National Civil Justice Reform: A Proposal for New Federal-State Partnerships

Daniel Wilf-Townsend • March 2020

Many Americans lack sufficient access to the civil justice system, the legal system that provides protection against some of the greatest challenges facing Americans such as wrongful evictions, workplace disputes, or unfair debt collection practices. An estimated 16 million Americans go through the civil justice system without lawyers every year, even though the system’s complexity demands legal representation. Others choose not to turn to the courts at all when faced with a civil justice matter. These problems are particularly severe for people of color. In this paper, Daniel Wilf-Townsend proposes a package of reforms to ensure that vulnerable Americans facing legal problems have access to justice. Anchored by a new commitment by the federal government to invest in state and local civil justice systems, Wilf-Townsend’s proposals include funding to create new systems to help low-income individuals navigate the civil justice system, a ban on forced arbitration clauses, and restoring funding to legal aid. The package promises to be more than the sum of its parts, tackling the problems of civil justice from multiple angles to make the law’s protections more accessible to everyone.