National Library Week – More Than Just Books – ACLL’s Role In Access To Justice

Access to Justice – The Role of Public Law Libraries

The Alameda County Law Library is a public law library.  We try to help everyone who walks through our doors.

In addition to traditional library services of organizing and providing legal books and periodicals, the library envisions a future in which all people have effective access to justice.  To bring about this vision, staff gathers resources and assists patrons with gaining access to information required for participation in the legal system, resolving legal disputes, engaging in commerce, and tending to personal legal affairs and academic projects.  Staff members are specialists in the legal information.

What is access to justice?

The phrase “access to justice” was popularized in 1978 by Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth.  These authors wrote:
The words “access to justice” are not easily defined but they focus on two basic purposes of the legal system – the system by which people may vindicate their rights and/or resolve their disputes under the general auspices of the state.  First, the system must be equally accessible to all; second, it must lead to results that are individually and socially just.
— Mauro Cappelletti and Bryant Garth, “Access to Justice: The Newest Wave in the Worldwide Movement to Make Rights Effective,” 27 BUFF. L. REV. 182 (1978)

What role do the California public law libraries play in achieving access to justice?

Law librarians and law libraries have a keen interest in and a duty to promote access to justice in the various law libraries in which we work, be they academic, firm, state, court and county, or special. We have the knowledge, skills, and resources to provide self-represented litigants with needed information and assistance and provide referrals to legal resources in the community.

It is important to distinguish between providing information and engaging in the unauthorized practice of law, however, e.g., giving legal advice. It is also important to maintain impartiality and neutrality.  Access to justice includes affordable legal services; readily available legal information and forms; the ability to bring a case to trial without hiring an attorney; the unbundling of legal services; fair treatment and equality in the justice system regardless of social standing; and confidence that the outcome will be fair and just.  It is all these things and more.

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