Legal Services for the Poor: Access, Self-Interest, and Pro Bono
ACCESS TO JUSTICE: SOCIOLOGY OF CRIME, LAW AND DEVIANCE, Rebecca L., Sandefur, eds., Vol. 12, pp. 145-166, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2009
34 Pages Posted: 12 Mar 2009
Date Written: March 11, 2009
Decreasing governmental support means access to legal services for the poor depends on the interests of private actors controlling the needed resources. Law firms are a major source of resources for non-profit entities providing legal services. This paper examines the nature of that support.
Law firms are guided by self-interest. How this influences their pro bono activities is explored through a case study of legal services in Cook County, IL (Chicago). The study draws from: documentary research on over fifty private legal service providers in Cook County; interviews with thirty-one lawyers involved in legal services; and a focus group with ten lawyers involved in legal services.
The interests driving law firm support for legal services do not match the demonstrated areas of greatest legal need or the stated purposes of the non-profit entities receiving that support. Instead, they reflect reasonable firm self-interest in such goals as lawyer training and marketing. Consequently, non-profits receiving support must accommodate themselves to those goals.
This study points to the need for more empirical research into the consequences of the privatization of legal services.
Privatization means that some crucial legal needs will never be met, and this study provides an empirical context for the debate over "civil Gideon" - whether there should be a constitutional right to legal representation in civil matters akin to the constitutional right in criminal matters.
Keywords: Legal Services, Pro Bono, Law Firms, Civil Gideon
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By Vicki Lens