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Another Sign Of Tough Times: Legal Aid For The Middle Class

Publication Date: 
March 10, 2009
Los Angeles Times
Carol J. Williams

Professor Deborah L. Rhode is quoted in the Los Angeles Times in an article about middle-class Americans seeking free or low-cost legal help as a result of the economic crisis:

As millions of Americans live through their own nightmare versions of "Trading Places," they are being confronted with legal problems compounding their fallen fortunes. An estimated 60% of Americans find themselves in the gap between those poor enough to qualify for publicly funded Legal Aid and those wealthy enough to afford an uptown lawyer.

Fortunately for the newly downgraded, the access-to-justice movement has advanced in recent years from Skid Row to Main Street.


Although the funds available for rescuing the distressed middle class are woefully short, the solution isn't necessarily more public money to pay more lawyers, says Deborah L. Rhode, head of Stanford Law School's new Center on the Legal Profession, who estimates that at least three-fifths of the population falls through the cracks of the legal establishment.

She suggests continued expansion of Internet delivery of legal guidance to the masses; incentives for new law school grads to work off their student loan debt in community practice; and a tax on legal services bought by those who can afford "big law" representation.

"Help should be available for those who can't realistically afford it and have more to lose," Rhode said of the recently unemployed, the underwater mortgage holders and the strapped families that have run up credit-card debts trying to make ends meet.