5 Principles for Civil Justice Reform

For parties involved, the stakes of civil proceedings are extraordinarily high. Child custody; orders of protection against a violent stalker; foreclosure of and eviction from a home; and falling prey to predatory debt collectors are all matters handled by civil courts.

Blog Post (NATIONAL)

Danielle Root, Maggie Jo Buchanan
Center for American Progress (CAP)
December 19, 2019

Tags: Civil Justice Reform


Over the years, advocates and policymakers have suggested a range of approaches to reforming the civil justice system, including guaranteeing legal representation in certain additional classes of civil cases; lifting restrictions on providers of civil legal aid—which includes a broad range of civil legal services—who receive public funding; and expanding opportunities for law students, attorneys, advocates, and paralegals to provide pro-bono services and representation to clients in need. Several jurisdictions have adopted some of these ideas, including New York City, which now provides a right to counsel for low-income tenants facing eviction in housing court. Some states such as Utah use a licensed paralegal practitioners model that allows highly trained paralegals to provide more affordable legal assistance. Despite these important efforts, the need for civil justice reform remains lesser known than the vital criminal justice reform work being done today.

Below are five guiding principles that policymakers should consider when crafting innovative and effective measures for making the civil justice system fairer, more accessible, and more inclusive. Although the below list is not exhaustive, all civil justice reforms should aim to further one or more of the following goals.