Access to Justice – We Are Not There Yet
by Gus Chin
Over the years as my family and I have pulled out of the driveway for a vacation trip, or to attend one of the Bar conventions, within minutes our children would ask “Are we there yet? When will we get there?” These same questions apply to and Justice for all’s tireless efforts to provide legal services to individuals in need, especially those who are often the most vulnerable.
and Justice for all began in 1998 as the brainchild of the three primary providers of civil legal services in Utah, Utah Legal Services, Legal Aid Society of Salt Lake, and the Disability Law Center. Their collaboration and common vision of equality of access to justice within our legal system started what has become an amazing fund raising process. Nine years later their commitment is stronger than ever as the need for access to our legal system increases, especially for those with civil legal problems.
On January 31, 2007, I attended the 2007 and Justice for all campaign kick-off at the Salt Lake City Center Hilton where highlights of The Justice Gap, a legal needs report were shared with those in attendance. During the slide presentation I was poignantly reminded about the ever growing unmet legal needs of many within our community. Despite the best efforts of many of you who contribute to the campaign and also provide pro bono services, there is still an unmet need for civil legal services.
A copy of the Justice Gap Report can be found in this issue of the Bar Journal. Upon reading the report you will find among other things personal stories of individuals who have been helped. As a result, I hope you recognize the need to address the reported 80,320 cases with unmet civil legal problems. You also can rest assured that we are not alone in our concern about the growing unmet civil legal needs.
At the recent National Conference of Bar Presidents meeting, the Honorable Deborah Hankinson, a former Texas Supreme Court Justice told those in attendance at a legislative update session that nationwide in 2005 approximately half of eligible clients seeking civil legal representation or assistance were turned away because of lack of resources. The decline in resources started in 1996 with a major cut in the federal funding of the Legal Services Corporation. It is hoped this year Congress will approve the Legal Services Corporation request without any reduction.
and Justice for all’s goal for 2007 is to raise $505,000. To date, supporters consisting of individual attorneys, law firms, various corporations and business entities some of whom were recognized at the campaign kick-off have donated more than half of the target amount.
I am heartened by the report that 1650 attorneys have contributed to the 2007 campaign. I encourage more of us to contribute to the and Justice for all campaign and also to agree to undertake pro bono cases in order that the right of access to justice can be realized by more of the under-served members of our community. Finally, I wish applaud those who have given and continue to privately give of their expertise, time, and means to those in need of legal assistance. We are not there yet, and when we get there will depend on each of us.