Written by Tom Gordon
Richard Zorza has an excellent blog post this week on a new program announced in New York Chief Judge Lippman’s 2014 State of the Judiciary Speech. The Court Navigator pilot program will provide “trained volunteer non-lawyers” to help unrepresented New Yorkers in Brooklyn and the Bronx navigate Housing Court and consumer debt cases. Here at Responsive Law, we have long argued that providing consumers with non-lawyer options for legal assistance is a core issue for providing real access to justice throughout society. We applaud Chief Judge Lippman’s continued efforts to address the legal needs of the most vulnerable New Yorkers.
But even as we cheer, we must also exhort Chief Judge Lippman, and New York as a whole, to push onward. Programs like the Court Navigators should be embraced and expanded, and policymakers should seek other ways to increase consumer choice and access to legal services. In England, for example, litigants are entitled to the assistance of a “McKenzie friend”—someone who may provide support and advice in navigating the case, and crucially, need not be a licensed attorney. Likewise, New York Senate Bill 427, which Responsive Law has endorsed, would allow New Yorkers to choose non-lawyer representation in housing court cases. Both of these would provide much-needed legal assistance to those who, unable to afford the price of a full attorney, today must to stand in court alone. The Court Navigator program is certainly good news, but if it is truly a “milestone in the development of access to justice,” as Mr. Zorza claims, then we have miles further to go.
Tom Gordon is Executive Director of Responsive Law.