The Lawful and the Just: Moral Implications of Unequal Access to Legal Services
Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics, Vol. 2, p. 289, 1998
7 Pages Posted: 11 May 2012
Date Written: April 1998
This symposium article asserts that there is a maldistribution of legal services in our society: a systematic distribution of legal services that benefits one class and harms others. This maldistribution is worsened when lawyers adopt the view, set forth by Stephen Pepper, that they should not be held morally accountable for helping their clients achieve immoral but lawful objectives. A lawyer's decision to intervene in a legal matter on behalf of one party may actually make the situation worse for the parties who cannot afford legal services.
In light of the systemic maldistribution of legal services, this article argues that lawyers cannot simply hand off all moral responsibility to their clients. Because of the unequal access to legal services, and because lawyers can assist clients to accomplish unjust but legal ends, lawyers have a moral obligation either to systematically provide legal services to those who would otherwise be unrepresented or underrepresented or to systematically consider the impact of their work on the unrepresented or the underrepresented. As a profession, we have failed to take the first option. Therefore, as individuals, we have an obligation to take the second option.
Keywords: legal services, access to justice, legal ethics, professional responsibility
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