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Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics

Publication Date

1-1-1999

Introduction

OPENING STATEMENT

John and I may be the luckiest members of our law school class of all-stars-some of whom sit in the Cabinet, others in Congress, others as law school deans, still others as corporate titans, with many wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. Whatever our classmates may be doing, however, few have had the freedom that John and I enjoy to indulge our consciences and to pursue our visions of principle and equity. As an iconic figure who for more than 30 years has committed himself to helping the poor with devotion and profound integrity, John is the most decent, the luckiest of us all.

As John would be the first to say, however, his selflessness and personal integrity should not be sufficient to carry this afternoon's debate. He would be the first to insist that his redistributionist vision for the poor must be effective and serviceable, must stand the critical test of whether it actually works. I know that he will likewise insist that the Legal Services Corporation-to which he has devoted his career- must prove its worth to the poor by means other than feel-good rhetoric.

I'm here this afternoon because I think that John's vision, although held with honesty and integrity, has for the most part been strategically mistaken. I believe that the reach of John's vision for the Legal Services Corporation and the legal system-one broadly shared in law schools and amongst legal elites-has badly exceeded its grasp. I believe that what may fairly be called the Legal Services Corporation vision has helped create a crisis of confidence in the legal profession that is broadly and increasingly shared by the American people. I believe that the utopian character of this vision has-as ever with utopian visions-caused its proponents to be tragically unaware of the negative effects they have had on the very people they sought to assist. In establishing rights regimes, in seeking to constitutionalize public policy decision-making, in its often undemocratic pursuits and in its often unrealistic assessments of what lawyers are capable of achieving, the Legal Services Corporation vision has often hurt and frequently devastated the poor.

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