The Silver Lining

As a soon-to-be 3L, the thought of finding a job in today’s economy is very overwhelming.  It’s not just the lack of jobs in the market that frightens me, but also the school loans that I will have to start repaying. 

When I started law school, I thought I might work in a law firm for a while to pay off a sizable portion of my loans and then pursue my real interest in public interest work. This line of thinking is common among my fellow students, and unfortunately, the reality of paying for a legal education does prevent many from taking public interest jobs. 

At an ATJ public hearing this past summer, a South Carolina Legal Services  (SCLS) attorney cited SCLS’ inability to attracted new law school graduates with better salaries as one of the barriers preventing SCLS from expanding its operations and providing more legal representation to the indigent of South Carolina.

While I’m sympathetic with the fact that many associates at large firms are losing their jobs, maybe the  economy will prompt law firms to restructure the way they compensate employees (i.e., smaller salaries in order to avoid layoffs), which in turn may lead more new law school graduates to accept positions in public interest work, knowing that they will not necessarily be passing up a much bigger and better salary that would help them repay student loans.

 Read more about this possible silver lining in this opinion piece in the New York Times.

Alex

Quetzaltepec Mixe in the courtroom?

At the past year’s ATJ public hearings, I learned  how pervasive the language-barrier can be in a courtroom.

South Carolina law mandates foreign-language interpreters in court proceedings. Spanish and American Sign Language interpreters were two of the most needed within the South Carolina court system.  Court interpreter certification, compensation and procedural mechanisms for obtaining a court interpreter are several of the issues that have been raised in working towards the goal of creating easy access to much-needed court interpreters.

Another issue that arises in the context of court interpreters is when a party to a proceeding does not speak English, it is useful to have multiple interpreters in the courtroom to ensure a fair proceeding.

The state of California also mandates foreign-language interpreters in courtroom proceedings.

California’s court interpreter assignment operation has over 100 languages represented by its interpreters.  The court has less stringent standards for more unusual languages, but this article I found in the L.A. Times illustrates the great lengths some CA courts have gone to in order to provide the appropriate interpreter to a litigant.

The article also does an excellent job of highlighting many problems faced by litigants who are not provided with the appropriate interpreter in courtroom proceedings. Not only are these litigants unable to articulate answers to questions and fully present their side of the story, but judges and attorneys can become impatient when litigants have problems answering simple questions, and court transcripts are usually only in English, so the potential for a miscarriage of justice because of a simple translation error increases.

Nonetheless, no case in CA has been thrown out because an interpreter was unable to be found.

While it is unlikely that a litigant in a South Carolina courtroom will need a Quetzaltepec Mixe interpreter anytime soon, SCATJ, in conjunction with court administration and other players have taken the need for courtroom interpreters seriously and have been working diligently to resolve many issues surrounding the provision of court interpreters.

-Alex

SRL Assistance Down Under

 

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A recent article in the Queensland Courier Mail cited Chief Justice Paul de Jersey as saying that while the number of self-represented litigants (SRLs) in the Australian state of Queensland is down from previous years, they still continue to be a burden on both the civil and criminal court systems. 

Queensland courts are experiencing problems similar to those here in the states when SRLs enter the courtroom:  time-consuming case presentation and unnecessary costs.

Chief Justice de Jersey stated that the percentage of SRLs in civil matters was down from 42.1% in the previous year to 32%. This sharp decrease is partially attributable to the Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Inc.’s Self-Representation Civil Law Service (SRCLS) which was established in 2007 to assist SRLs through the judicial process.

The SRCLS solicitors perform a myriad of services including: giving legal advice to SRLs,  drafting documents (e.g., pleadings and affidavits), conducting legal research, and referring appropriate cases for further advice, support, or representation.

SRCLS solicitors also assist SRLs with ancillary litigation-related issues including: understanding the process and procedures, observing courtroom rules and decorum and presenting their cases in the best possible light.

SRCLS will help any SRL, regardless of their means; however, the degree of assistance depends upon an SRL’s income and the extent to which the SRL can afford representation.

