Finding a lawyer: Desperate need for pro bono civil legal services

First, this one in the New York Law Journal. There have been items in the news about this new NYC coordinating service previously (April 2), but now the bill has been signed. Bravo, my town! and bravi and brave my town’s government officials!

Office Created to Coordinate Civil Legal Services in NYC

Andrew Denney, New York Law Journal   

“This bill is a step toward fixing the imbalance between those who can afford adequate civil counsel and those who face life-altering legal issues without the help of an attorney,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday during a bill-signing ceremony.

And maybe not so coincidentally (good news comes in bunches), a lawyer named Theresa Amato gave us a marvelous opinion piece in yesterday’s New York Times, “Put Lawyers Where They’re Needed.” She introduces her terrific, logical idea cum plan thusly:

Millions of Americans lack crucial legal services. Yet enormous number of lawyers are unemployed. Why can’t the supply of lawyers match the demand?

She enumerates the stunning paucity of lawyers in communities around the country. For instance, “In Nebraska, 20 out of 93 counties have fewer than four lawyers. Eleven counties have no lawyers at all.”

It’s scandalous. (Brace yourselves, for here comes another of those shameful stats that place our marvelous country way low down on the list of honorable services to its citizenry.)

This “justice gap” is vast. According to the World Justice Project’s latest Rule of Law Index, which gathers primary data on people’s practical experience of the law in 102 countries, the United States ranks 65th for the accessibility and affordability of its civil justice. We’re tied with Botswana, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, not far behind Moldova and Nigeria.

Ms. Amato herself established such a “community service” (that’s what she calls it) in her home town of Chicago, and has been training lawyers in offering pro bono legal services to people who need but can’t afford lawyers:

…we mentored hundreds of law students and helped thousands of people achieve justice in everything from tax and zoning issues to First Amendment matters and government procurement.

Her point is simple: there are so many young lawyers who can’t find jobs and so many people who can’t afford lawyers. Putting these two groups together makes so much sense; it’s really brilliant.

Here’s the Times’ link:

The law profession must do more to make legal services accessible to all.

Source: Put Lawyers Where They’re Needed – The New York Times

And this is coincidental: last night I picked up John Grisham’s Gray Mountain, which is about a young woman, an associate for the largest law firm in the world, who loses her job days after the 2008 crash. And what does she do? Gets herself involved (as an unpaid intern, no less) with a pro bono legal clinic somewhere in the poverty-stricken, coal mining rurality of Virginia. (I’m only up to page 32 but have a feeling, knowing Grisham, that the plot has every intention of thickening into some sort of menace very soon.)

Clearly, if the desperate need for civil justice for needy people–which only pro bono lawyers can offer–has attracted the attention of New York’s City Council and Mayor, a personal New York Times opinion piece and John Grisham, things may be showing some improvement soon.

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