"If the judges interpret the laws themselves, and suffer none else to interpret, they may easily make, of the laws, [a shredded] shipman's hose!" - King James I of England, around 1616.

“No class of the community ought to be allowed freer scope in the expression or publication of opinions as to the capacity, impartiality or integrity of judges than members of the bar. They have the best opportunities of observing and forming a correct judgment. They are in constant attendance on the courts. Hundreds of those who are called on to vote never enter a court-house, or if they do, it is only at intervals as jurors, witnesses or parties. To say that an attorney can only act or speak on this subject under liability to be called to account and to be deprived of his profession and livelihood by the very judge or judges whom he may consider it his duty to attack and expose, is a position too monstrous to be entertained for a moment under our present system,” Justice Sharwood in Ex Parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa 220, 238-39 (1880).

“This case illustrates to me the serious consequences to the Bar itself of not affording the full protections of the First Amendment to its applicants for admission. For this record shows that [the rejected attorney candidate] has many of the qualities that are needed in the American Bar. It shows not only that [the rejected attorney candidate] has followed a high moral, ethical and patriotic course in all of the activities of his life, but also that he combines these more common virtues with the uncommon virtue of courage to stand by his principles at any cost.

It is such men as these who have most greatly honored the profession of the law. The legal profession will lose much of its nobility and its glory if it is not constantly replenished with lawyers like these. To force the Bar to become a group of thoroughly orthodox, time-serving, government-fearing individuals is to humiliate and degrade it.” In Re Anastaplo, 18 Ill. 2d 182, 163 N.E.2d 429 (1959), cert. granted, 362 U.S. 968 (1960), affirmed over strong dissent, 366 U.S. 82 (1961), Justice Black, Chief Justice Douglas and Justice Brennan, dissenting.

" I do not believe that the practice of law is a "privilege" which empowers Government to deny lawyers their constitutional rights. The mere fact that a lawyer has important responsibilities in society does not require or even permit the State to deprive him of those protections of freedom set out in the Bill of Rights for the precise purpose of insuring the independence of the individual against the Government and those acting for the Government”. Lathrop v Donohue, 367 US 820 (1961), Justice Black, dissenting.

"The legal profession must take great care not to emulate the many occupational groups that have managed to convert licensure from a sharp weapon of public defense into blunt instrument of self-enrichment". Walter Gellhorn, "The Abuse of Occupational Licensing", University of Chicago Law Review, Volume 44 Issue 1, September of 1976.

“Because the law requires that judges no matter how corrupt, who do not act in the clear absence of jurisdiction while performing a judicial act, are immune from suit, former Judge Ciavarella will escape liability for the vast majority of his conduct in this action. This is, to be sure, against the popular will, but it is the very oath which he is alleged to have so indecently, cavalierly, baselessly and willfully violated for personal gain that requires this Court to find him immune from suit”, District Judge A. Richard Caputo in H.T., et al, v. Ciavarella, Jr, et al, Case No. 3:09-cv-00286-ARC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Document 336, page 18, November 20, 2009. This is about judges who were sentencing kids to juvenile detention for kickbacks.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Is universal public legal education in order?

When I went to law school, I had concerns that native speakers of English do not normally have.

Will clients accept me, a foreign-born attorney?

Will clients come to me irrespective of my foreign (Russian) accent, especially that Russia was a boogey-man to so many Americans since the Cold War era?

Will I be able to adequately explain the law to my clients and to adequately represent them in court?

Not that my command of English was lacking at the point when I went to the Albany Law School.

I have been a consecutive and simultaneous interpreter and written translator of English for years in complex and high-level commercial negotiations involving construction of pharmaceutical plants, I lived for 6 years in the U.S. before going to law school and I worked in a trial attorney's office.

When I actually started to practice law, my fears as to my ability to attract clients and convey my advice to clients and my arguments to the courts disappeared and what appeared was a distinct feeling that the American public is generally undereducated and specifically short-changed on the issue of universal public legal education.

So many people came to me trying to hire me either for free or offering me what could not sustain costs of my practice.  I did and still do my share of pro bono work, but I cannot work entirely pro bono, I need to earn a living for myself and my family.

At the same time, so many people came to me after they have botched up their cases by either defaulting and failing to address certain issues in a timely manner, or making catastrophic erroneous steps because at a certain point they needed to make quick decisions and no attorney was accessible or affordable to them.  Of course, there was a fair amount of cases where other attorneys botched their rights for them, so representation of counsel is not always a guarantee of adequate protection of people's rights, but sloppy work happens in any profession. 
Yet, I believe that, had some of my clients been exposed to basic legal concepts and rules of litigation since high school, their lives would have been entirely different.

It is not a secret that the U.S. is, quite possibly, the most litigious country in the world.  Rules are continuously introduced legislatively, through court administrative systems and through court precedents that require from people more and more legal knowledge in their everyday lives.

New York acknowledges, year after year, that the overwhelming majority of litigants in its courts, cannot afford an attorney and proceed pro se.

Yet, even though pro se litigants are in the majority, court rules and laws are not geared for the majority's understanding.

New York reportedly has 2.7 mln people lacking basic literacy, math and employment skills, with the general population of 19.6 mln people - nearly 14% of the population lack basic literacy, math and employment skills!  That's a huge percentage, too high a percentage for a civilized country and state.
Literacy advocates state that "low-level reading and math skills are the common thread of poverty, incarceration, high dropout rates in schools, and a barrier to understanding basic health, financial and consumer issues".

There is a definite disconnect in the requirement that certain issues such as a divorce, division of real property, probate, guardianship of elderly and disabled adult family members must necessarily be decided through court, yet, in none of these complex legal proceedings attorneys are provided for free while such a high percentage of New Yorkers lack basic literacy skills and 80% of New Yorkers cannot afford an attorney.

At the same time, taxes on public schooling continue to grow while there is an overproduction of lawyers and well-paid, or any paid legal jobs become more scarce.

The solution practically prompts itself:  it may be a good investment to start providing public legal education in high school.

It will not increase the tax burden dramatically, but it will, in only several short years, increase the legal literacy of New York population and will allow New Yorkers to better protect their rights, with or without an attorney.

Of course, such a measure must be coupled with dramatic simplification of court rules, by introduction of universal electronic filing and service if court papers, whether at the courthouse, through litigant-operated input scanners, or remotely, from litigants' homes, over the Internet, as it is currently done in federal courts (with one caveat that in federal court only attorneys must and may file electronically by default, and pro se litigants must make motions for permission to do so).

Such a measure will also provide employment to a great number of individuals with a law degree who are currently diverted to other professions simply because the number of people who can afford legal services is ever shrinking while the legal profession is ever expanding.

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