Hats off to Chief Justice Chase Rogers, United Technologies and General Electric for creating Legal Corps of Connecticut. Based on the Teach for America model, Legal Corps of America sounds like a win from every perspective.
The idea of Legal Corps of Connecticut is that major corporations will provide funding for recent law school graduates to work in legal aid agencies for three years. The legal aid firms will provide administrative support, training, office space and malpractice insurance. The corporations will provide compensation. This appears to be an excellent idea for everyone involved, including the many indigent clients gaining representation that might otherwise have been unavailable.
Since the virtual death of IOLTA, legal aid funding has been a concern. The recent increase in court filing fees, with a portion of the increase going to legal aid, has kept the wolf from the door, but funding for legal aid services remains problematic. The truth is that if legal aid funding doubled, or even tripled, there would still be unmet need for legal services for Connecticut's poor and disabled. And there are always bright young attorneys who would like to practice public service law, but precarious funding means that there are a limited number of new legal aid positions and even when there are open positions, new attorneys with significant student loans cannot afford to take legal aid jobs where the pay, though improved in recent years, is still far below that available at private firms or corporations.
The other sobering reality at this time is that there are still, at least in Connecticut, more attorneys looking for jobs than there are jobs available. Any firm or corporation that recently advertised a position was almost certainly astonished at the number and quality of the resumes it received. It is a buyer's market, but there are not enough buyers.
And the statistics for unmet legal needs continue to astonish also. It is estimated that 80 percent of family law matters at this time include one self-represented party. That situation works a handicap for everyone – judge, parties, families unable to move on with their lives, and the attorneys representing the one party who has a lawyer. Though judges are sensitive to the needs of the self-represented party, our legal system just does not work as intended if the two sides of the dispute do not have equal representation.
UTC has generously supported legal aid in Connecticut for a long time. The corporation deserves much credit for that support, which is evident in both dollars and in recognition of the importance of the work done. General Electric has also committed to join the new Legal Corps of Connecticut, and they also deserve thanks. This program will provide much needed new attorneys for legal aid, more legal aid clients will be served, and new attorneys will receive training and experience, and they will be paid. Compliments and thanks go to Chief Justice Rogers, and to UTC and General Electric. And a shout goes out to other corporations. The cost of one new Legal Corps attorney is likely to be a fairly minimal hit to your bottom line. In addition to all the good will you will receive as a supporter of this effort, you might also, at the end of the three-year term at legal aid, find that you want to add that young attorney to your legal department. You will already know that he or she is a hard worker, is well-trained, has valuable experience, and is a person you would be proud to claim.
Legal Corps of Connecticut – indeed a win, win, win from every perspective. •