In fieldwork practicum courses, students participate in weekly seminars and conduct related fieldwork at outside organizations. This fieldwork practicum course will focus on the access to justice crisis in this country. Students will participate in a two hour/week seminar and carry out 10 hours/week of fieldwork with organizations that are engaged in research and developing interventions to address the civil access to justice crisis.
SEMINAR: In the two-credit, graded, seminar portion of the practicum, students will learn about the nature and extent of the access to justice crisis in this country. Recent studies reveal that an estimated 75% of civil cases in the state courts have at least one party who is unrepresented, leaving some 30 million people who cannot afford an attorney alone in court. Indeed, 86% of civil legal problems of low income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help. The stakes are high with many people without legal help facing the danger of losing their families, their homes and their livelihoods. Yet, this invisible crisis has given rise to an array of innovations to serve more people who cannot afford an attorney. Students will study new interventions to rectify this broken system; consider strategies to bring forward solutions; enhance their competencies in gathering essential information; engage in creative problem-solving; enhance their legislative and rule drafting skills; gain experience in working as part of a team; and address cultural issues and concerns.
FIELDWORK: In the two-credit, mandatory pass/fail, fieldwork portion of the practicum, students will be assigned to work with organizations that are engaged in research and development initiatives to address the civil access to justice crisis. The organizations may include District-based legal services providers—such as Ayuda, D.C. Access to Justice Commission, D.C. Pro Bono Center, as well as national organizations such as the Legal Services Corporation, Fines and Fees Justice Center, or the Self Represented Litigation Network. Initiatives underway include: revising unauthorized practice of law rules to permit non-lawyers to help address unmet legal needs; expanding pro bono commitments through establishing mandatory pro bono requirements, and through other means; developing “low bono” projects to represent those with modest incomes who cannot afford the normal rates lawyers charge; creating ways for professionals and community actors who are not lawyers to help provide access to justice; creating civil Gideon requirements at state levels in adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake; providing new forms of self-help services to those who represent themselves in litigation or in their handling of other legal matters; and reforming court rules and procedures to create a fairer environment for pro se litigants.