Op-Ed Lauren Carasik
Al Jazeera America
June 29, 2015
Tags: Access to Justice, Legal Needs, Pro Bono, Pro Se/Self-Help
Organizations mentioned/involved: Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Boston Bar Association
The United States’ adversarial system is premised on the assumption that litigants operate on a level playing field. Despite perceptions of an overabundance of lawyers, most low-income litigants cannot obtain counsel. They are often unfamiliar with the complex web of procedural and substantive rules they must navigate. Even more challenging, many lack basic literacy skills or language proficiency. And courts can be stressful, chaotic and intimidating places. Since unrepresented litigants fare worse than those with representation, the shortage of affordable lawyers creates a widening justice gap.
Depriving those with limited resources of a fair and accessible legal system further entrenches poverty and marginalization. Those who end up in court are often in the midst of a dispute threatening their livelihood, safety or housing. By contrast, those with resources can afford legal representation to vindicate their rights. The two-tiered system of justice erodes the legitimacy of the U.S. legal system.
Ultimately, a lack of political will and depleted coffers should not excuse Washington from ensuring equal justice under law as a matter of right, not hollow aspirations. The most marginalized and disempowered deserve fair treatment in the legal system, which requires meaningful access to lawyers. Our democracy depends on it.