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Millions of Americans Canít Access Legal Services, Dean Haddon Tells American Law Institute

While thousands of young lawyers search for work, as many as 100 million poor and even middle income people may be in court, struggling to settle not only criminal proceedings, but divorce, foreclosure and other common civil disputes—all without an attorney. 

“The fact is, we have a bitterly ironic mismatch,” Dean Phoebe A. Haddon told members of the American Law Institute (ALI) May 20, during a speech in Washington, DC.

“Our challenge as a profession—and a democracy—is to change that; to redistribute the skills of legal service providers to a significantly larger portion of our population.” 

ALI is an independent organization of approximately 4,000 practicing attorneys, judges and legal educators who are elected to membership. Its 2014 annual meeting also included speeches from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Noting that, “there is no uniform national compilation of statistics on unrepresented litigants” Haddon urged public law schools and universities to work more actively with the bar and bench to address what she called “the justice gap.” 

Some of the measures Haddon endorsed to bridge the justice gap include:

  • Public interest incubators, limited legal service-delivery venues and law firms annexed to law schools, all staffed by law students or recent graduates and supervised by practicing attorneys.
  • Quantitative research done by law faculty and university-based social scientists to identify the number, kind and location of unrepresented civil litigants.
  • Innovative service delivery models, such as virtual, for-profit firms that use of-counsel lawyers to provide contract reviews and other simple, unbundled legal services to middle class people for modest flat fees.
  •  New kinds of legal services personnel, such as the Limited License Legal Technicians of Washington State who help litigants with court forms, timelines, procedures and briefs for modest fees.
  • A large public education campaign, similar to those conducted to stop smoking and reduce childhood obesity, to alert the public to their legal rights and need for affordable services.

“Literally millions of Americans are without access to justice for lack of financial resources, information or will in the face of overwhelming obstacles, despite the fact that our nation was founded on the conviction of ‘justice for all.’  It is the responsibility of every lawyer in this room to deliver on that promise,” she argued to the ALI audience.  “I’m willing to try.  I hope you are too.”

 


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500 W. Baltimore Street, Baltimore, MD 21201-1786 PHONE: (410) 706-7214 FAX: (410) 706-4045 / TDD: (410) 706-7714

Copyright © 2014, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. All Rights Reserved