Not long ago at a bar association meeting I met a lawyer who introduced his practice to me by stating, “I’m a lawyer for normal people.” He went on to explain he did not charge a lot and tried very hard to meet the legal needs of the average person. I have never met anyone who introduced themselves in quite the same way before, and this caused me to think.
Judge Jed S. Rakoff makes the opposite point in his recent article Why You Won’t Get Your Day in Court. He indicates that “as many as two thirds of all individual civil litigants in state trial courts are representing themselves,” with an “astonishing 90 percent of all family law and housing law cases, which are the most common legal disputes for most Americans, involve at least one party who is not represented by a lawyer.”
Lawyers are not meeting the legal needs of the people, for a host of reasons discussed in the article. California has wrestled with solutions, most recently with the consideration of mandatory pro bono work by law students. While the most recent efforts did not result in mandating pro bono work, those advocating access to justice will continue to seek solutions. Judge Rakoff proposes additional solutions including possible state sponsored legal insurance.
Some lawyers say they cannot afford to do this type of work, given the high costs of law school. Calls for mandatory pro bono legal work will continue. Alternative legal education through the St. Francis School of Law’s online distance learning program provides a high quality skills-focused and affordable option (compared with traditional legal education), allowing students to become lawyers without taking on enormous debt. This allows St. Francis graduates flexibility in selecting a career path, leaving open the possibility of serving the legal needs of average citizens.