PUBLISHED:April 16, 2015

From the Dean

Dean David F. Levi

Last fall, I joined with Charles Holton ’73 and George Hausen, executive director of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), to celebrate the launch of the Duke Law Civil Justice Clinic. The clinic, a partnership between Duke and LANC, enables students to build their civil litigation skills under the supervision of experienced lawyers while directly serving needy clients with housing, employment, benefits, and other claims. In this clinic, which Charles leads, our students have the opportunity to draft complaints, take depositions, participate in settlement discussions, and assist at trial. At the same time, our faculty have the opportunity to do empirical research on the delivery of legal services and ask important questions about how it might be improved. Professors Mat McCubbins and Sara Sternberg Greene are developing such studies now, and what we learn could change not just what we do in this clinic but in legal services more broadly.

Access to legal services is fundamental to the health of our democracy and a special responsibility of all lawyers. But today there are tens of millions of Americans who cannot afford to hire an attorney to bring or defend a claim in court, advise them on their rights, or help them deal with family and other matters that require legal advice and training. Closing this justice gap is one of our profession’s most intractable challenges.

In this special issue of Duke Law Magazine are the stories of Duke Law alumni, faculty, and students who are working to expand access to justice in novel and noteworthy ways — as legal services lawyers, law firm pro bono leaders, teachers, and researchers. Their dedication to this cause is a credit to our law school and to them and a big part of whatever solutions we might devise in the future.

We seem to have been in a transition period in legal services for some time, and there are analogies to other fields and professions such as medicine. Our legal system was designed mostly for those who could afford it, not a mass population. Historically, lawyers and judges aspired to do the very best work even if it was expensive and time consuming to do so. They saw themselves as artisans and scholars. Of course, there is still an important place for excellence in judging and lawyering, but not at the expense of access. Subsequent efforts to make the legal system fairer — I am thinking mostly of the extensive discovery processes that we have allowed since the 1960s in most jurisdictions — have tended to make it even more expensive, even less accessible, and even less responsive. We know that this gap between the needs of most people and what the profession is willing and able to provide is unsustainable. Simply put: Lawyers and state bars cannot continue to claim a monopoly over work that they refuse to do.

The transition to something more serviceable for many more people has been painfully slow, but there are new reasons for optimism and new opportunities. For many of our graduates, legal services work is inspiring and rewarding. They could be in the private sector, but instead they have chosen to dedicate themselves to helping the underserved. But in this time of change in our profession, we can increase their ranks: Many young lawyers who graduated from law schools that are not, like Duke, in the top group, are finding themselves unemployed and are looking for meaningful work and experience. Many older lawyers are retiring in good health and looking for projects that will serve the community. We need to connect these lawyers and put them to work in legal services projects. There is also the promise of technology. Innovative courts and legal aid offices are using interactive software and forms, informative videos, and various kinds of self-help centers to provide advice and information to a far wider community. This seems a critical development at a time when so many people expect this kind of content — and even access to the courts — through the digital world.

Yet technology can only provide so much. There will always be cases and causes that require a well-trained lawyer able to serve despite the lack of funding from the client. At Duke Law, we believe public service is a core value of the profession that will be a part of every graduate’s career. Every day, our students are engaged in the public interest through their work in our 10 different clinics, the thousands of hours they give to pro bono projects in our community, internships and externships with government and nonprofit organizations, and their studies in the classroom. In no small measure, we are preparing these young lawyers to help close the justice gap.

Thank you for your continued support for Duke Law School.

David F. Levi
Dean and Professor of Law

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Dean David F. Levi

Cover of Duke Law Magazine, Spring 2015 Duke Law Magazine

Spring 2015
Vol 34  Number 1

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