Middle Class America! How Much Justice Can You Afford?

Posted on October 31, 2014 at 11:25 PM

Our broken judicial system, driven by wealth and profit, has caused a monopoly on justice that ignores the imbalanced weight carried by the iconic judicial scales of justice, as it bulldozes over the constitutional rights and lives of those who cannot afford legal fees. Can the legal process, capitalistic in nature, be repaired so that equal protection under the law becomes obtainable for all United States citizens? This question and more must be answered in order to seek and implement a resolution to this crisis.

The fourteen amendment guarantees due process of the law and most importantly, equal protection under the law. If you cannot afford legal fees how can there possibility be equal protection or due process under the law? We are one indivisible Nation under God pledging allegiance to a governmental process of law that has failed to provide liberty and justice for everyone. There is a prevailing, yet systematic, separation of United States citizens when it comes to equal access under the law between the haves and the have nots. To the have not’s, their constitutional rights are assailable and the fourteenth amendment is simply a cliché. Metaphorically speaking “all that glitters is not gold” when pursuing justice utilizing the fourteen amendment "IF" you can not pay for legal expenses. The government says, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” This crisis requires legislation that can do something for the people, especially with the current economic down turn that was caused by government.


Pursuant to the Maryland University Law Journal, “. . . many middle class Americans struggle to find quality affordable legal help when the need arises,” and “The middle class is trapped - it can neither afford Big Law representation nor can it qualify for Legal Aid or similar legal assistance programs for the poor. Additionally, very few aspiring or newly minted lawyers are aware of the need for middle class lawyers or are prepared to meet the demands of this sector.” The following statistical data was also provided, “...72 percent of Maryland's middle-class citizens no longer contact a lawyer when faced with a legal problem. Instead, they are increasingly showing up to court pro se [representing themselves], especially in standard matters of the middle class - such as foreclosures, domestic relations, consumer cases, and housing matters - which has resulted in less favorable outcomes for litigants.”

Who is hurt the most by the inability to afford legal services? Most are aware that it is the poor, the indigent and homeless. In this economy, the face of the homeless is rapidly changing. Let’s shift focus to include the broad spectrum of people who are suffering: the elderly [someone’s mother or father], veterans who have fought for our freedom and safety, single parent households, and the homeless, which now includes the working middle class. People are losing their homes due to foreclosure, evictions. In a divorce, both parents loose beyond the initial reason for the divorce as most struggle financially and are unable to support their families due to the impact of exorbitant legal expenses.

According to the Maryland Law Journal, “in addition to family law services, many middle class Americans seek to protect their property and interests in death or marriage through the drawing of contracts and other legal documents. For example, setting up a living trust may cost $1,200 to $2,500, whereas drawing up a simple will can cost several hundred dollars. The price of any contract, however, will increase with the complexity of the transaction or estate. Prenuptial agreements, meanwhile, could cost anywhere from $250 to $50,000 depending on the circumstances of the agreeing parties. What is most striking about these figures is that they span great ranges, making these types of legal services unpredictably, or at the very least, inconsistently expensive. This unknown cost is one that the budgets of many in the middle class Americans cannot support. To put these numbers in perspective, the average middle class American family has only $3,800 in savings, and after spending on essentials (e.g., housing, transportation, food, and clothes) each month, may have less than $1,200 in expendable income. Therefore, the cost of hiring a lawyer for common middle class representation or transactions may be both unpredictable and prohibitively expensive.”

According to the 7th Judicial Circuit Court, Clay County Court Missouri, "Unfavorable odds: A recent survey of judges conducted by the American Bar Association reports that judges find that people representing themselves in court fail to adequately present their case in these areas more than 75 percent of the time: presenting necessary evidence and objecting to improper evidence, following procedures, examining witnesses, and making effective arguments of the case."

