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For many years, members of the legal profession have discussed the lack of access to legal services for the working poor and middle class. Those discussions have been escalated with the recent rise in unemployed lawyers. So what is being doing to enhance access to legal services within the marketplace?
During a presentation at the American Bar Association Annual Meeting on Aug. 8 in Boston, members of the bar discussed the obstacles to resolving the justice gap and provided an overview of the working groups and projects that provide resources to meet the needs and address the issue. The program, “A Blueprint for the New Main Street Lawyer,” featured a presentation of ABA initiatives created to help deliver affordable legal services and provide information to lawyers and those seeking legal help.
“We have a large group of people being underserved and lawyers without jobs,” said Allan J. Tanenbaum, co-chair of the ABA Legal Access Job Corps Task Force. “We’ve got this huge proportion of citizens that go underrepresented in the courts…large cities, small cities — it doesn’t matter — they are not represented because they can’t afford a lawyer, they don’t know how to find a lawyer or maybe they can pay something, but there are no lawyers to serve them.”
Other panelists included: Dwight L. Smith, chair of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services; Luz E. Herrera, liaison of the ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights and Responsibilities to the Blueprint Project; and Will Hornsby, staff counsel of the ABA Division for Legal Services.
The Blueprint Project
The Blueprint Project seeks to examine the current state of policies, procedures and system designs that govern the legal community; and in turn provide innovative reforms and solutions that can improve access to legal services. The end goal of this project is to create a centralized online space for experts from many disciplines — outside of the legal profession — to collaborate and contribute with access-to-justice projects. It is meant to be an online public space for service legal providers to express their needs, seek resources and help. In addition it will welcome multidisciplinary experts to contribute to the discussion and research about how better access can be provided.
More about the Blueprint Project is available at: www.ambar.org/blueprintproject
Legal Access Job Corps
In recent years, only about 56 percent of law school graduates have found full-time legal employment within nine months of graduation. Many of them do not have a job to help pay their student loans. At the same time, a growing number of Americans are unable to afford a lawyer.
To help address this paradox, then-ABA President James R. Silkenat led the association’s development of a Legal Access Job Corps, to address both the country’s growing unmet legal needs and the underemployment of recent law graduates. An ABA task force examined innovative programs implemented by bar associations, law schools, law firms, courts and other legal organizations across the nation to connect new lawyers with underserved populations in need of legal services. Those programs, now featured as national models, are available online to marshal the resources of newly-admitted lawyers to expand access to legal services.
In addition, a four-minute video titled "Be the Change" was produced to raise the consciousness of the bar, promote awareness and show innovative ways in which new lawyers can contribute to expand access.
ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services
The ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services has the mandate to improve access to lawyers and legal services for those of moderate incomes – those who do not qualify for legal aid yet lack the resources for full legal representation. Information on the ongoing work of the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services on current initiatives and training opportunities is available here.