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Panelists explore solutions to justice gap

Panelists explore solutions to justice gap

By John Glynn

“We have more lawyers than ever out there who are having trouble finding jobs in the traditional legal market, and we have more people than ever who need legal help and can’t afford it,” said Bob Glaves, executive director of the Chicago Bar Foundation. “And not just people who need free legal aid — people who can afford to pay something but can’t afford to pay the rates that are typical.”

Glaves and other legal experts came together Feb. 7 to discuss this paradox at “The Justice Gap: Legal Access for Clients of Modest Means through Innovative Solutions,” during the 2014 ABA Midyear Meeting in Chicago.

A step toward addressing the problem is ABA President James R. Silkenat’s Legal Access Jobs Corps. Making the justice gap a priority for his presidential term, Silkenat kicked off the program earlier this year. The idea is to connect recent law school graduates who need work with people of low and moderate incomes who need legal aid.

The video “Be the Change” on the Legal Access Jobs Corps website emphasizes the critical need for programs like the jobs corps: More than 944,000 people who qualified for legal aid in 2012 were turned away because of a lack of resources, less than 4 in 10 moderate-income people turn to lawyers for their legal problems and only 56 percent of 2012 law school graduates had a job in the field nine months after graduation.

Legal clinics, legal incubators and clinical education programs also seek to fill this justice gap. The Chicago Legal Clinic, co-founded by panelist Edward I. Grossman, runs 15 programs serving vulnerable populations in different legal areas.

The Chicago Bar Foundation’s legal incubator, the Justice Entrepreneurs Project, helps new law school graduates develop solo or small-firm practices that will serve people who fall into this gap in the legal market. The project aims to use technology in innovative ways to make legal services more cost effective, Glaves said.

Panelist Gary S. Laser, director of clinical education at the IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, said the school’s nine clinical programs expose law students to the problems of the poor and give students practical experience.

“The beautiful side effect of this is that the people that we represent, even though they are not poor people, they certainly aren’t the privileged 1 percent,” Laser said. “They are the working class, lower middle class, and so our students are beginning to learn how lawyers have to become efficient in handling these matters to make it economically viable.”

“The Justice Gap: Legal Access for Clients of Modest Means through Innovative Solutions” was sponsored by the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities.

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