One of Shakespeare’s rather famous or infamous quotes is from Henry VI, where he says, “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.”
This oft-repeated joke reflects the general negative sentiment many people have toward lawyers, which is nothing short of being on par with the kind of unfriendliness displayed toward investment bankers. Some people hate lawyers until they need one. But more needs to occur to change the negative perceptions of lawyers and the work they do in society.
Legal professionals must see themselves first and foremost as servants of society. Service is about recognizing that we are all part of the human family and that treating each other with dignity and respect is the only key to human progress.
Unfortunately, the legal process in America is no longer geared towards noble concepts such as justice, fairness, or impartiality but rather financial power and connections. It’s sad that money—or the lack of it—has become the deciding factor in the American judicial system.
We could argue that the justice system has never been fair but has instead always operated on the concept of privilege. In the past, this privilege heavily depended on the concepts of gender and race, thus favoring white males. Today, however, it gears heavily toward financial power above all other metrics. Lady Justice is meant to be blind, but in the current system, it is clear that she seems to notice the color green.
Ways some people receive unjust treatment under the lawHere are some ways the judicial system systematically and unjustly treats poor people:
Staying in prison because they can’t afford bailThose accused but not yet convicted of a crime are imprisoned because they can’t afford to pay bail. It’s difficult for wealthy policymakers to imagine that some people are too poor to pay a few hundred or a couple of thousand dollars set as their bail. However, many Americans can’t afford this amount and have no choice but to stay in prison for weeks or months as they await their day in court. Imprisonment can lead to a loss of jobs and income and other problems that quickly cascade. So, some individuals are dealing with the burdens of a conviction, even though they have not pleaded or been found guilty by a jury.
Lack of access to legal servicesOn the civil side, sometimes individuals need assistance with family law matter, real estate transactions, or financial troubles. Still, due to a lack of access to legal services, the situation gets worse. Lawyers are well equipped to guide individuals facing these matters and intervening early before they lead to havoc in other areas of their lives.
BiasWe all have biases, but when we are in positions of power, those biases can have a tremendous impact on the lives of others. Lawyers, judges, and members of juries are examples of people who hold power over others and should work to uncover biases and not let mere assumptions get in the way of dispensing justice. Unfortunately, these biases can disproportionately impact poor people and minoritized communities, being imprisoned for crimes they did not commit.
How lawyers can be of serviceLawyers can serve humanity by using their skills, power, connections, and knowledge to help the disadvantaged and oppressed. Their work in service to humanity does not mean they can’t make money at all; it just means that they recognize that they have a social responsibility to the rest of humanity.
Here are ways to be of service:
Pro bono workPro bono is Latin and translates to for the public good. Lawyers wishing to engage in public good can offer their legal services for free to people who cannot afford a good lawyer but are in desperate need of justice.
The best cases to take on involve an individual who has experienced extreme damage to their health or financial well-being. An example would be a case where a factory has been using dangerous chemicals that harm the local community resulting in cancer or other medical conditions.
Students just out of law school can get some real-world experience by doing pro bono work that allows them to sharpen their skills in the real world. Law school tends to be too theoretical and needs to teach how cases in the real world evolve.
Financing scholarshipsMany lawyers are quite wealthy; this wealth is an opportunity to give back financially to causes that matter. Scholarships to law students from poor backgrounds are a great way to give back to the community.
Sharing knowledgeKnowledge is more valuable than money. Experienced lawyers can give back to the community by offering their knowledge and experience to junior associates and people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
These posts were proofread by Grammarly
Joseline J. Hardrick is the Founder and President of Diversity Access Pipeline, Inc. She is also an author, professor, and lawyer and resides in Tampa Bay, Florida. Guest bloggers are students in the Journey to Esquire® Scholarship & Leadership Program.