From the Dean — Access Issues More Pressing Than Ever
One of the great tenets of the legal profession is fairness and equal treatment under the law. The barriers to access to legal representation in the criminal and civil systems for those with limited financial means lead to grave inequalities in the scales of justice. With a growing divide between the wealthy and the poor, access issues are more pressing than ever.
As an avenue to reduce those inequities, Georgia State Law, under the leadership of assistant professor Lauren Sudeall Lucas, is launching the Center for Access to Justice. Lauren has devoted much of her career and scholarship to indigent defense reform. In addition to its research, advocacy and outreach components, the center will be an invaluable resource for our students, providing them opportunities to be more informed and have hands-on experiences in public interest work. Lauren has recruited a large number of our faculty to the center, who will begin to place more emphasis on access issues in their curriculum, equipping future lawyers with the knowledge and motivation to find workable solutions for this crisis.
The center is another manifestation of how Georgia State Law is committed to cultivating well-rounded graduates who enter the profession while giving back, fulfilling the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct’s Rule 6.1 — that every lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay.
Lawyers like Stephanie Everett (J.D. ’02), Nicki Vaughan (J.D. ’94), Peter Zeliff (J.D. ’98) and Nancy DeVetter (J.D. ’08) are making strides in fighting for access and providing pro bono or affordable services. Stephanie, the director of Lawyers for Equal Justice, trains attorneys on how to provide affordable representation to the underserved population — those who earn too much to qualify for legal aid but not enough to afford the market rate for an attorney.
Nicki, chief assistant public defender for the Northeastern Judicial Circuit, is involved in the State Bar Access to Justice Committee. Peter is a criminal defense attorney based in Cumming, Georgia, and a former public defender. Nancy, a staff attorney in the Savannah Regional Office of the Georgia Legal Services Program, helps clients with public benefits and expungements. Learn more about these alumni in this issue.
Georgia State Law alumni have a long tradition of public service. We salute all our alumni and faculty who devote their talents to serving their communities, whether it be as public defenders, Legal Aid attorneys and judges who ensure their courtrooms are easy to navigate for pro se clients or those engaged in pro bono efforts.