On Law Day, May 1, Maine’s lawyers and libraries will team up to present the aptly named “Lawyers in Libraries” event. This unprecedented program will offer individuals an opportunity to meet and talk with a Maine lawyer in a familiar community setting. In addition to reviewing resources available for free and discounted fee legal services, lawyers will discuss issues relating to law and access to justice.
Justice can be a challenging concept to define. Most people tend to define it as a result – when something bad happens to an evildoer, justice is done. However, this definition resembles more closely the concepts of vengeance or retribution.
Reasonable people frequently disagree over whether a particular result constitutes true justice. The continuing debate on the question of whether the death penalty constitutes justice demonstrates the unworkability of equating justice with a result.
In fact, justice is not a result. It is a process. If a dispute is capably and fully presented to and resolved by a qualified and impartial decision maker, justice occurs. Conversely, if a decision maker is biased or incompetent, or if the facts are not fully presented or presented in an inadequate fashion, justice has not occurred. In either instance, the result is not the measurement or the test. The process of how the matter was presented and resolved determines whether justice has occurred. Any discussion of justice must include the positive contribution that lawyers can make to the process.
Due to economic or geographic barriers, many people are unable to obtain the services of a lawyer to assist them in their legal affairs. They set off to navigate the often complex and confusing world of law by themselves. Although the courts welcome and accommodate self-represented litigants, the prospect of entering the halls of justice without counsel can still be a daunting or even overwhelming task for many. The concepts of access to justice and access to counsel are clearly conjoined.
Limited resources exist for individuals to obtain free or discounted assistance by lawyers, but most people are unaware of these resources or where to find them. Many of Maine’s citizens go to their local public libraries and attempt to conduct their own legal research without the assistance of a lawyer. As a result, librarians are often called upon to assist with legal research — or even to offer advice and suggestions on legal issues — tasks that they have undertaken with tremendous goodwill, but with which they would welcome the involvement of lawyers.
At the “Lawyers in Libraries” event, volunteer lawyers will be present at selected Maine public libraries to meet with members of the public. These lawyers will discuss access issues and resources and will meet with members of the public to offer both generalized guidance and specific referrals to organizations or lawyers that may be able to offer free or reduced rate legal services. In an ideal society, all members would have unlimited access to legal assistance by qualified and trained individuals.
While that lofty goal may be out of reach at present, the “Lawyers in Libraries” initiative is an enormous step in the right direction. Maine’s lawyers have been nationally recognized for their willingness to contribute their time and efforts to the goal of assisting Maine’s underrepresented citizens. This event is yet another example of their dedication to access to justice and the rule of law.
Contact your local library or visit www.lawyersinlibraries.org to see if a “Lawyers in Libraries” event will be offered in your community on May 1.
Andrew M. Mead is an associate justice of the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Prior to being appointed to the court, he served as a Superior Court justice, a judge of the Maine District Court and chief judge of the Penobscot Tribal Court. He currently serves as co-chair of the Maine Justice Action Group Collaboration on Innovation, Technology and Equal Access to Justice.