Journal of the Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics

Publication Date



The theme of this conference, "Access to Justice," involves presuppositions that should be explored. My device for exploration will be a radical counter factual assumption: The assumption is that agencies at all levels of government-federal, state and local-ceased to provide funding for legal services for the poor. That is, public money is no longer provided for civil legal aid through the Federal Legal Services Program nor through such subventions as New York City has provided to the Legal Aid Society, nor is public money provided for criminal defense services through public defender offices and publicly-financed appointed counsel systems. In this nightmarish scenario, legal assistance to the poor is still provided through private endeavors, including financial support through private charity and the volunteer efforts of practicing lawyers and bar associations. The financial situation of legal aid today indeed could be viewed as closer to nominal and symbolic than to being actual and substantial. But in my scenario public support has been entirely terminated.

The purpose of the analysis is to consider seriously the consequences of a policy which some conservatives already affirm, or purport to affirm-that the Federal Legal Services Program, which presently provides the lion's share of public funding for legal aid, should be abolished. Like many other slogans from Left and Right, this proposal may be better as a sound bite than as a program of public policy. Instead of a sound bite, however, we should focus on the importance and political significance of public subvention of legal assistance for the poor, and consider the legal problems that would be presented if public subvention were terminated. The legal aid situation today can be interpreted as presenting in developing form what these legal problems would be.



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