Lauren Sudeall Lucas, associate professor of law
The law matters because in capable hands it is a powerful tool for justice.
While it can be misused, in its purest form, the law is capable of vindicating rights when other political mechanisms have failed. For many people—including lower-income and other marginalized persons—the law can right wrongs in situations where there would otherwise be no recourse and no hope for redemption. However, the law can also be incredibly overwhelming and confusing to those who have no background or training in the law.
Today, countless people across the country with both civil and criminal legal needs lack the critical assistance of a lawyer. For some of these people, whether or not they can obtain legal aid will mean the difference between having a place to sleep and living on the street. For others, facing criminal charges without a lawyer may mean the difference between being wrongfully detained and being released to return home to one’s family.
As lawyers, we have both the ability and the responsibility to ensure that the law is used as an instrument for justice, not injustice. We can be heroes. But we also have a responsibility to think beyond our own profession to ensure that the law can play that role even for those who do not have a lawyer. Thus, Law Week should be a time not only to celebrate the awesome power of the law, but also to contemplate who can use that power and how we can make it equally accessible to all who need it.
Lauren Sudeall Lucas, associate professor of law, teaches Constitutional Law and Capital Punishment. She also serves as founding faculty director of the Center for Access to Justice.