“Love Bug” Mentality
I have been called many things in my 42 years as a legal services lawyer. However, prior to President Pettis’ column, I have never been called a love bug — too stupid or “insane” to fly high enough to avoid car windows. I have to say his experience with legal services for the poor is quite different than mine. During my career, I have worked with some of the brightest and most skilled public interest lawyers in the country. I have watched as legal services programs in Florida employed every possible innovation to serve more people with less resources. Over and over again, it is these programs that the local courts and legal community turn to when they are faced with emergencies, whether foreclosure crises, housing disasters, or wage theft. Over and over again these programs have responded with technological and resource innovations to assist not only their clients but the legal community as a whole.
Most recently I have had to watch as these same programs were required to reduce staff and assistance as a result of shrinking resources. There is a limit to the amount of efficiency that technology and resource innovation can create. And this attrition has caused real people with real legal needs to go unrepresented. I do not think it is a crazy idea that those who make their living through the legal infrastructure have a special responsibility to ensure its fairness and accessibility. While individual lawyers have certainly contributed to the support of legal services programs, the vast majority of the funding comes from the general public through the federal Legal Services Corporation, county funding, and interest on noninterest-bearing trust accounts. Arguing that it is someone else’s problem or that it is a problem of the legal services lawyers themselves does not contribute to that discussion. Given the crisis in funding, it may well be time for lawyers to consider the possibility of a temporary surcharge. It is certainly not a time for name calling.
Charles F. Elsesser, Jr., Miami
Editor’s Note: Eugene Pettis’ use of the phrase “love bug mentality” was not intended to criticize any individual lawyer or group of lawyers, but to challenge the ENTIRE legal profession to think creatively to find new ways to fund legal services for poor and middle-class Floridians who are finding it increasingly difficult to access the courts. Pettis believes the problem has grown too big to approach in the same way it has always been done. It is his goal to come up with an innovative model that includes The Florida Bar, The Florida Bar Foundation, court clerks who work with pro se litigants, legislators, court administration officials, and members of the business community.