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When I was director and general counsel of legal services in the South Bronx back in the ’60s, I felt that our service to our clientele could have been improved with greater funding, with law reform litigation that more closely reflected the issues we encountered on a day-to-day basis, and with a public education/consultation program, where, at times and locations convenient to the community, lawyers could educate groups of community members on relevant legal topics, answer their questions, and be available for individual consultation sessions. I felt that this three-pronged approach would help provide our clientele with similar access to the civil justice system as that enjoyed by the more privileged. Now, having observed the situation for over 30 years, I still believe in those measures. And while the first two measures have been the subject of much debate and political strife over those 30 years, the third has gotten far less attention, [FOOTNOTE 1] even though it could arguably be done inexpensively, use limited resources more efficiently, and provide a great benefit to both legal services-eligible and moderate income clientele. Research has shown that subsidized legal services reach an unacceptably small percentage of their potential clientele, as few as one in five or less. [FOOTNOTE 2] Research has also shown that legal services clientele feel that they need legal counsel to address the various aspects of the civil justice system that they perceive as barriers to justice: legal jargon; arcane procedures; disinterested judges and court staff; complex paperwork; and the skilled representation of opponents, even though they do not necessarily understand the lawyer’s role and how to use him. [FOOTNOTE 3] CONCERTED EFFORT A well-organized education/limited assistance program, using the pro bono services of lawyers for as little as an hour or so per lawyer per week and coordinated with full service representation through institutions such as legal services providers, bar associations and law school clinical programs could have a significant impact on these problems. A concerted effort to educate the poor about the legal system and the legal issues that most typically impact their lives — government benefits; housing; domestic relations; consumer law; health; education; and immigration — could not only obviate the need for legal representation in a significant number of cases, but also render clients better able to assist an attorney in representing them, as well as give them a greater sense of empowerment, participation and confidence in handling their duties as citizens. Such education could take many forms: classes; lectures; newspaper articles; hot lines; Web sites; brochures; videotapes; call-in television or radio shows. Establishing what I once called a consultation program, but which now, as the concept has expanded, is known as “limited assistance,” “unbundled services” or “discrete task representation,” [FOOTNOTE 4] and coordinating it with existing providers of full representation would leverage the latter resources dramatically, allowing us to reach many of those mentioned above who need subsidized legal assistance but do not receive it. Limited assistance can take many forms: advice only; “ghostwriting” briefs or pleadings; pro se clinics; form pleadings; and use of paralegals, to name a few. Although some of these formats have been said to pose troublesome ethical problems, it would appear that virtually all such problems could be remedied by applying reasonable, appropriate standards to the necessary disclosures and consents provided to and by clients, opposing parties and the court. For moderate income clients with some ability to pay, perhaps a sliding scale or a modest fixed rate could be set. The limited assistance process would begin with a client consultation session wherein the lawyer would obtain the necessary information to determine what degree of legal assistance, if any, would sufficiently aid the client in achieving her goal. This assessment would not only be concerned with the legal issues, but other factors such as the client’s ability to act upon any instructions or advice given, and the possible consequences to the client of an unsuccessful outcome. The necessary ethical disclosures would be made to the client after a determination that a form of limited assistance is appropriate. TRAINING LAWYERS Limited assistance programs would not only complement the existing legal services establishment, but could also dovetail with CLE and pro bono programs. In order for limited assistance to work best, the attorneys need to be experienced and knowledgeable on the relevant legal subjects as well as on the courts and procedures involved. Lawyers wishing to provide such service, but needing training, could use such training to fulfill CLE requirements. As an incentive for lawyers to volunteer, the training could be provided free of charge. Limited assistance could more readily accommodate pro bono service by busy lawyers, since it could be tailored to require a lesser, more discrete time commitment. Of course the courts would play a substantial role in the success of this education/limited assistance program. The New York courts already have various initiatives in operation or in planning as part of our own efforts to make the courts more accessible. Most notable is our Access to Justice Center, which is mandated to assess how civil legal needs are being met and to develop and promote new ways to deliver services, including identification of funding sources. We can make sure that our access initiatives support and reinforce the education/limited assistance program. Coordination between our efforts and those of the legal services providers is crucial. While I have suggested general guidelines for what might be done, updated studies are badly needed to determine more specifically the current needs of low and moderate income people in this regard. The needs of this population as a whole and its constituent parts, such as children, the aged, AIDS patients, the homeless, the disabled and immigrants, have undoubtedly changed over time and must be taken into account to develop effective measures. In effect, the goal would be to give poor people ready access to legal advice, to teach them how to use that advice, and to give them a greater knowledge of and comfort level with the justice system. In that way, we could bring our ideal of equal justice under the law closer to reality and remedy the current imbalance existing in our society, as noted by former President Jimmy Carter: “No resources of talent and training in our society � [are] more wastefully or unfairly distributed than legal skills. Ninety percent of our lawyers serve 10 percent of our people. We are over-lawyered and under-represented.” [FOOTNOTE 5] Milton L. Williams is Presiding Justice of New York’s Appellate Division, 1st Department. ::::FOOTNOTES::::

FN1 However, recently, Fordham University School of Law, for example, held a Conference on the Delivery of Legal Services to Low-Income Persons: Professional and Ethical Issues (67 Fordham L. Rev. 1713-2791 [1999]) that examined this and related issues at length.

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