When someone is accused of a crime or experiences a legal wrong, they expect fairness from our legal system.
Fairness doesn’t mean that one side gets everything it demands. But it does mean that what’s right is served and what’s wrong goes punished.
Statistically, few of us will face the possibility of imprisonment or the loss of treasure because of a legal wrong.
And so, few of us consider that if something like that should occur, we usually are not capable of fully understanding the legal issues before us. We should recognize the truth in the old adage: Only a fool is his own lawyer. That’s because it’s reasonable to expect that the pressures brought to bear on a defendant can cause him or her to lose the dispassionate perspective it takes to make cool, intelligent decisions in the heat of a legal battle.
It’s also likely that few of us know enough about the law and legal procedure to properly handle the issues at hand.
While the courts often show great patience with people who represent themselves, they do so because judges know the self-lawyer rarely know what he’s doing.
That said, our love of justice should cause us to demand that we have the very best legal advice available when it’s needed.
Sadly, that may not be the case. Poor legal advice abounds, wearing the badge of the Bar.
In truth, few of us actually know who the really good lawyers are. Fewer can afford them.
Many times, trouble comes to bear suddenly and folks in jeopardy make quick decisions to avoid more jeopardy. They grab the first lawyer who walks by and says he or she is affordable.
Or, they look to the public system for a defender, who is grossly overworked and probably would be in a more lucrative position, if that were an option.
Sure, the public system includes some skilled attorneys, but for them, it’s likely just part of their wider practice. Our courts are clogged with defendants charged with serious crimes. Most have little or no financial means, and usually they get what they pay for. Some of these people are not guilty or at least are not fully culpable for what they have been accused.
Some of them are juveniles, who will be tried as adults because the public demands it.
Our law schools are big business. While many have reduced their student bodies because so many legal jobs have dried up, they continue to churn out lawyers, some much better than others.
Our appeals courts continue to reverse trial court decisions because lawyers are not as capable as they should be.
Of all organizations, the American Bar Association contemplates radical changes in educating lawyers. Proposals are a result of numerous factors, including a sharp drop in law school applications, outsourcing of research over the Internet, a glut of underemployed and indebted law school graduates and a high percentage of the legal needs of Americans going unmet.
It should be more difficult to become a lawyer, not the opposite. We should seek effective to resolve unmet needs, rather than opening the legal firehose.
Our love of justice demands better.
Patsy R. Brumfield writes a Thursday column. Contact her at email@example.com or (662) 678-1596.