Friday, March 31, 2006

"The Best Justice Money Can Buy"

All too often in our American legal system, we're left reflecting on the influence of money, believing that the wealthy have more ready access to "justice," that justice can somehow be purchased. While this claim has some element of truth, its automatic acceptance obscures the complete picture. Money, in and of itself, is irrelevant to the legal system. Try offering sums of money to a judge; you'll probably find yourself in even more dire straits (I hope!). No, what benefits one before the law is knowledge. Knowledge of statutes, knowledge of procedures, knowledge of the people within the law, knowledge of what strings to pull. More knowledgeable attorneys are generally those we consider "better" attorneys. This, then, is where we begin to discover one of the systemic problems of the legal system in our country. You see, those lawyers with knowledge tend to sell themselves (their services) to the highest bidder, so those with the most resources have better representation in the legal system and are thus more privileged.

This system seems utterly flawed. Justice shouldn't be apportioned based on the relative wealth of those before the system. At the risk of sounding revolutionary, I believe capitalist structures are entirely inappropriate within the legal system. Everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status, is equally deserving of fair, competent, and knowledgeable counsel.

The news isn't all bad, though. There's a growing trend of law schools seeking to support students who desire to pursue a career in public interest law, as through Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAPs) and scholarships. Law school is priced for those going into lucrative fields of law who will be able to pay off substantial loans and this proved a barrier to those who might otherwise have liked to enter the public interest field. Hopefullly this trend will continue and more attorneys will eventually end up devoting their careers to causes greater than the accrual of wealth; until then we can only hope that the best attorneys will increasingly dedicate their time to defending those without the financial means to otherwise acquire the best representation.


Anonymous said...

God you disgust me, Alex.

Karl Smith said...

See, here's the thing, is Alex didn't write this piece, I did. If this is just a general attempt to malign Alex, at least find one of his posts. If this is attempt to malign me, go fuck yourself. :-)

Geminiwave said...

See I have a problem with this. While your idea sounds awesome on paper (my liberal socialist side is jumping up and down cheering), there are some serious flaws in your ideal (my conservative economics side is wagging his finger)

How did those lawyers get to be knowledgable? How did they get their resources? Yes, you have to work hard in lawschool and there'll be those who're manipulative (not in the negative sense. just that they can manipulate the system well) who will do quite well...but then you gain a much greater knowledge working for say...a large law firm. Those large paychecks go to pay for resources to MAKE a lawyer knowledgable. Without that money, theres no paralegals to hire to do heavy legwork, no interns, no expensive texts...

and then theres a bigger issue. Speaking as one whos going into lawschool, let me tell you that I know alot of lawyers. When they get a high paying client, they work their asses off. When they get a pro bono case they work...well not so much. They still get PAID for that case...but they do not get paid nearly as much.

What you are talking about is not a flaw in the legal system but a flaw in our entire SOCIETY. you cannot remove capitalism from the legal system. You'd have to totally remove capitalism not just as an institution but as an idea in the human heart.

I hope that I'm getting my ideas across coherantly. I most certainly am not attacking your idea, but I definately find it problematic. Especially when considering civil lawsuits which generally center around money. How can you exclude capitalism out of a case CENTERED around capitalism?

Karl Smith said...


You raise a number of good points and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. To the overarching criticism, that is is not just a flaw of the legal system but a flaw of society, you are, of course, correct. Freedom often comes at the expense of egalitarianism. What I advocate for is not necessarily a a legal system devoid of capitalism (though that may be an ideal end, it is hardly a realistic one), but instead a more egalitarian legal system. I think on some level everyone recognizes the shortcoming of the legal system where the wealthy are far more likely to avoid convictions in circumstances where a poor person would be convicted. The question, I suppose, is what do we do about it?

In my post, I discussed the Loan Repayment Assistance Program, enabling those desire to work in the public interest to have their loans forgiven. That's a start. Offering greater funding to public defenders and, in some counties, completely restructuring the public defense system would also be a significant step forward. But I'm not sure that's enough. I don't know the status of it, but there has been talk in the ABA in the past decade about providing public defenders in some civil cases, for let's face it, losing a law suit that bankrupts you certainly deprives you of liberty in a very real way. An individual needs counsel in such an instance.

There are three examples of methods to "tweak" the current system of justice to make it more egalitarian without doing anything terribly drastic. It's certainly not a complete list and as I ponder it further, I may do future posts on the subject. I'd love your thoughts.