Follow-up to UNDERSTAND?

MORE, MORE, MORE

Earlier this week, I pointed you toward a New York Times article as well as the Brennan Center study about Language Access in the Courts

Earlier today Claudia Johnson of ProBono.net pointed me toward yet another related work, this one by the State Justice Institute (SJI).

Well worth a follow-up.

-RFW

Understand?

What?
What?

One word can make a huge difference. It’s what comes before and what follows that’s equally important, especially in court.

There’s a good article in the New York Times about the study, Language Access in the Courts, by the Brennan Center for Justice about the necessity of understanding the proceedings not only in criminal cases but in civil cases too.

Interpreters in the courts is an issue that was identified by the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission via the 2008 public hearings – both for South Carolinians who are deaf and those with limited English proficiency (LEP). Since that time, we have been working on ways to improve interpretation in the courts.

If you’re curious about law/summaries for interpretation in South Carolina courts or other states, the study is worth a read. Or if you want a quick peek, check out the NY Times article.

-RFW

SCOTUS on IDEA

Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States published its opinion in Forest Grove School District v. T.A.

To read the decision, click here.

To read discussion about the decision, click here for the NY Times and here for Wrightslaw.

-RFW

SRLs Rise as Economy Declines

No Surprise!

SRLs Rise as Economy Declines

This probably isn’t a surprise to many. But it is interesting that there are more articles about the phenomena.

For example, the New York Times recently featured a story about the rising number of Self-Represented Litigants (SRLs) entitled In a Downtown, More Act as Their Own Lawyers.”  The article noted the phenomena in multiple jurisdictions including  California, Illinois, New Hampshire, New York, and Texas. The NYTimes also notes that the phenomena is not limited to a specific court.

On Saturday, April 18, 2009, the Star-Telegram out of Texas, featured a story about the rise in SRLs specifically in Family Court in its article “For better or worse, fewer using divorce lawyers.”  ABC Channel 2 out of Wisconsin featured its own story, “Economy Affecting Divorces in Court.”

But the phenomena isn’t limited to state courts. Law.com featured its own article entitled “Federal Courts React to Tide of Pro Se Litigants.

Missing from the list of articles is SRLs in Bankruptcy Court. While there are no numbers, percentages, or stories, not to worry, the U.S. Courts website has a site dedicated to “Filing without an Attorney.” In South Carolina, click here. Both sites offer a video explanation as well.

It may not be a surprise but while there may be many people who want to proceed on their own, they are still advised to speak with an attorney, if possible. 

-RFW

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

South Carolina: 3rd highest unemployment in the USA

South Carolina Ranks 3rd in the Nation in Unemployment

Thanks so much to Technola for their post about this interactive unemployment map entitled “The Geography of a Recession.”

The national unemployment rate average in December 2008 was 7.1%, with a 2.3 increase in one year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, South Carolina’s rate was 9.5%, the third highest in the nation with Rhode Island with the highest jobless rates, 10.6% followed by Michigan at 10.0%. California was 4th with 9.3%; followed by Nevada, 9.1%; and Oregon at 9.0%.

Indiana and South Carolina recorded the largest over-the-month unemployment rate increases in December (+1.1 percentage points each).

As I looked at South Carolina’s unemployment highs, I noted that they are primarily in the “rural” areas AND they are “manufacturing centers” according to the map.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Manufacturing Sector refers to:

Plants, factories, or mills  engaged in the mechanical, physical, or chemical transformation of materials, substances, or components into new products. These industries include Food Manufacturing; Beverage and Tobacco Product Manufacturing; Textile Mills; Textile Product Mills; Apparel Manufacturing; Leather and Allied Product Manufacturing; Wood Product Manufacturing; Paper Manufacturing; Printing and Related Support Activities; Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing; Chemical Manufacturing; Plastics and Rubber Products Manufacturing; and more.

How is this related to Access to Justice?

As unemployment increases, income decreases. People are no longer covered by medical insurance. They can no longer afford their car payments or home mortgages. This may lead to stress in the marriage which leads to divorce. Sometimes (not always) the desperation to provide food and shelter may lead to an increase in crime.

These may seem like social justice issues, but there are legal implications. If people are unaware of their rights, they are more likely to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous business practices.

For instance, two days ago, the New York Times published an article entitled You’re Dead? That Won’t Stop the Debt Collector.  In the article, relatives of dead debtors are contacted and asked “if they want to settle the balance on a credit card or bank loan, or perhaps make that final utility bill or cellphone payment. The people on the other end of the line often have no legal obligation to assume the debt of a spouse, sibling or parent. But they take responsibility for it anyway.”

In the article, one unemployed man offers to pay $15 per month to settle his late mother-in-law’s credit card debt which he has no legal responsibility to do.

If they’re lucky, they’ll know to turn to attorneys for assistance, whether it’s South Carolina Legal Services or the SC Bar Pro Bono Program. Some may be able to proceed on their own, as self-represented litigants. But they will come in contact with the civil legal system.

That’s how the problem is related to Access to Justice. That’s why unemployment is an issue for all of us. That’s why we all need to help educate consumers and the general public about their civil legal rights.

-RFW