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15 December, 2008

Poor woman shoots husband, gets free legal counsel

But if poor woman is party to a divorce, there may be nothing for her in our legal system.

Tell me where the logic is in this? I understand that our system of criminal law guarantees some type of legal representation, albeit potentially crappy and unmotivated. The idea being that a poor person should not have a higher chance of being found guilty simply because of their financial status. Of course, this is a farce, because a poor person remains far more likely to be convicted than a rich one, for a variety of reasons. Those would include quality of legal support, jurisdiction in which the trial occurs, racism, or other sociocultural biases. That said, the idea that legal support is guaranteed for all who commit crimes, no matter how heinous, is something that would at least in concept give our system the semblance of "civility".

So, then, the irony is that the same is not true for civil disputes.

If a poor person is party to a divorce, and they cannot afford representation, though their spouse can afford it, then so it goes. It is true that there exist a variety of so-called "channels" through which people can attempt to find legal counsel. These include neighborhood clinics, and directly through the county court system. However, there are a number of caveats. If you are poor, but not "poor enough", you do not qualify. And while I have insufficient data to determine what the county/state consider to be "poor enough", I do have anecdotal evidence to suggest that being unable to make ends meet is apparently not "poor enough". I do not know if the threshold is "homeless", or if the threshold is that you need to squeak loudly to get the wheel oiled.

It can at least be said that the process is not straightforward. And as you can imagine, if a person is working hard, and trying to make those ends meet, they may not have the time or energy to fight an uphill battle to identify and procure some type of legal support. While this may be counterintuitive, the reality is that the structure of the system seems to be a demoralizing one. Nobody wants to be "so poor" that they cannot afford something that they need. And the system is such that you need to demonstrate that.

If one could assume that the judicial system is completely fair, and takes keen interest in the outcomes of every single case, then perhaps legal representation is unnecessary. But that is obviously not the case. There are many factors, and many assets that need to be considered in a divorce. And an attorney is paid to evaluate these, and call to issue anything that is relevant to the outcome. The judge, who sees many cases in a day, may have no context for being aware of certain factors that should be considered. So when one party has representation, and one does not, it creates an imbalance.

I am not sure why it is that our system is not better configured to readily offer adequate and effective support to people who are in need, whether the cause be a civil one or a criminal one. There are certainly enough lawyers in the world. Perhaps if they were all willing to work for $100,000 a year, instead of $200,000 a year, then the causes of the average person would be better served.

But I forgot... most of our lawyers are busy working for corporations who are suing the government for imposing harsh regulations that they don't like.

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