Over the past decade, we have witnessed worrisome trends in the ability of ordinary citizens to gain meaningful access to our civil justice system. These trends indicate a clear and growing gap between the wealthy and the poor when it comes to affordability and accessibility of legal representation in civil cases. The result is an enormous disparity between the general expectation that Americans have access to the courts to resolve their civil disputes and the actual reality that access to justice in most civil matters is available only to the wellͲtoͲdo.
The United States is ranked 65th out of 100 countries in access and affordability of civil legal services—behind such countries as Ukraine and Sierra Leone—according to a 2014 World Justice Project report. We have seen this firsthand in Arkansas as the number of individuals who cannot afford an attorney and who represent themselves in court steadily grows. Meanwhile, a significant number of recent law school graduates are unemployed or underemployed and many law practices in more rural, depressed areas of the state are struggling. These very real challenges are having a negative impact on our system of justice and ultimately, the rule of law.