The Curriculum Development Project (CDP) of the Access to Justice Committee seeks to facilitate an operative shift in legal pedagogy throughout the law school curriculum. This shift is to be guided by the basic idea that access to justice is an essential component of lawyers’ professional responsibility and ethical obligations. Guided by the ABA Model Rules’ vision of responsible and professional lawyers taking concrete steps to address the overwhelming need for affordable legal service (Rule 6.1), the CDP seeks to implement “access to justice” as a core component of law school courses – regardless of subject matter.
The CDP operates around and furthers three core themes in faculty preparation of students to enter the profession and fulfill their ethical obligations:
1) making students aware of the access to counsel crisis where most people are unrepresented in civil proceedings and at the beginning stages of a criminal prosecution;
2) educating students about a lawyer’s professional duty as a public citizen having special responsibilities to the quality of justice and to engage in pro bono work; and
3) acknowledging that a lawyer's pro bono efforts and advocacy would make a significant difference in balancing the scales of justice for unrepresented parties and for addressing existing deficiencies in the legal system.
The Committee recognizes that guaranteeing counsel is not the only challenge to ensuring access to justice. The issue of the availability of pro bono legal services for those who cannot afford an attorney overlaps with nearly every other aspect of the concern for fair and equal access to the courts.
The SALT Board and ATJ Committee recognize that this project is a step in a long term commitment to bringing about meaningful and lasting change in legal education. As such, the Committee’s outline of the steps along the journey to achieving the objectives of the Curriculum Development Project is a work in progress – intentionally responsive to developments in legal education, the profession, committee and SALT Board input as well as resources.
As described in more detail in the Committee’s first report to the SALT Board in 2011, the project is divided up into three phases with multiple steps. The three phases can be broadly described as
(1) Encouraging SALT members to contribute ideas for incorporating the three core themes into their classes - - students' awareness, lawyers' ethical responsibilities, and the difference pro bono efforts make;
(2) Publication - web publication, sample course description/syllabi database, presentations to faculty and conferences re: ATJ/Ethics generally and the Committee’s project in particular; and
(3) Implementation – outline strategies for bringing about institutional change (ex. ABA reporting similar to "Practical Components" reporting) re: ATJ/Ethics.
The SALT Committee asked members to consider:
1. How would you incorporate “access to justice” in 1 or 2 of your regular courses by supplementing your teaching syllabus? Incorporating new material may require devoting as little as 5-10 minutes of class time to developing a reoccurring theme in relevant cases and significantly more class discussion. Conversation would include attempts to illustrate a lawyer's professional responsibility and ethical obligation to provide pro bono legal services to those who cannot afford an attorney in a course you are already comfortable teaching.
2. A revised course description that explains plans to integrate and inform students about the following ATJ information in their classes keeping in mind three core themes:
A) the existing crisis in denying people access to counsel;
B) lawyers’ ethical duty to address the crisis; and
C) the responsibility of the profession to meet the needs of unrepresented populations through pro bono legal services.
by Elvia R. Arriola, Professor of Law, Northern Illinois University School of Law
by Margaret Martin Barry, Professor of Law, Vermont Law School
by Pamela Bridgewater, Professor of Law, AU Washington College of Law
by Douglas Colbert, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law
by Erin B. Corcoran, University of New Hampshire School of Law
by Beth Lyon, Villanova Law School
by Hope Lewis, Northeastern University School of Law
by Access to Justice Comittee Law Professors
Email the SALT Access to Justice Chair: