Paralegals and Access to Justice

On accepting his appointment as Senior Counselor for Access to Justice in the Department of Justice where he will lead a newly launched initiative aimed at improving access to civil and criminal legal services, Laurence Tribe stated, “Access to justice for all is at the core of our nation’s values.” The DOJ initiative recognizes a need to “enhance the delivery of legal services to the poor and middle class, and identify and promote alternatives to court-intensive and lawyer-intensive solutions.”
One alternative to lawyer-intensive solutions is the effective utilization of paralegals. The attractiveness and efficacy of this alternative is evidenced by the recent proliferation of paralegal-intensive access-to-justice programs by bar associations, legal clinics, and educational institutions. These programs exist throughout the country. Examples include:

• In South Florida, Catholic Charities Legal Services enlists pro bono paralegals to hold free Friday walk-in clinics to help Haitians apply for temporary protected status after the recent hurricane.
• Lake County, Illinois, where the local bar association uses specially-trained paralegal studies students to assist in providing free legal services for people petitioning the court for guardianship of a minor child.
• The New York City Paralegal Association provides pro bono services for the Safe Horizon Domestic Violence Law Project.

Each of these programs demonstrates how access to justice can be improved through wise utilization of paralegals. Since one attorney can supervise several well-trained paralegals, more people gain access to legal services and justice.

If you have participated in a program like the ones mentioned above or just know of such a program, I would like to hear from you either by way of comment or email.

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