Triage and Justice for All
When legal resources are scarce, attorneys must prioritize who receives which services.
Legal services providers rely on triage to respond to the overwhelming unmet need, sorting cases into those who receive an attorney to represent them for all or part of their case, who receives brief advice, and who is pointed to basic information to navigate the legal system themselves. Richard Zorza referred to the triage process as a sorting hat, through which a person is sorted to an “appropriate level of meaningful assistance” for their legal needs.
The National Center for State Courts and the Public Welfare Foundation have recently put out a request for proposals to state courts and Access to Justice Commissions, encouraging each state to develop collaborations within the civil justice system. The Justice For All project calls for improved triage models and evaluation as key elements in moving toward 100% access to justice. States are currently drafting grant proposals for how courts, legal aid, and bar associations will collaborate to improve their approach to triage and connecting people with legal resources.
This emphasis on triage and improving existing models raises two important questions:
What would improved triage look like?
How does triage work right now?
Courts and attorneys make triage decisions every day, but they do so without the benefit of evidence. There is no research that demonstrates how to triage well in the legal field.
At the Lab, we’re hoping to change that. We are working with a legal aid program in Ohio to begin to understand what factors lawyers use to determine what level of service to provide, and how to effectively sort people to the appropriate level of service to achieve just legal outcomes.