Pro Bono News

Why Judges Support Civil Legal Aid

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Why Judges Support Civil Legal Aid

"The United States judicial system is designed to be adversarial, to resolve disputes of fact and law before a neutral judge. The premise of the system is that each party in a court case is capable of understanding and using the law, since each must present the law and the facts to the judge. An effective adversarial system requires the presence of legally trained experts, typically lawyers, on both sides of a case.

The civil legal needs of both low- and moderate-income individuals in the United States are not being
met. The need for legal assistance by over one hundred million people in this country is dire. Today’s courts look nothing like the ideal. Around the country, state and federal courts regularly encounter pro se litigants: that is, litigants without attorney representation. When opposed by an adversary with a lawyer, litigants representing themselves often lose even when the merits of the case favor them. The imbalance leads to injustice.

For the many millions of unrepresented litigants appearing in American courts each year, mastering
the rules of the adversarial system is next to impossible. Such litigants often do not understand the rules of evidence, and so cannot understand what facts are relevant or how to present them to a judge. An attorney opposing an unrepresented litigant is more likely to withhold evidence favorable to the litigant who is unlikely to know that such evidence must be turned over or to ask for it.

The required briefs, memoranda of law, motions, and pleadings are governed by rules that can be difficult for untrained individuals to comply with. Courts sometimes sanction unrepresented litigants who are ignorant of the law or become too emotional in the courtroom for not complying with court rules or for frivolous litigation. For these reasons and others, a litigant without an attorney is much more likely to fail than one who is represented..."

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