Introduction to Nonlawyer Navigator Report Study

The access-to-civil-justice crisis looms large. An estimated 30 million litigants each year are reported to lack legal representation in the state courts. A full spectrum of approaches is required to mitigate this crisis. The Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators affirmed this concept, calling in a 2015 resolution for “100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs … through a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services.” One important approach to help solve the puzzle is the use of “nonlawyer navigators,” who come from outside the state courts, to assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) with their civil legal problems.

Through a survey of the national landscape, the Justice Lab at Georgetown Law Center identified and analyzed 23 nonlawyer navigator programs in 15 states and the District of Columbia. Based on interviews with more than 60 informants who created, oversee, or manage these programs, this report describes program features and offers practical considerations for creating and implementing such programs.

The study found that there is a breadth of creative activity within these programs, with strong potential for further experimentation and for taking these programs to every state. Navigator programs advance several goals, such as enhancing the effectiveness of, and building public trust in, the courts and facilitating access to justice for SRLs by helping them understand and navigate their cases.

The programs have been initiated by multiple champions, often in partnerships, including the judiciary, state access-to-justice commissions, creative court staff, and discerning nonprofit and legal-aid lawyer leaders.

Programs show significant variations in their features and characteristics with no “one size fits all” model. Navigators work on a range of case types, can perform a wide array of tasks with training and supervision, and come from a range of backgrounds.

To learn more about how innovators are creating and implementing these programs, read the full report here.


Mary E. McClymont is an adjunct professor and a Senior Fellow at the Justice Lab, Georgetown Law Center.