We have a serious problem in America. So serious the most recent World Justice Project Rule of Law Report ranks us 94th out of 113 nations in the world! We are worse than Zimbabwe and Myanmar.
What is the number one justice problem in America?
A. Fundamental Rights of Citizens
B. Order and Security
C. Criminal Justice
D. Civil Justice
Let’s eliminate two of the choices. We get a respectable 75 (out of 100) for providing fundamental rights. We earn a high 80 for providing order and security. So strike A & B.
With the number of people talking about injustice and discrimination in criminal courts along with movies, TV, books and speakers it must be C.
But it’s not.
Discrimination is as bad in our civil courts with both receiving failing scores of 46 out of 100. But in our system if you commit a crime against someone you receive a free attorney. However, if you are a victim of a crime such as fraud, abuse, exploitation or more – you have no such right.
Topping the scale with a score of 41 out of 100 is our failure to make justice affordable and accessible to all.
Don’t we pledge ‘liberty and justice for all’?
We do, but we don’t. At the core of who we are is a belief that people deserve a fair shake. Most of us know fully well that race matters. But we miss a deeper reality that income matters. Justice in America has become a commodity that only a few can afford.
One in three Americans cannot afford to pay thousands of dollars in fees to hire a lawyer. While some legal aid exist in this country, 80% of low-income Americans are unable to find help. Millions of Americans have no way to afford or access justice. In the time you read this sentence a single mom, an elderly grandparent and a homeless veteran were unable to receive critical help.
See the problem
The first step in recovery is to recognize you have a problem. We are dying and we don’t even realize we have a problem. Americans believe in freedom, yet we allow a monopoly on the justice system. A monopoly held by less than 1/10th of 1% of the population. Lawyers. Because lawyers have a monopoly fees are set by what the bar determines, not by what the market would establish. This impacts not only the poor and most vulnerable, but small business owners and average Americans.
Without being able to afford legal fees, people cannot effectively access our justice system. With no access people lose hope and become frustrated. This frustration leads to serious health implications and often domestic or other violence. Trust in our democratic system is eroded.
Do something about the problem
I love America. But there is danger in isolating ourselves and believing we alone have all the answers. You will always be number one when it is only you. But when we objectively see we are 94th in the world for providing the bedrock principle of “justice for all”, maybe we should do something different.
Advocate for loosening the monopoly.
In many countries others are licensed to help. Like our medical field there are those who cannot do surgery, but they can be nurses and nurse practitioners for less serious injuries. Why not have legal technicians? They do in the state of Washington. We should encourage our legislators and state access to justice commissions to adopt this practice.
The role of paralegals and law students can be expanded. There is no reason these individuals should not be able to prepare documents without attorneys in the same way we allow others to assist in Medicare, Social Security, Unemployment and more. The Supreme Court of each state determines the restrictions on the practice of law so contact your access to justice commission.
Advocate for more limited engagement assistance.
While the American Bar Association has several model rules encouraging states to relax regulations allowing lawyers to represent clients in limited ways without needing to check for conflicts, provide limited advice and counsel, document assistance, or representation for a single hearing, many states have not fully embraced these rules. We can let you know the rules in your state and how to advocate for change – contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Advocate for the right to an attorney in civil cases.
Most Americans believes health care is a right. We fight over the best way to provide it, but generally agree those of limited means should have access to health care. We call it Medicaid. Shouldn’t justice be a right? Why can’t we pay private lawyers as we pay private doctors to help those with limited means?
We provide the right to an attorney for criminals, why not help their victims? Many refer to this as ‘civil Gideon’ after the criminal case where the U.S. Supreme Court decided the right to an attorney in criminal matters. Some juvenile courtrooms, mental health courtrooms, civil forfeitures and other insular matters do this now. See this map.
Establish a Gospel Justice Center
Don’t let the size of this problem overwhelm you. You are commended by Christ for serving Him as you serve ONE of the least of these. Mt. 25:40. Start with one.
If you are not an attorney – find one. Encourage them to use their unique gifts to rescue and restore neighbors in need. Send them a link to our lawyer page – www.gji.org/lawyer.
If you are a lawyer, God has provided you a powerful license and unique gifts to serve His Kingdom. He gave you your law degree and he wants you to tithe a portion back to him through legal ministry. We have all the tools, insurance and support you need. Four hours, one Saturday a month. You can do that.
Download our guide, How to use your law degree for life changing impact to get started.