The Critical Importance of Legal Representation
When people refer to the “justice gap” in the United States, they usually mean the unequal treatment of people in our criminal justice system. But the gap extends to our civil justice system, too. Unlike criminal defendants who normally get public defenders, parties in civil matters, including immigration matters, usually are not entitled to publicly-funded lawyers. And parties who can’t afford lawyers to represent them are more likely to lose their cases than represented parties.
Access to Justice for Immigrant Families and Communities, a recent study issued jointly by Stanford Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (NCCIK), confirms this. It shows that immigrants held in custody while awaiting deportation are three times as likely to win the right to remain in the United States as those without lawyers. Immigrants with representation were able to establish that they were entitled to stay in the United States because they were targets of persecution, victims of domestic crimes, or members of U.S. Citizen Families facing hardships – 33 percent of the time. By contrast, unrepresented immigrants were able to do so only 11 percent of the time.
For our Country’s adversarial legal system to operate fairly, both sides need to have lawyers. That’s why we started the Drop-In Legal Clinic at GLIDE – to help fill the justice gap. The Clinic provides free legal assistance the GLIDE way – unconditionally, to all types of clients, in all types of cases. Since the Clinic’s founding in September 2013, over 220 clients have been helped with their criminal and civil cases. Many of these cases involve immigration issues like the ones described in the Stanford study.
Recently, for example, a disabled client who has been living in the United States for over 20 years and returned briefly to his home country to visit relatives was stopped by US Customs upon his return and interrogated about guilty pleas he had entered over a decade earlier when charged with non-violent crimes. When the client admitted that he’d entered the pleas (for which he served his sentence long ago) the Government confiscated the client’s passport and initiated deportation proceedings. Thanks to GLIDE’s Legal Clinic, the client is represented by experienced criminal and immigration lawyers in these proceedings. He has been able to stay in his home in the United States and continues receiving the care and benefits that he needs to survive.
This is just one example from one type of Clinic case but it illustrates the critical importance of legal matters. Parties who lose in court may in turn lose their homes, their jobs, their families – and even their freedom – as a result. And, without lawyers, the Stanford study shows, parties are far more likely to lose. Thus, the Drop-In Legal Clinic at GLIDE is committed to helping underserved parties in all types of legal matters.
Charlie Crompton is the Director of the GLIDE Drop-In Legal Clinic. Crompton has withdrawn from private practice after 25 years, the last 14 years as a litigation partner at Latham & Watkins, to bring his experience, creativity and initiative to further develop GLIDE’s Drop In Legal Clinic. Latham & Watkins, a global law firm providing services in a wide spectrum of corporate, litigation and regulatory areas, has been a supporter of GLIDE for nearly a decade through event sponsorship, volunteerism and pro bono services.