January 01, 2014

The Public Interest Fellowship Model for Judicial Clerkship: A Win-Win for Recent Law Grads, Law Schools, and the Courts

By Judge Elizabeth S. Stong

The ABA Task Force on Legal Access Job Corps has the twin goals of matching unmet needs for legal services across the United States with the significant number of new lawyers seeking employment. If you describe this “justice gap” to most lawyers, they will imagine an underserved urban neighborhood where the basic needs of individuals, families, children, and small businesses simply aren’t being met. Or perhaps they will recall hearing ABA President James Silkenat describing rural areas of the country where a prospective client cannot locate a lawyer to represent him or her to purchase a home, draft a will, collect child support, incorporate a business, pursue a benefits claim, or undertake any of the dozens of routine legal matters that arise in the daily life of a family or business—routine, that is, if you have a lawyer—because the nearest lawyer’s office is hundreds of miles away.

But not every unmet legal need arises in the context of a client’s access to the justice system. Rather, some lie within our federal and state courthouses themselves, and within the judge’s chambers. Faced with growing numbers of cases and cases of growing complexity, the workload of federal and state judges seems to grow every year. On the other side of the ledger, funding at both the federal and state levels remains flat at best—and has been reduced over and over again in many jurisdictions.

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