Winter 2016 Bulletin

Legal Services for Low-Income Americans

Project
Data Collection and Legal Services for Low-income Americans

On November 11 and 12, 2015, over 50 Judges and Justices, Chief Justices, legal scholars, and lawyers gathered at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Brought together by John Levi, Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation; Martha Minow, Dean of the Harvard Law School; and Lance Liebman, former Dean of the Columbia Law School, the group discussed the nation’s failure to provide legal services for low-income Americans. By some estimates, only 20 percent of qualified Americans receive the necessary aid they require as they move through the American justice system. Millions are left unaided and unable to negotiate a complicated legal system on their own. The participants at the Academy symposium assessed the magnitude of the issue, discussed strategies for solving the problem, and generated further ideas about enhancing citizens’ access to justice.

Left to Right: Maureen O’Connor (Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the State of Ohio), Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court), Mark Recktenwald (Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Hawaii), Martha Minow (Dean, Harvard Law School), Jonathan Lippman (former Chief Judge, State of New York), and Ralph Gants (Chief Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court)

Left to Right: Maureen O’Connor (Chief Justice, Supreme Court of the State of Ohio), Nathan Hecht (Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court), Mark Recktenwald (Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Hawaii), Martha Minow (Dean, Harvard Law School), Jonathan Lippman (former Chief Judge, State of New York), and Ralph Gants (Chief Justice, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court)

President Jonathan Fanton opened the meeting and highlighted the Academy’s long-standing interest in poverty and the legal field. He quoted an early Academy member, Benjamin Dearborn, who, in a proposal to John Adams to organize a committee to aid widows and orphans, said, “Of all the arts or sciences, none is more grateful than the art of reducing the Evils of Life.” Reducing those evils has been a pillar of the Academy’s work ever since.

John Levi, in his opening remarks, urged the group to recognize just how serious the issue in the United States truly is and to act on the obligation to bring justice to all. A series of panel discussions followed, on topics ranging from fees and the difficulty of navigating the court system to the role of corporations in providing pro bono representation and the use of technology in the legal profession. Martha Minow, James Sandman (President of the Legal Services Corporation), Lora Livingston (Judge of the 261st Civil District Court in Austin, Texas), Lisa Foster (Director of the Office for Access to Justice, Department of Justice), and David F. Levi (Dean of Duke University School of Law) moderated the discussions.

To bring this issue to a wider audience, at the end of the first day of the symposium, the Academy hosted a program on Making Justice Accessible, which served as the Inaugural Distinguished Morton L. Mandel Annual Public Lecture. Diane P. Wood (Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit), Goodwin Liu (Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court), and David S. Tatel (Judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit) discussed issues of access to the justice system (see pages 49–53 in this issue of the Bulletin for their presentations).

John Levi, Martha Minow, and Lance Liebman are discussing possible next steps and ways the Academy can contribute to this work.

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