Why did I become a lawyer?

Most of us begin to fashion a response  to the question when we’re asked “Why do YOU want to go to law school?” And if you’re surrounded by friends who are not in the legal profession, you may hear the follow-up “You’re such a nice person. Why do you want to change?”

I replied “I want to help people.” And you know what? Many attorneys in the public interest sector answered similarly.

You may not generally think of attorneys as helpful, but take a few moments to ponder “when do I or would I use an attorney?”

  • When a family member dies. Hopefully they’ve drafted a will, but either way, we often turn to an attorney to help us through the probate process.
  • When we go through a divorce. Sure there are divorce forms and packets available online (and in South Carolina, there are court-approved forms online), but when we think about it, isn’t it prudent to let someone who is not emotionally involved in our marriage take a look and advise us about the long-term effects of the dissolution?
  • When we buy or sell a house. This may not seem like an emotional time, but for many it is. This is one of the largest purchases (ok, probably the largest) we will ever make. We commit to this home for the next 30 years or so. Sounds like a good time to have an attorney research the title and make sure we’re paying for what is rightfully ours.
  • When we are accused of a crime. I know I want someone well-versed in criminal law to fight for my freedom.

In other words, we use the knowledge and services of attorneys when we have big events in our lives – either when something bad has happened or may happen. To help us.

And I became an attorney to do just that – help people.

-RFW

Should 3Ls Provide Legal Representation: POLL

Read about a decision by the Ohio Supreme Court that allows 3rd year law students to represent Felony Defendants UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF A LICENSED ATTORNEY!

The Rule.

Please feel free to add your own comments either within the poll or below.

Does this enhance access to justice? Or does it further disenfranchise people living in poverty?

-RFW

PS – Thanks to Commissioner Rangeley Chewning for pointing out the Ohio article!

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

SC ATJ New Year’s Wishes or Resolutions?

COUNTDOWN TO 2009

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As the New Year’s wishes and resolutions are starting to pour in, I’ve had a few moments to ponder Access to Justice resolutions for 2009. Before I lose count of the many goals for 2009, I thought I’d share a few.

12. South Carolina Access to Justice will develop a working relationship with legal paraprofessionals throughout the state.

11. Technology advances such as instant messaging, podcasts, YouTube videos, and email allow greater communication to and for people in need of low-cost legal services, especially when transportation imposes a barrier.

10. The Commission and partner organizations reach solutions to the need for interpreters for individuals who are Deaf and with Limited English Proficiency (LEP).

9.  South Carolina law students, both USC School of Law and Charleston School of Law students, become engaged in access to justice and collaborate with the Commission for creative solutions.

8. South Carolina attorneys recognize the opportunity that unbundled or limited scope legal services can provide to South Carolinians with low income or of modest means, especially during this financial climate while sustaining the attorney’s practice at the same time.

7. SC Access to Justice establishes a library workgroup to assist self-represented litigants (SRLs) with access to approved, free legal forms (http://www.sccourts.org/forms/indexSelfHelp.cfm) and to establish a long-lasting partnership with libraries.

6. All South Carolinians who are unable to afford an attorney can reach one access point for all South Carolina legal service organizations.

5. Every County Courthouse will house or have access to a nearby self-help center for self-represented litigants.

4. Every county self-help center will be staffed for a minimum of 5 hours per week by pro bono attorneys.

3. Every South Carolina licensed attorney completes at least 50 hours of pro bono service as per ABA Model Rule 6.1 VOLUNTARY PRO BONO SERVICE.

2. The Second Pilot Lawyer Mentor Program incorporates the aspirational Pro Bono expectation and that it becomes a “shall” instead of a “should.”

1. That ALL South Carolinians have equal access to the law and its remedies without regard to their economic status.

Happy New Year!

-RFW

Are Law Schools Turning Students Away from Public Interest Law?

Theories abound as to why fresh, new lawyers are not turning to public service when they enter the workforce. Much of the discussion centers on the incredible debt that arises from law school, an average of $80,000+. Sure it would be hard to accept a job for $40,000 a year (see my previous article), but an article by Tan N. Nguyen in the Connecticut Public Interest Law Journal paints a different picture.

According to Nguyen, law professors may play a large role in where students seek employment and that the trend is toward large firms.

Law schools often teach legal skills in the absence of any discussion regarding equity, fairness, or the possible result of their application in people’s lives. The case-analysis method of teaching law separates legal thinking from larger societal values.

Nguyen suggests alternatives in the article.

Now may be a good time for us to re-examine how we paint the profession to law students. Public interest lawyers do great work and deserve recognition. Maybe it’s time to let law students know that too.

-RFW

PS – Many thanks to Ezra Rosser at Poverty Law Prof Blog for pointing us toward the article.

ABA Journal makes the case for PLAIN LANGUAGE

I know you’ve heard it here before, but I just read an article about Plain Language that I couldn’t wait to share. It’s an article by Jim McElhaney in the November 2008 issue of the ABA Journal and can be accessed by clicking here. Teaser below:

Today, most U.S. lawyers share the disability of having gone to law school. . . .

The unspoken but central message of law school is if you want to be a lawyer, learn to write like the judges who wrote the opinions in your casebooks. And even worse, learn to talk like a law professor.

Enjoy!

-RFW

 PS – Another blogger thought this article was noteworthy – http://blogs.geniocity.com/friedman/?tag=jim-mcelhaney