What systemic issues do you see in the delivery of legal services and equal access to justice? How does pro bono fit (or not) into the big picture?
So many barriers block access to legal services and equal access to justice that it’s hard to know where to start. Legal Services is obviously woefully underfunded. But let me mention just two of the issues that are top-of-mind at Appleseed: 1. Combatting elder abuse. How can we effectively provide legal services and equal access to justice for victims of elder abuse if — to name a few problems — some of the victims can’t get to a phone, much less come to an office? What if some of the victims have apparent competency issues and attorneys don’t believe they can effectively enter into an attorney-client relationship? Also, some attorneys are in silos and see people through that area of expertise — a benefits issue, a bankruptcy issue, a housing issue, when underlying all these problems may be abuse or neglect.
2. The current economic crisis has created problems for justice going far beyond the mortgage crisis that has received the most attention. People’s credit is ruined and debt collectors secure default judgments, sometimes when papers haven’t been served, when alleged debtors have no idea who the law firm is that’s writing them, when there is no evidence of the contract, much less any transparent (or even correct) calculation of the amount owed. When debtors do try to settle, they may have no clue about what the scope of the release, to their unhappiness later, when other creditors come calling. Courts could work with pro bono counsel and nonprofits, as has been piloted in NY, and law firms could make a bigger effort to work around alleged conflicts, which sometimes amount to just being afraid that sometime in the future a bank won’t want to do business with them if they’ve helped a debtor. Systemic fixes could include judges being much more involved in scrutinizing the adequacy of service of process and the sufficiency of allegations of debts being owed.
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Celebrate Pro Bono
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