| The Roadmap to Justice Project, which aims to create a national action plan for greater access to civil justice for the majority of Americans, convened its first forum at Suffolk University Law School on Oct. 17, drawing academicians, lawyers, judges and business innovators from across the country.
"It is a shameful irony that the nation with the world’s highest concentration of lawyers still does so little to make law available to those who need it most, primarily low-income communities," said Professor Deborah Rhode, director of Stanford University’s Center on the Legal Profession and author of Access to Justice. "Bar studies consistently find that over four-fifths of the civil legal concerns of this group remain unmet. Even individuals who receive some representation often find that chronic resource shortages make adequate assistance a statistical impossibility."
Roadmap to Justice is a joint undertaking of Stanford University’s Center on the Legal Profession and the Sokolove Charitable Fund.
A ‘silent’ problem
Over the last quarter century, national spending on legal assistance has been cut by roughly one-third, and increasing restrictions have been placed on the cases and clients that government-funded programs can accept.
Meanwhile, research has shown that about four-fifths of Americans believe, incorrectly, that the poor are entitled to counsel in civil cases. When compared to many European countries, America lags in providing its citizens with civil representation even when legal issue may have serious consequences for the consumer.
"The wealthy among us get very good attorneys, and the poorest may get one assigned. But for those people caught in the middle, the answer to pursuing justice in our civil courts is either ‘don’t do it’ or ‘do it yourself’," said James Sokolove, founder of The Sokolove Charitable Fund. "From a global perspective, Americans are sinking in a morass of less access and rougher justice. To give consumers greater access we need heightened public awareness, more innovation from the for-profit and non-profit sectors and law schools, the Bar and the courts ? and action, exactly what the Roadmap to Justice will focus on."
'Access to justice requires access to lawyers’
Alfred C. Aman, Jr., Suffolk Law School dean and professor of law, said: "Human beings should not be allowed to fall off the demand curve when it comes to important legal services. Market outcomes are not necessarily the best justice outcomes. Access to justice requires access to lawyers."
Additional forums will be held at Stanford University in March and July 2009.