Governance & Membership
President's Message - October 2023
Access To Justice: How Can Anyone Afford Justice Anymore?
By Brian Hermanson
One way society can determine whether it meets the needs of its people is to look at whether citizens have access to justice. Not only criminal justice but also access to the courts in ways that address the availability of those day-to-day rights that enable us to navigate today’s challenges. A question we must ask is whether the public in our country can gain entrance into a legal system that has become increasingly complicated and expensive.
The World Justice Project has stated: “An estimated 5 billion people have unmet justice needs globally, including people who cannot obtain justice for everyday problems, people who are excluded from the opportunity the law provides, and people who live in extreme conditions of injustice.”
One may ask what types of access to justice concerns do Oklahomans face. Of course, most of us are aware of the difficulties in the criminal justice system related to retaining defense counsel for those charged with a crime. If you go to any courthouse in this state, you will discover the vast majority of those accused of crime being represented by public defenders. It is virtually impossible for most people in those circumstances to come up with the money necessary to hire an attorney to represent them.
But it doesn’t take much digging to find that those dealing with family law issues or many other areas of the law also have great difficulty finding legal representation they can afford.
During this past year, I have been able to travel to many locations across this state and talk to rural lawyers about their practices. I was surprised to learn there are many smaller towns where it seems almost impossible to entice young lawyers to come to their communities to hang shingles. Members of those smaller communities often find it difficult to locate local lawyers who have the time or interest to take their cases. The already overburdened lawyers in those small towns are simply unable to take on additional clients.
How do we deal with all these problems? We know there are groups, committees and task forces across this country studying these problems and trying to get a grip on finding solutions that can offer some relief. The OBA has an active Access to Justice Committee that meets regularly to discuss and develop solutions to these problems.
What a difficult task they are facing. But in spite of the daunting task before them, every month I hear from new attorneys who want to be part of the solution and are volunteering to serve on these committees. Attorneys want to ensure that every person is able to have access to our system of justice. They are willing to put in their time and effort to develop solutions.
How about you? Do you care? Do you think you might have time to fix the problem? There is no better time to get started than now. Now is when all good intentions must be placed in motion to help.
We have a huge stake in getting this right. Are you up to help?
Brian Hermanson serves as district attorney for the 8th District of Oklahoma.
Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 94 Vol 8 (October 2023).
Statements or opinions expressed in the Oklahoma Bar Journal are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Oklahoma Bar Association, its officers, Board of Governors, Board of Editors or staff.