Access to Justice

Access to Justice

Students will explore the provision of civil legal services to the poor in the United States. What is the impact on individual clients, on the justice system, and on society when access to justice is denied to those who cannot afford a lawyer? What is the appropriate role of government, bar associations, individual lawyers, and law schools in providing legal services to those who cannot pay? The history of legal aid in the U.S. will be reviewed, followed by an examination of current legal services' delivery systems. Funding cuts and government-imposed restrictions placed on the work of legal aid lawyers will be discussed, along with new delivery methods that are emerging in response to the cuts and restrictions.

Students will be invited to contemplate their own future role in the provision of legal services to under-represented clients. A major goal of the course is to take a critical view of the past and to encourage students to develop new and varied responses to the problem of access to the civil justice system. The grade will be based on class participation, an in-class presentation, and a research paper or project.

Course Requirements:

-Participation in class discussions about assigned readings.
-Every week, a short (1 page MAXIMUM) reflection piece on the readings. (not graded)
-Site visit of at least 4-5 hours duration to a legal/advocacy organization whose primary purpose is to provide legal services to low-income clients.
-2-3 page reaction paper to site visit.
-Maximum 10 page paper on selected topic related to poverty law and/or access to justice.


Class participation including reflection pieces
Site visit and reflection paper
Paper on topic related to access to justice
Student led discussion on paper topic

Assignment #1: Site Visit

The purpose of the site visit is for students to be come acquainted with ongoing efforts/initiatives/ programs attempting to address the needs of low income individuals and families in New Mexico. It provides an opportunity for students to understand how specific issues impact access to justice, how systems respond to the needs of low-income families, to appreciate the level of need in New Mexico, to consider possible policy issues related to access to justice, and to develop communication and networking skills.

Students will choose a site visit based on individual areas of interest, and in consultation with the instructor. It is acceptable, but not required, that the site visit relate to the topic chosen for Assignment #2 (10 page paper)

Student activities should include the following:

•Arrange site visit (Instructor can assist with initial contact information, but students should make specific arrangements.)
Develop a set of questions which will allow you to analyze the follow:
°How do the goals/objectives/activities of the organization address access to justice?
°What services are provided? What services are not provided?
°What legislative (or other policy) governs, enables or hampers services?
°What strengths, gaps are barriers are evident in the program activities?
•Write a 2-3 page reaction paper to the site visit

Students may want to consider the following types of sites:

Catholic Charities
Center for Law and Poverty
Law Access New Mexico
New Mexico Legal Aid
New Mexico Protection and Advocacy System
Pegasus Legal Services for Children
Law Referral for the Elderly Program
2nd Judicial District Pro Se Clinic

Assignment #2: Paper on topic related to access to justice.

Required Student Products:

1. Paper Concept Paragraph:

Most of your grade in this class will be based on a 10 page paper. The paper topic can be anything related to access to justice. The paragraph should state the basic issue you want to research. Keeping in mind that the paper is only 10 pages, please be as specific as you can at this point. The purpose of this assignment is for you to have feedback on your topic so if you submit a paragraph that is too general, the benefit of the assignment will be minimal. The paper concept paragraph is worth 3 points towards your paper grade for being done adequately and on time. No late paragraphs will be accepted for points.

2. Paper Outline

This outline should reflect the issue to be addressed, summarize your primary research, and provide an outline of the points and conclusions of the paper.

3. Student presentation to class, including short student led discussion on chosen topic. Student presentations/discussions are limited to 10-15 minutes.

4. Final 10 page paper.

The purpose of this assignment is to explore in depth a particular topic related to access to justice, considering the following:

•Describe the issue as it relates to access to justice, showing understanding of the challenges (legal, cultural, social and/or political challenges) in framing the legal issue.
•Describe the current legal framework (policy, statute and case law) related to the issue.
•Analyze the strengths and weakness of the current legal framework, considering legal, social, cultural, and political strengths and weaknesses.
•Develop your own legal argument/policy recommendation and demonstrate why your argument/recommendation is responsive to improving access to justice for low income individuals and families.

General Tips: Papers must include traditional legal research; i.e., an analysis of statutory and case law. It will not be sufficient to turn in a policy analysis paper that is not informed by a discussion of the existing legal framework. Similarly, a paper relying in interviews with professionals, without legal analysis, will not be sufficient. You will be graded on the quality of your research, the organization of your paper, the persuasiveness of your argument, and the quality of your writing skills.