"Related to Friday’s post about DC cutting funds for legal services, my colleague Ian Millhiser had a nice post yesterday about how one of the things poor people need to do without in America is adequate legal representation with one study indicating that as much as 80 percent of poor people’s legal needs go unmet. Even if you think that’s exaggerated, it’s clear enough as soon as you think about it that many of their needs will necessarily go unmet. This makes something of a sham out of the rule of law in the United States, as legal rights are worthless without a reasonable means to enforce them.
"And it doesn’t need to be this way. As Ian writes, “At the low end, Germany and Finland spent three times as much of their gross domestic product as we do on civil legal services for the poor. At the high end, England outspends the United States twelve times.”
Its funny how often we forget this simple issue, and it's even more ironic that I forgot this issue. Backstory: When I was around 12, my mother went, well let's just say that in many ways she checked out. She decided that she didn't need to work; and, accordingly, didn't need to pay her bills. When the eviction notices started to come in, and I had to take the reins as head of the household I discovered that there were few places to go to get legal help. There was obviously legal aid, but their motto should be "sorry, we're underfunded" since I heard that from them every other sentence. From 12 through 17 I was forced every year to go to court myself and act as my own legal counsel, filing paperwork, talking to the judge, arguing with lawyers and finally going down to welfare to fill out their forms to get whatever government aid I could.
I suppose I didn't really think of legal services to be as important as health care because I had (and perhaps still have) a feeling that this was all my mother's fault, as that I didn't recognize that she had some type of mental illness, and still continues to go, as far as I know, untreated. (My father, by the way, didn't live with us; my parents were divorced and he was homeless at the time) There are legal solutions for these issue, particularly when there is a child in the home, but the onus to find those solutions is up to the household when much of this could be addressed, and relatively easy, through an attorney. However, even with having something like 80 percent of the world's lawyers in the US, most people go without coverage (I never thought of it percetage-wise, but I can't really see how the 80 percent number MY cites is off--I never met anyone growing up in Harlem that had a lawyer on retainer). I still can't say that this is as pressing a need as say health coverage, but it is an issue that we should discuss. I often think now that running around doing all this legal work when I was a kid helped me grow into the academic I am now, however I have a huge gap in my childhood from the experience and while I was lucky to be as successful as I was, I don't think children make the best lawyers.