John Hood, Chairman of North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, makes the same point this week that MidLaw made last week: the legal system and meaningful access to it for everybody is fundamental to our system of government. Access is a matter of infrastructure. (An on-ramp, if you will.)
Hood is not addressing the federal budget with its proposed de-funding the Legal Services Corporation. Instead, he is endorsing the just-released final report of the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice.
The final report calls for investments in North Carolina’s courts system up to $91 million over 6 years to improve access to the system. Hood sums up:
this plan is affordable and reflects the highest priorities of any government: public safety and the protection of individual rights.
But, if the federal government de-funds Legal Services, then the cost of the North Carolina plan will go up — both now and later.
The North Carolina report finds that
Statistics about low-income individuals’ access to lawyers are quite discouraging, … partly because legal aid programs have lost significant funding in recent years. Pro bono (donated legal services) programs have helped some litigants but simply do not have the capacity to come close to being a complete solution
Legal Aid of North Carolina brings legal services to low-income people in North Carolina. It appears to deliver a very high volume of access to justice (legal services) with limited and now declining resources. It depends heavily on funding from the Legal Services Corporation.
Hood points to technology and service providers other than lawyers, as emerging means of improving access to the justice system. He concludes:
Legal practice and public expectations are changing in response to new technologies, like it or not. North Carolina can either adjust its court system to that reality, or pay a far heavier price in the future.
Might there be better ways to deliver legal services to the poor? Technology, say, and providers other than lawyers? Bring them.
In the meantime, eliminating funding from the federal budget for Legal Services sounds like making a bad situation worse (“pay a far heavier price in the future”). And it puts a premium on State funding.