Report details efforts to improve access to justice

The State Court Administrative Office (SCAO) this week released the Justice for All Commission’s 2022 Annual Report, which focuses on the ongoing efforts to expand access to civil justice in Michigan.

One key accomplishment spotlighted in the report came from the JFA Commission’s Debt Collection Work Group, which issued findings and recommendations on improving the process for debt collection lawsuits.

The commission’s ultimate goal is to provide those with legal problems access to the resources needed to address civil legal problems through a comprehensive approach that includes innovative technology, commonsense procedural improvements and proven steps to provide more ways for residents of the state to solve legal problems with or without a lawyer.

“The commission is dedicated to advancing reforms that will make the civil justice system easier to navigate while providing additional resources for those navigating the system without the assistance of legal counsel,” said Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian K. Zahra, who serves as chairman of the panel. “The needle on access to justice issues moved closer to the guiding principle of this commission and that is an achievement worth noting.”

Other report highlights:

• Debt Collection Report: Advancing Justice for All in Debt Collection Lawsuits

The 2019 Justice for All Task Force Strategic Plan specifically outlined the need for simplifying and improving the debt collection process in Michigan to make it easier for unrepresented debtors to understand and participate in cases filed against them. This led to the creation of the Debt Collection Work Group comprised of members with a wide variety of backgrounds and knowledge, which recently issued findings and recommendations that will eventually be presented to the Supreme Court.

• Michigan’s Legal Aid Organizations Social Return on Investment Report

The JFA Commission’s Resource Committee evaluated the value and impact of legal aid organizations and issued a report that examined the social value of legal aid services provided to the people of Michigan in 2019 and 2020. Data shows that legal aid services yielded a 669 percent return on investment; or more specifically, for every $1 invested in Michigan’s civil legal aid services during those years, they delivered $6.69 in immediate and long-term consequential financial benefits.

• Stakeholder Feedback Process

The commission values diverse work groups and committees to help facilitate dialogue and the sharing of broad viewpoints. Early in the process of developing recommendations it became evident that engaging in an even broader stakeholder feedback process was critical to the quality and success of most recommendations. This process provides additional stakeholder perspectives to ensure recommendations are framed broadly, are inclusive of a wide range of views, and help to identify any unintentional gaps.  

• Creation of Forms Committee and Partnership with National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Transcend, and Suffolk LIT Lab

As identified in the JFA Task Force Report, one of the main JFA Commission priorities is to improve the process for self-represented litigants who are trying to solve their legal problems. Court forms are the core of many litigants’ interactions with the civil justice system, but they can be cumbersome, confusing, and difficult to comprehend. One major step towards advancing access to justice includes translating civil forms into plain language.

• Upcoming Year

Many of the committees and work groups are at the stage of finalizing recommendations, engaging in the stakeholder feedback process, and presenting final recommendations to the Commissioners.

Upon their review and approval, the Commission will start to work on prioritization of the approved recommendations. A significant step in the implementation process for many of current and anticipated recommendations will be to obtain the approval and adoption by the Supreme Court.

JFA Commission Vice Chair Angela Tripp, director of Michigan Legal Help, added, “For many people, accessing the services of legal aid providers can make a meaningful difference in the outcome of their legal issue.

“While legal aid services alone will not eliminate the civil justice gap, ongoing investment in additional legal aid resources is a prudent strategy that often provides a lifeline to those navigating the system.”

The Legal Self-Help Center Grant Program represents another accomplishment of the commission that will help expand legal assistance through legal self-help centers across the state.

As part of this program, SCAO will award and disburse $500,000 appropriated by the state legislature in Fiscal Year 2023.

The commission received grant funding and support from the Pew Charitable Trust and the NCSC, which led to collaborations with civil justice experts nationwide.

These partnerships have resulted in additional expertise as well as a wider lens through which to view potential solutions to identified problems.


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