Here is the conclusion of our May interview with ABA then-President Carolyn Lamm, including her comments about the crisis in legal services funding.
Me: The ABA Equal Justice Conference just kicked off in Arizona today. What are the most important issues in the area today?
Lamm: Funding is huge. It’s at the top of the list. The justice gap in the United States is only growing. About 80 percent are not served. That’s huge, especially when they are facing the loss of basic human rights, such as housing and family status, not to be able to have a lawyer. And we know that it’s grown exponentially in terms of need. We now have 65 million Americans that are below the poverty guideline for Legal services Corporation legal service. The stats are that they are able to serve between one and two million per annum.
The funding is now at $435 million. At a time when there were far fewer poor in the 1980s, it was at $765 million, when that amount was worth a whole lot more.
That’s not to mention those in the middle class who can’t afford service. It really is s a tremendous problem.
Me: Are there any other solutions?
Lamm: I’ve heard from some who say that lawyers should do it pro bono. I’m sorry, but lawyers can’t do it pro bono. Lawyers can each devote 50, maybe 100 hours a year. Lawyers can donate money to support it. But we can’t fill that justice gap doing it for free—that’s nonsense.
The ABA does what it can on ABA Day, when we bring in all the state bar presidents to lobby the legislators. What do we get, and extra $20 million, an extra $40 million in a good year? It’s like a Band-Aid on a broken leg. It’s not working.
Me: Are there other topics that will be covered at the conference?
Lamm: Service and support and training. In DC, I see it very starkly. The legal service providers are never as computerized as other places, and they need it more than anybody.
Me: What about staffing?
Lamm: It concerns me that we have so many young lawyers coming out of law school that are unemployed or underemployed. I think the numbers are 40 to 50 percent of graduating classes. We really should be finding ways to put them to work as interns or otherwise to fill this justice gap. They’d get experience and be moving forward. So far, we haven’t been able to do that programmatically, and it’s really horrible. We’ve got the lawyers, and we’ve got the people with the need. That we can’t bridge that is too bad.
Me: What would you name as the ABA’s proudest accomplishment this year?
Lamm: Many things. I think Ethics 2020 is tremendously important. Our advocacy efforts and helping the profession in a time of crisis were important.