To heighten the issue Congress is attempting to pass a law called, Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2013. The problem with this law is, who determines if the case is frivolous? Anyone who does not have access to the law, who then attempts to defend themselves because they can't afford an attorney will be penalized for filing their cases if they are unable to properly structure their legal argument based upon the law.   As a result, cases will be thrown out as frivolous and due process and “equal” access to justice aborted with each case. The President of the American Justice Association, Burton LeBlanc stated, “At a time when our courts are already suffering from persistent underfunding, today [November 14, 2013] Congress voted to add unnecessary burdens and delays to the civil justice system." The legislative bill is called H.R. 2655. Burton said, “H.R. 2655 is little more than a Congressional takeover of the judicial system.” If the system is already deemed broken this new policy will only make matters worse for those who are already suffering.

As a follow up to update this research, on October 29, 2014, H.R. 2655 was passed by the House on November 14, 2013, with 228 votes for the bill and 195 voting against it.  The full effect of this bill is yet to be felt by middle class Americans; however, it is well underway to becoming a law.  Should you now be more aware of this bill and others that infringe upon and impact your rights?  Those already living in poverty will not be effected because they already suffer from lack of access to justice; however, they probably can shed light on the implications of this bill for middle class americans.  Middle class america is rapidily shrinking.  It is middle class America's that are blind to what is happening until they are directly impacted.

It is clear that the old saying, “How much justice can you afford” is now become a reality in the lives of middle-class America in 2013 and 2014.  A reality that some never thought they would face, yet others are not prepared for, and most don’t realize this real world problem could surface in their lives given the current economy at any moment with one lawsuit being filed against them, or when seeking to protect their individual rights.  When the economy gets worse the number of lawsuits increase. People seeking to gain, or big companies that files suits against the little guy can continue to control the outcome, because the everyday American cannot handle the fight.  There are those that are simply seeking to protection their individual rights, yet they can not afford to have their cases heard.   Many are now blaming President Obama for economic conditions; however statisically, there problems existed prior to Obama taking office.  So how can the judicial system be fixed to afford all American’s, including the working middle class access to justice?

Legal Services should be unbundled by the utilization of a best practices guidelines to ensure quality of work. An infrastructure that includes, a referral system of all providers utilizing the best practices model, should also be implemented. Legal Cafes, who only provide legal advice, should have a referral service to a best practices providers. Investments to fund Legal Services or a qualified service providers should be implemented based upon their individual’s expertise. Paralegals and Legal Services with complex litigation cases could then refer clients to an attorney utilizing the best practices model to review prepared documents pro bono at the legal cafes. This could be accomplished by making bono services a required participation for lawyers as part of the Continuing Educational requirement.  Paralegal Services should also be required as part of their continuing education requirements to join a legal café as volunteer. Services and education would be acquired to form a quid pro quo system enabling people to get help now!  Everyone should be required to do certain amount of volunteer work per year to help our fellow American’s protect their rights. It is a much needed start to a big problem has long since become stagnated.  Doing nothing can only amplified the problem especially now that it is lawful for cases to be thrown out based upon perceived frivolity.   There isn’t one way to fix such a big problem.  Working together to help the poor, and preventing the middle class from becoming not only the “new working poor,” but the "working class American's without the financial means to access the legal system.   Legislation should not restrict any qualified programs or service providing access to justice, and in no way should these services replace attorneys, but assist them as the need is great and people are being turned away from law firms.

Interest groups create create legislation to restriction legal services are doing so for personal interest and as such greatly affect the affordability of legal services for the american middle class and the poor.  Pursuant to the Supreme Court ruling it stands behind Paralegal Services:

Missouri v. Jenkins - 491 U.S. 274 (1989), another landmark case regarding decreasing legal fees was decided, “The Court recognized that everyone - attorneys, paralegal employees, and clients - benefits from the proper utilization of paralegals. In its opinion, the Court stated: By encouraging the use of lower cost paralegals rather than attorneys wherever possible, permitting market-rate billing of paralegal hours "encourages cost-effective delivery of legal services and, by reducing the spiraling cost of civil rights litigation, furthers the policies underlying civil rights statutes.” 

We are paraprofessionals working with other services and attorneys and together we can combat the problem.

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Categories: Should Legal Fees Hinder Access to Justice?, Paralegal Services, Litigation Support Services