This year marks my thirtieth year as a lawyer. In that time I have learned a thing or two about the justice system. Sometimes it is hard for me to have faith in the system. I would love to see more diversity among those who wear the black robes. And by diversity, I don’t mean color or gender. I mean background.
Because appointment to the bench is a political process, a majority of recent appointments have come out of state service. For example, last April Governor Lamont nominated 22 members of the bar to the bench. Fourteen of those nominees came from governmental service as prosecutors, public defenders, assistant attorneys general, or legislative counsel. One came from a large law firm, and seven came from small- to medium-size private practices.
The problem as I see it, though, is that when so many judges are coming from the public sector, their views of the justice system in general are limited.
As I have practiced over the last several decades, I have observed that there different justice systems depending on one’s needs and socio-economic status.
There is the large corporate system where high stakes commercial and governmental litigation takes place among the thousand member law firms that earn hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue each year. Most Americans never access that part of the system, although much of the litigation at that level helps define the law affecting rights of average citizens.
For example, you may have heard about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act which shields corporate internet providers from liability for content that is placed on the web through their facilities but not authored by them. The content often serves to cause great harm to individuals, but because the corporate bigwigs that facilitate the production of the content are immune from suit, nobody ever gets held accountable for the harms.
After that there is the criminal justice system that deals with those who commit the misdemeanors and felonies that erode the fabric of society. That is an ecosystem unto itself that most legal professionals never access during their careers. But given the rates of incarceration and long-term societal punishments that are mandated by the system, few could argue that it works well for society.
Finally, there is the civil justice system for the average American – the debt collections, foreclosures, car accidents, and contractual disputes. That is where the action is, and that is where most of us who graduate from law school apply our trade. It is where lives are impacted on a daily basis.
I have found over the years that there are lots more people who need legal assistance who are not getting it in this part of the system because the costs are high for great service. And when entering a legal matter, you can’t halfway attack it. You have to be all in because the impacts can be great. But lots of Americans cannot access it because of costs.
There is a movement under way to allow non-lawyers to provide legal advice to citizens who need assistance navigating the cumbersome system. If there is going to be justice for all in this country, these types of changes need to be at the top of any legislative agenda.
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