Queensland Public Interest Law Clearing House, Inc. also provides a similar service to SRLs in the Court of Appeals.

While efforts exist to introduce qualified immunity for court staff when assisting SRLs and an indemnity policy, these have yet to come to fruition.

Despite the need for qualified immunity and an indemnity policy, the SRCLS is a great first step.  The numbers seem to indicate that the program does  help in furnishing an effective way of handling SRLs’ cases.

While I have yet to come across any programs quite as extensive as this one in the United States, many states have implemented self-help kiosks in their courthouses that provide information and some limited assistance to SRLs.  While these are surely helpful, compared to the SRCLS, they do leave something to be desired.

The SRCLS appears to be a more comprehensive compromise  between providing actual legal representation and not providing any assistance at all.  While SRLs clearly have more work and resonsibilities to take on when representing themselves, they are at least provided with the tools and directions they need to present their cases in a more advantageous manner.

-Alex

Yea Alabama!

For all of you who don’t know, “Yea Alabama” is  the University of Alabama’s (my alma mater) fight song.  However, I’m using this phrase  completely outside of its usual context, which is Crimson Tide football (although I have no problem using the phrase in that context at all).

Frequently, I become tired of hearing people criticize the state of Alabama and how “backwards” it is.   Here, however, is something progressive the state has done.  Check out page 2 of the Civil Right to Counsel Update.

In 2008, both Alabama and Louisiana signed into law statutes recognizing a right to counsel, not only where the state seeks to terminate parental rights, but also where the other parent seeks to terminate parental rights.  This is a great step forward, especially after hearing testimony at some of the S.C. Access to Justice Commission hearings from fathers who wanted to play a role in their children’s lives but who had problems securing their parental rights because of lack of funds.

http://www.civilrighttocounsel.org/pdfs/2008-10-13-newsletter.pdf

Also, as you may have seen in the issue linked above, the state of Alaska’s Supreme Court is poised to make similar determinations in the near future. The issue being whether Alaska’s constitution requires publicly funded counsel for  indigent parents in child custody procedures where the opposing party has private counsel.

Read here for the latest update:

 http://www.civilrighttocounsel.org/pdfs/2008-12%20Update.pdf

– Alex

Pro Bono is an Investment, Not a Cost

A few days ago, Robin posted a few days ago in her blog titled “Big News Out of Texas!”  That article discussed how extra spending by the state of Texas on pro bono services actually ended up being a revenue-producing venture. The article I’m posting a link to today ties in nicely with the Texas article.

This article describes how pro bono services are being viewed more as investments then costs in large firms, not just in the public sector.  The article states that studies have found that in today’s declining economy, large firms are providing more pro bono services to keep their associates busy when caseloads may be smaller.  By encouraging associates to take on more pro bono work, firms have found that they have been able to connect their associates to matters that focus on their career development.  This focus on development is a key factor in helping to curb attrition rates in large firms.  Further a strong pro bono program can help to bolster a firm’s reputation as a good place to start a legal career.

http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202427186044&pos=ataglance

-Alex

We are not alone

South Carolina is not the first state to form an Access to Justice Commission, and it is certainly not the last.  Moreover, the United States is not the only country to recognize that many of its citizens are not getting the legal assistance they seek.

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Here’s a link to see what Australia’s been up to:  http://www.acoss.org.au/upload/publications/papers/info%20353_legal%20aid.pdf 

It seems as though Australia is facing issues quite similar to those that we face here in the U.S.

But ATJ initiatives are not limited to first world countries.  For instance, Pakistan has been funding its Access to Justice Programme (AJP) since 2001.  Thus far, Pakistan’s AJP has distributed pamphlets on a variety of topics such as consumer protection and how to acquire a national ID card and has revised Ombudsman laws in an effort to inform citizens of the services the Ombudsman’s office can provide, among other things.  Unfortunately, all of the articles I found about the  Pakistan’s AJP are not available to the public.