Family Law

Family Law News Issue 2, 2014, Volume 36, No. 2

Message from the Chair

Andrew Cain

Iused this space in the last issue of the Family Law News as a platform to address the funding crisis impacting the state’s judicial system. Regardless of where you are aligned in the debate over how the money should be spent, my hope is that you took to heart my call for action and plan to make your voice heard. Among the many harms associated with these contractions in the scope of the judiciary is the exacerbation of the justice gap in California. Fortunately, the tools we have at our disposal to help address the access to the justice problem extend beyond picking up the phone and contacting an elected official.

One attorney is licensed in the state of California for approximately every 250 residents. While we might quarrel over the competition for business created by those numbers, no one would dispute that every resident of financial means has the ability to hire a qualified attorney. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for indigent individuals or those of modest means. Legal aid organizations — the traditional province of services to these populations — are able to offer only one attorney for every 8,163 residents. As a result, approximately 50 percent of residents that financially qualify for legal aid services are turned away due to lack of resources. These residents are faced with the difficult choice of proceeding without representation or foregoing the assertion of their legal rights altogether. This is a decision point no one in California should have to face.

Hopefully, these statistics simply quantify a problem that Section members already know exist. Family Law is impacted by the justice gap unlike any other area of practice. Among family law litigants, 70 percent appear in court without counsel. The Elkins Task Force was established, in large part, to address access to justice issues for these unrepresented individuals. While we are beginning to see some of the fruits of the work associated with Elkins, a great deal more needs to be done.

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