If an alien dropped into your next committee meeting and asked “what is access to justice?”, how would you answer?

Would you describe it as a movement? A desired outcome? A state, or privilege someone holds?

Many would say it’s a problem we’re trying to solve. But if we hope to solve this problem, we need to change the way we think about access to justice, and see it as a working system.

Why? Because systems can be characterized and studied. Systems have levers and dials to help us understand and change them to improve their performance.

And, if they use a standardized language, they can be used as a tool to reason with and communicate across diverse groups of people.

But, what is a system? In the simplest terms, a system has inputs, some work or activity in the middle, and then an output of some value.

In the “system” of access to justice, inputs are the market demand from people on their pathways to justice, the work in the middle is done by the legal profession, and the outputs are the delivery of legal services in response to the needs of the market demand.

What do we want to understand about this A2J system? We believe there are three fundamental things, the most important (and elusive) of which being effectiveness.

Effectiveness is a result, or a function of, demand and delivery. Our task, and that of every organization or person trying to understand the access to justice problem, is to rigorously gather, analyze, and report data in all three areas, to inform evidence-based interventions on the system and improve it.

Access to justice is a complex system of nodes, connections, and relationships. Standpoint helps legal teams characterize and quantify the elements of the system most relevant to them, so they can make informed decisions, develop programs, and promote change that will affect the thing they want to improve within the system.