February 13, 2013 § 5 Comments

Anyone who has spent any time in chancery court has witnessed the hapless flailings of people ineffectively trying to represent themselves in legal matters, some of which would be challenging enough for an experienced legal professional, much less someone completely unversed in the complexities of the substantive law, evidence, due process and procedure. It is never a pretty sight.

Last Friday I attended a symposium at Ole Miss on Poverty and Access to Justice. I should say, more accurately, that I attended the morning sessions. I came away with some misconceptions corrected, hope that something constructive can be done, and an idea of some steps I can take in my own district.

The symposium papers are published at Supra, which is the online publication of the Mississippi Law Journal. I encourage you to click on the link and read them to get an idea of the scope of the problem, as well as ideas that people are pursuing to address it.

And it is a problem with several facets:

  • There are the poor and illiterate who could not afford even a modicum of legal representation, and so are prey to loan sharks, unscrupulous merchants, and sharp dealers of every imaginable stripe. Legal Services, which is on the verge of extinction, has tried with underfunded and understaffed offices to provide representation to as many as possible, but there are not enough resources to keep up with the numbers.
  • There are the growing numbers of people who no longer have the financial means to hire an attorney, and take on the task themselves.
  • There are the few who simply believe that they will somehow be equal to the task, or that the judge will help them.
  • There are the online purveyors of self-help legal kits. I’ve posted here about them.

The dilemma created by these cross-currents is that on the one hand we have people whose poverty and lack of education create nearly insuperable barriers to accessing the legal system, and, on the other hand, we have too few legal resources available to low- and no-pay clients.

In the court room, the judge is responsible to be fair to both sides. The opposing lawyer has a duty to zealously represent his or her client. It’s not called an adversarial system for nothing.

In my district, I am going to organize a group of lawyers who are interested in doing something to work on solutions. We are going to work with the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission and try to alleviate the problem in our corner of the universe. Our efforts will likely not eradicate the adverse impact of poverty vis a vis the legal system, but that’s no reason not to try.

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§ 5 Responses to ACCESS TO JUSTICE

  • […] And I’m trying to join the concept of limited practices license with access to justice in Mississippi through a comment to Judge Larry Primeaux’ excellent post on a recent symposium at Ole Miss on Poverty and Access to Justice. […]

  • R. E. Mongue says:

    This is a problem I address regularly on my blog and research. One means of alleviating the access to justice problem is utilization of paralegals with a high degree of training in specific areas. Such paralegals supervised by one attorney can do the work of several attorneys in relatively simple matters, but a good argument can be made that in certain limited practice areas no supervision is needed. Ontario Province in Canada has such a system as do several other countries. Washington state recently established a board to investigate creating a limited practice license and, according to the February edition of the California Bar Journal, the California State Bar is now looking at something similar. Attorneys need not fear this as creating competition as we are talking about serving a population that does not now utilize attorneys and most attorneys are simply unable to serve at an affordable rate.

    I would be happy to work with any group working on this problem that is willing to include consideration of the possible role of paralegals in assisting in the resolution of this problem.

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