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Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable


Washington, DC
United States

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Attorney General Garland and White House Counsel Ed Siskel for convening us today. Thank you to the Second Gentleman for amplifying the need for access to justice across government. And of course, thank you to the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable (LAIR) members who make the work of this body real.

I also want to recognize all the people working behind the scenes. At the Justice Department, under Director Rachel Rossi’s leadership, our Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) has now grown to over 40 staff members. I want to thank Director Rachel Rossi for leading ATJ and the outstanding work the office has done over the last two years.

In addition to all their work on LAIR, just this past year ATJ published a report highlighting innovative approaches to reduce reliance on fines and fees, co-anchored a review of access to counsel in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and worked with the National Institute of Justice on a report evaluating public defense across the country. ATJ staff are here in force today to show their commitment to LAIR and its work.

As you have heard this afternoon, LAIR’s mission is to increase the availability of meaningful access to justice for individuals and families, regardless of wealth or status. LAIR puts that mission into practice by improving coordination among federal programs and funding sources; developing policy recommendations; advancing evidence-based research and data collection; and promulgating best practices.

This work is critical. Just last month, the World Justice Project released its annual ranking of countries on their compliance with various measures of the rule of law, including the accessibility and affordability of civil justice. Of 142 countries, the United States is 115th. Among the 46 wealthiest countries, the United States ranks 46th — let that sink in: we rank last on accessibility and affordability of civil justice. This means a lack of access to basic civil legal needs involving issues like housing and evictions, employment, or public benefits.

Yet, cross-sector and cross-agency collaboration, as we are demonstrating right here in this room, is a powerful tool to close this justice gap. Partnering across sectors of society and disciplines, and across federal agencies outside the legal profession and the Department of Justice alone, can open new doors, ideas, and strategies.

That is what LAIR’s work continues to reveal. In this year’s LAIR report, we addressed the use of nonlawyer assistance — shining a light on an innovative area ripe for discussion within the access to justice community, and also highlighting the longstanding leadership of the federal government in providing this type of assistance to close the justice gap.

We hear a lot these days about community-focused alternative legal assistance models being an important way to augment the reach of legal aid providers. LAIR’s work reveals that many federal agencies represented in this room have long utilized this type of innovative assistance — facilitating both attorney and non-attorney help to expand access to a wide range of federal government programs and resources.

A major benefit we have seen from LAIR is the ability of member agencies to learn about each other’s work and identify areas for future and continued collaboration. One of those areas is improved data collection and tracking, so that we may better understand access to justice gaps and resource needs and develop targeted solutions.

As noted in the 2023 report, going forward, LAIR will advance relevant evidence-based research and data collection, including by assisting with implementation of the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

As we continue to pursue our collective mission to close the justice gap, LAIR serves as an example and a model, demonstrating how collaboration can promote creativity, research, better data, innovation, and new ideas to solve problems and close gaps.

The Justice Department looks forward to continued collaboration and engagement.

Thank you.

Updated December 6, 2023