One of the cornerstones of the American legal system is equal justice for all. But, with the increasing cost of litigation and attorney fees, along with sustained stagnate wages for the average citizen, is the legal system actually an even playing field? The numbers reflect that those who have greater capital have ready access to lawyers, while those who are categorized as low-income, and even middle-class, are left to navigate the legal process on their own.
Various studies report that in civil cases, such as evictions, mortgage foreclosure, landlord-tenant disputes, child custody and child support proceedings, and debt collections, only 20 percent of the legal needs of the poor are being met See, e.g., Florida State Bar, New York City Bar, and Legal Services Corporation.
In Frase v. Barnhart, Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Cathell opined that “[t]here is no judge on this Court that believes in his or her heart or mind that justice is equal between the poor and the rich—even in the tradition hallowed halls of our appellate courts.” 840 A.2d 114, 134 (Md. 2003). This sentiment is still echoed throughout the justice system and is also quantifiable due to the research conducted by the National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) through the Justice Index.