Addressing the Justice Gap


Editorial urges reducing the justice gap by fully funding the LSC, requiring more pro bono, allowing nonlawyers to help and reforming legal education.
Editorial (NATIONAL)

Editorial Board of New York Times
New York Times (NYT)
August 23, 2011
Link to story

Tags: Funding: Federal, Justice Gap, Law Schools, Legal Needs, Non-lawyers, Pro Bono, Unbundling


DETAILS

In civil proceedings like divorces, child support cases, home foreclosures, bankruptcies and landlord-tenant disputes, the number of people representing themselves in court has soared since the economy soured. Experts estimate that four-fifths of low-income people have no access to a lawyer when they need one. Research shows that litigants representing themselves often fare less well than those with lawyers. This “justice gap” falls heavily on the poor, particularly in overburdened state courts.

There is plenty the government, the legal profession and others can do to improve this shameful state of affairs….

While the Constitution requires that defendants in criminal cases be provided a lawyer, there is no such guarantee in civil cases. The Legal Services Corporation, created by Congress, gives out federal grants that provide the bulk of support for legal aid to the poor.
***
State bar associations could help address these needs by requiring lawyers to report their pro bono service — such disclosure would likely increase many lawyers’ service to the recommended 3 percent to 5 percent of their paid work. Another step is to allow nonlawyers into the mix. The American Bar Association has insisted that only lawyers can provide legal services, but there are many things nonlawyers should be able to handle, like processing uncontested divorces.

Legal education must also change.