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Iowa Access to Justice Commission Releases 2018 Report

July 31, 2018

The two-year old commission that the Iowa Supreme Court created to address barriers to the civil justice system has released its 2018 report. The Iowa Access to Justice Commission 2018 Report identifies challenges Iowans may confront when using the court system.  Such obstacles include limited resources available to assist low or moderate income Iowans who cannot afford the costs of professional representation in a legal matter from an attorney, the failure of persons to understand that their difficulties may involve legal rights, and impediments that attorneys encounter in providing additional free or reduced cost services.

In 2015, The Iowa State Bar Association estimated that more than one million Iowans have difficulty affording the services of an attorney to handle their legal needs.  The Commission’s report notes that the United States tied for 94th place with the countries of Cameroon, Uganda, and Zambia when measuring the accessibility and affordability of civil justice in 113 countries around the world.

In recognition of the urgent need of so many Iowans for assistance in accessing the justice system, the Iowa Supreme Court created the Iowa Access to Justice Commission in 2016.  The Commission is one of approximately 40 state access to justice commissions.  “[T]he Commission has taken beginning steps in what promises to be a long and continuous journey,” the Commission’s 2018 report states. “The Commission recognizes  . . . that the Commission’s work to date amounts to only the beginning steps towards addressing a very large problem. “

The Commission studies ways to best serve Iowans who encounter difficulties with fully accessing Iowa’s civil justice system. Much of the report explores ways to match low income Iowans with volunteer attorneys who have the skill set to assist with civil legal issues, and who donate their time and legal expertise at no cost (pro bono) or at a reduced rate (low bono). The report emphasizes the importance of recruiting volunteer lawyers and providing those lawyers the tools needed to deliver legal aid. For example, providing training materials to corporate lawyers who may not have courtroom experience, but who are willing to help a low income family navigate a civil case through the courts.

The Commission also considers needs specific to Iowans with disabilities, rural Iowans, Iowans who are not proficient in English, and veterans. The Commission is studying ways to provide legal services to rural communities, including an emphasis on limited scope representation.  To help military veterans with civil legal issues, the Commission is exploring options for establishing a legal clinic in at least one Veterans Administration medical facility in Iowa. Iowa is one of only nine states in the country that does not have a legal clinic at a VA medical facility.

In the past year, the Iowa Supreme Court acted on several Commission recommendations from 2017. The court established the Language Access in the Courts Advisory Committee, assembled a small group of practitioners and court staff who will explore converting existing forms for self-represented litigants into interactive forms, and clarified for Iowa businesses the ability of corporate attorneys (house counsel) to provide pro bono services.

Commission members meet quarterly as a group and multiple times in smaller workgroups that include Corporate Involvement, Public Outreach, Pro Bono, Veterans Access, Rural Access, Language Access, and Case Processing.  The Commission will continue its work in the coming year and provide another report in 2019.

View the report (PDF).

For More Information:

Contact: Steve Davis, (515) 348-4967 or steve.davis@iowacourts.gov

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Des Moines, IA  50319

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