A common refrain about the legal industry these days is that law schools are churning out way more lawyers than necessary, leaving many new grads hopelessly awash in debt. But at the Washington Post, Martha Bergmark makes a very different case in a piece headlined "We don't need fewer lawyers. We need cheaper ones." She argues that with an average charge of $200 to $300 an hour for legal help, too many people are priced out of the system, as evidenced in this eye-popping stat: "In 70% to 98% of cases in America's civil courts today, one or both parties are not represented by a lawyer." Ordinary people are losing their homes and their livelihoods as a result.
It amounts to "a disgraceful failure of our legal system to meet the serious legal needs of most Americans," writes Bergmark. Programs at the state and federal level encourage new lawyers to work in legal aid programs that serve low-income people in exchange for debt forgiveness, but we need longer-term fixes, including what Bergmark calls a "culture shift" at law schools. This type of work should be seen not just as "charity" but as rewarding in its own right. "It's hard to see how a legal system that meets only the needs of the wealthy, while leaving most everyone else by the wayside, is a vital resource for society." Click for her full column.