2024 Equity Challenge Day 8: The Access to Justice Gap and Responses in Michigan

The United States is facing an access-to-justice crisis that disproportionately impacts our society’s most vulnerable.

2021 Justice Gap Measurement Survey
▶ LISTEN TO DAY 8 – 4:55

Today’s entry was written by Lakeshore Legal Aid, one of our Equity Challenge Community Group Partner Organizations. Learn more about Lakeshore Legal Aid at the bottom of today’s email.

The civil legal system exists to help people resolve conflicts between each other, while the criminal justice system exists to help the state resolve conflicts with people. The civil legal system is where people address conflicts with landlords, get divorced, set up child custody, petition for an expungement, change their name, or resolve a debt claim. These vital issues have the potential to drastically impact everyone’s quality of life.

The Access to Justice Gap is the “difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs.” (The Justice Gap Report, Introduction)

This gap is filled with barriers such as lack of access to attorneys, intimidating and unwelcoming environments in our courts, and even the knowledge of whether what is happening could be resolved through the civil legal system. While higher-income households are likely to have access to an attorney, “low-income Americans do not get any or enough legal help for 92% of their substantial civil legal problems.”

The data shows in glaring detail the extent of civil legal needs among low-income households (Justice Gap Report, Executive Summary) :

  • 3 in 4 (74%) low-income households experienced 1+ civil legal problems in the past year
  • 2 in 5 (39%) experienced 5+ problems
  • 1 in 5 (20%) experienced 10+ problems

These civil legal problems are significant and impactful to those experiencing them, affecting their finances, mental health, physical health and safety, and relationships.

In Michigan, we are working to respond to the access to justice gap in many ways. First, legal aid organizations such as Lakeshore Legal Aid exist to serve low-income people with their legal needs. However, there can never be enough lawyers to fill this gap, so our response cannot be just more lawyers. Michigan Legal Help is a free website full of legal information, and Self Help Centers across Michigan are staffed with legal navigators to support people accessing legal information. The Michigan Supreme Court also has the Justice For All Commission which is working to improve the physical environment of courts, change how debt collection works in our state and even revolutionize the regulations that limit the practice of law to lawyers. These innovations are important because they seek not just to increase access to justice for a few, but to remake the system for true justice for all.




Reflect And Share

  1. How does this information about early childhood and the cost of care compare with your own experiences as a parent or caregiver? If you are not a parent or caregiver, what does today’s information mean to you as a community member?
  2. When you think about the racialized impacts of racism, poverty, and trauma, what comes up for you? What haven’t you considered previously?
  3. What will you shift based on what you’ve learned today?


Start the conversation. Send the tweet. Share your story. Make the Facebook post. Sharing what you learn and experience with your family, friends, and co-workers is the first step toward allyship.

Join thousands in conversation by using hashtag #RiseToTheChallenge.