in 2016 (in orange), followed by four more in 2018 (in purple) and three in 2019 (in green). This interactive map provides information on the status of each JFA grantee, as well as the strategic plans and lessons learned from the early JFA cohorts.

Lessons from the Field

More about JFA Grants

  • Guidance & Tools

Guidance & Tools


































































JFA Guidance Materials


The Justice for All (JFA) initiative offers a new strategy for state access to justice communities to chart a new path forward to enhance access to justice. These guidance materials and the actions they outline are an effort to create a viable strategy that involves legal and non-traditional justice system stakeholders at the local, state and national levels to better meet the legal needs of people across the country.

Additional Guidance Resources

JFA Components

JFA Components PDF

Inventory Tools


Component Modules 
Summaries of the 15 JFA inventory topics along with key elements of each.

Strategic Planning Process Outline
Outline of key steps in the Justice for All approach and planning process.

JFA Component Assessments
Customizable questionnaires for developing an inventory of the 15 individual components outlined in the JFA Guidance Materials.


Communications, Mapping & Funding Tools


Several organizations offer tools and resources that specifically support communications and funding for civil legal aid and access to justice, including mapping tools that can be a vital element of communications and fundraising. Below are some of the most important ones.

Voices for Civil Justice
Voices for Civil Justice is building a national identity for civil legal aid by:

  • Generating strong and sustained media coverage that demonstrates how civil legal aid helps ensure fairness in America’s justice system.

  • Creating messaging guidance and other communications and media tools for civil legal aid advocates.

  • Connecting journalists with a national network of civil legal aid experts.

  • Offering insights from messaging research specific to civil legal aid, as well as training opportunities, resources and a way to get involved in their national communications network.

All Rise for Civil Justice
All Rise for Civil Justice is both a campaign and a bank of stories and resources to fix our civil justice system so it works for everyone. Created by Voices for Civil Justice, All Rise for Civil Justice illustrates the civil justice crisis and supports the development of communications about the issues, the potential solutions offered by civil legal aid, and the actions civil justice organizations can take.

SRLN Mapping/GIS Resources
As we work collectively to fulfill the promise of justice for all and transform disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities, maps and visual data can be critical to our efforts. To create them we need Geographic Information System (GIS) technology along with an effective communications strategy. The Self-Represented Litigation Network offers resources and experts who can help organizations employ GIS mapping in their strategic communications.

American University Justice in Government Funding Resources
Federal pass-through funds account for about one-third of state government funding and more than half of state government funding for health care and public assistance. States administer these federal funds based on local priorities. Many opportunities to financially support civil legal aid flow from states’ powers to administer these funding sources. This module walks through a wide array of information about state-administered federal funding streams that can support civil legal aid.










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