Demand Side Justice
Written By: Alissa Rubin Gomez
The civil justice gap is well-known, well-documented, and widening. Although judges, practitioners, and scholars have attempted for more than fifty years to increase the supply of civil legal services available to those in need, demand continues to dramatically outstrip supply. This article argues that given the static (or worsening) state of the civil justice gap, and the millions of Americans who do not even seek legal help for problems that otherwise might fall within that gap, legal literacy is paramount. The public health profession uses health literacy to help prevent health problems and temper demand for health services, and in fact, high levels of health literacy lead to fewer emergency room visits and better health outcomes. Health literacy is regularly included in public K-12 education. This article contends that the legal profession should try a similar approach for legal literacy. Legal literacy has the potential to prevent justice problems from needing formal legal intervention. It also can empower individuals to take advantage of existing legal protections on their own or make informed decisions regardless of the ultimate outcome. Increased legal literacy might also mean that Americans come to legal aid organizations before problems are too far gone and with more realistic expectations about results and remedies. After decades of chasing after supply-side solutions, it is time to look at demand.