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Middle-Class Dilemma: Can’t Afford Lawyers, Can’t Qualify for Legal Aid

Posted Jul 22, 2010 8:36 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Lawyers are just too expensive for many people needing legal help, a law professor says.

“You can hardly find a lawyer who charges less than $150 per hour, which is out of reach for most people," University of Southern California law professor Gillian Hadfield tells the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, people who can’t afford lawyers make too much money to qualify for legal aid. Most aid groups serve those at or below the poverty line, and budget cuts are forcing the organizations to turn away more people, the story says.

The newspaper cites a survey of nearly 1,200 state trial judges by the ABA Coalition for Justice. Sixty percent of the judges reported that fewer people are represented by counsel in civil cases, according to results announced in a press conference earlier this month.

The Wall Street Journal interviewed former law professor Laurence Tribe, who heads the U.S. Justice Department's Access to Justice Initiative. “The problem is growing for the middle class," he said.

At a speech in June at the American Constitution Society, Tribe called Americans’ access to justice a “dramatically understated” crisis, Main Justice reports.

“The whole system of justice in America is broken,” Tribe said. “The entire legal system is largely structured to be labyrinthine, inaccessible, unusable.”

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