Written by Carolyn Mobley
The World Justice Project is an organization focused on improving worldwide rule of law that publishes a yearly Rule of Law Index ranking legal systems across the globe. In the recently released 2017-2018 report, the United States ranked 94th of 113 countries in “accessibility and affordability” of its civil justice system. Additionally, the U.S. ranked lower than all other high income countries in this category. Furthermore, according to the rankings, the conflict-torn countries of Afghanistan, Colombia, and Sierra Leone have more affordable and accessible civil justice systems than the United States.
The Rule of Law Index ranks each country in eight categories and forty-four subcategories. “Accessibility and affordability” of civil justice is the United States’ lowest ranking in any of the categories, which emphasizes just how hard it is to get legal help in the United States. The U.S. even ranked lower in this category than it did for lack of discrimination in its criminal justice system—not an area in which the country enjoys a sterling reputation.
Our low rating in access to justice is a direct result of misregulation of our legal system. Many Americans look for alternatives to expensive, licensed lawyers for legal assistance. These lawyer alternatives include legal service models such as websites that provide legal self-help, and legal assistance from non-lawyer professionals. While these alternative legal services are advantageous for consumers, lawyers fear that these services will take business away from them.
Lawyers have maintained policies that stifle innovative legal service models and prevent non-lawyers from competing with lawyers at affordable rates. Lawyers have been able to create and maintain these policies because lawyers govern the legal system themselves without any oversight from non-lawyers. This lack of public supervision allows lawyer policymakers to put their own perceived self-interest ahead of the customers they are supposed to be serving. Shifting oversight of the legal industry from lawyers to the public would prevent the bar from maintaining these self-serving regulations, and would drastically improve the United States’ rank in access and affordability of its civil justice system.
“Lawyers’ abuse of their regulatory power has caused an access to justice crisis of immense proportions,” lamented Responsive Law Executive Director Tom Gordon. "Without comprehensive and systemic reform, this crisis will only continue. It is imperative that lawyer insiders face this reality and stop obstructing reforms that would allow all Americans access to legal help.”
The U.S. has consistently ranked low in this category in the Rule of Law Index. To read more, visit Responsive Law’s response to the 2016 World Justice Rankings and the 2015 World Justice Rankings.
Carolyn Mobley is a Responsive Law Intern.