The New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice was established by Order of the New Mexico Supreme Court in 2004 to expand resources for civil legal assistance to New Mexicans living in poverty.
New Mexico’s Commission is one of 34 Access to Justice Commissions across the United States. Other states may currently be pursuing similar efforts. See ABA Resource Center for ATJ Initiatives ; National Center for Access to Justice. These commissions or similar organizations address the need for civil legal services (as opposed to criminal law legal needs), such as family law, housing, consumer, employment, and government benefits.
Following its creation in 2004, the Commission used three different methods to identify and quantify the unmet legal needs in New Mexico:
- Analyzed studies in other states about the civil legal problems faced by low income individuals and the Justice Gap study conducted by the Legal Services Corporation
- Surveyed major New Mexico legal aid providers; and
- Held hearings around the state to collect testimony about legal needs from the public, legal aid providers, social service agencies, court officials, judges, and lawyers.
The Commission’s 2006 Report to the Supreme Court summarizes the results of these efforts and sets forth the Commission’s recommendations, including adoption of “The New Mexico Ten Step Plan for Improving Access to Justice” (the Ten Step or Pro Bono Plan). Perhaps the most important aspect of the Ten Step Plan was its recognition of the judiciary’s critical role in a successful effort to increase access to justice. Its implementation resulted in a series of groundbreaking steps: mandatory pro bono reporting, the establishment of pro bono committees in each of the thirteen judicial districts, creation of the position of Statewide Pro Bono Coordinator, and establishment of the Volunteer Attorney Pool in the Second Judicial District. As a consequence of these steps, volunteer service by attorneys around the state has increased dramatically.
Since 2004, the Commission has accomplished a great deal of work to promote pro bono services and to boost funding for civil legal aid, as well as streamlining existing processes to increase efficiency and access for litigants without lawyers. Much of this work is accomplished through Working Groups and is set forth in Commission reports to the Supreme Court (see ATJ Reports) An ongoing responsibility of the Commission is for the updating, implementation and ongoing development of a State Plan for the Provision of Legal Services to Low-Income New Mexicans that reduces barriers to their access to justice, ensures appropriate services are maximally available, guides allocation of resources, and provides accountability. Every several years, the State Plan is revised to reflect new priorities. Moreover, each new Plan challenges all stakeholders to rededicate themselves to the Supreme Court’s Access to Justice Initiative goal of access to the civil legal system for all low-income New Mexicans. The current version is the 2014 State Plan.