Access to justice is at the core of our constitutional society. Justice Powell wrote, “Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building; it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society.”
For a long time many law schools recognized the importance of training students to work for this fundamental ideal. While much has been done, clearly the needs remain great. In the criminal justice area, too few lawyers results in criminal defendants being deprived of their constitutional right to counsel. The difficulties on the civil side are just as troubling. For every client served by a legal aid group, one person who seeks help is turned down because of insufficient resources.
The story of the admirable efforts by law faculty members and students to meet these great needs is not well publicized on the pages of major newspapers and on the Internet. But, our story, as members of the AALS, is all about dedicated students and faculty members across the United States who diligently pursue the goal of equal justice for all by providing sorely needed legal representation.
It is an exciting story of the true explosion in recent years of the number and variety of legal clinics at all our member schools, clinics which focus on an enormously broad set of legal issues involving disabilities, Native American concerns, low income taxpayers, special education, social security, elder law, civil rights, domestic violence, criminal defense, and consumer issues among many other fields. Most recently, of course, we have seen the tremendous efforts of law students and faculty members across the nation to assist in the lawful immigration process of many seeking to come to—or remain in—the United States.
Our story is what we are bound to do. As written by Justice Sotomayor, “We educated, privileged lawyers have a professional and moral duty to represent the underrepresented in our society, to ensure that justice exists for all, both legal and economic justice.”
This larger story of what we as legal educators can do, and what we and our students are doing, to assure fairness in law for our less fortunate citizens is an exhilarating and uplifting story.
AALS President and Haynes Professor of Law, William and Mary School of Law