July 23, 2014

Finding Ways to Bolster Access to Justice for All

civil legal aid, Lauren Sudeall Lucas, Legal Services Corporation








Jeremy Leaming, ACS Vice President of Communications

(202) 393-6181 or jleaming@acslaw.org

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Forty years after the creation of the Legal Services Corporation, dedicated to providing legal services to the poor, scores of low-income Americans every year continue to go without help navigating the nation’s legal system. In a new ACS Issue Brief, law professor Lauren Sudeall Lucas provides common-sense ideas for re-thinking how the legal profession can better serve low-income Americans.

In “Deconstructing the Right to Counsel,” Lucas, an assistant professor of law at Georgia State University College of Law, focuses on the basic needs of low-income people, such as “shelter, sustenance, safety, health, and child custody.” Recognizing limited resources – during the Great Recession and in its aftermath funding for legal aid for the poor has dwindled – Lucas says providing representation to the poor should not be the sole focus. But access, fairness, efficiency and legitimacy should be parts of the discussion.

Access to the legal system, for example, does not mean a lawyer must be appointed in all instances. Many scholars, Lucas writes, “have proposed pro se court reforms that would better prepare unrepresented litigants to appear in court by creating form pleadings, allowing clerks and other court personnel to give advice and answer questions, and providing greater transparency and clarity in court processes.”

The options for expanding legal services to the poor are varied and “there is more reason to have a constructive conversation about which would be the best fit and why.”

Understanding that resources are limited and that “representation by a lawyer may sometimes be an imperfect solution,” Lucas creates a framework for considering other avenues to helping low-income Americans’ overcome legal hurdles that many others do not face.

We might, Lucas concludes, “look for guidance to the values served by effective legal representation: access, fairness, efficiency, and legitimacy. By straying from the formal right to counsel and instead isolating its core elements, which may be met by other means, we gain additional flexibility and the potential not only to reach more need, but also to achieve greater effectiveness in ensuring access to justice for all.”

Read the Issue Brief here. To speak with the author, contact Jeremy Leaming at jleaming@acslaw.org or (202) 393-6181.

The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS), founded in 2001 and one of the nation's leading progressive legal organizations, is a rapidly growing network of lawyers, law students, scholars, judges, policymakers and other concerned individuals dedicated to making the law a force to improve lives of all people. For more information about the organization or to locate one of the more than 200 lawyer and law student chapters in 48 states, please visit www.acslaw.org.