The legal system plays a unique role in the lives of civilians, and society would be in anarchy without having legal systems in place. However, like everything in life, systems need nurturing and nourishing if they are to remain strong and work out their flaws. The US justice system has seen some major reforms, changes and improvements over the past years.
A recent study revealed the community’s perception of the judicial system. The report stated that most participants noted the relevance of the justice system in their lives, in society and in maintaining law and order in every community. However, most of these participants further revealed their doubts and concerns about discrepancies in the system. These included concerns for fairness in every legal process as well as highlighting factors such as diversity, accessibility, gender bias, race and other major issues that have plagued the justice system in most countries.
It’s important to gain a general perspective on the legal system and consider where lawyers come into the picture regarding policy advocacy, reforms, ethical practices and many other areas.
A brief overview of the US justice system
A justice system is any organization or combination bodies that exists to enforce legal codes. That is, to maintain law and order. The US justice system is evident in three significant branches of government – local, state and federal. The three bodies that make up the US criminal justice system are the police, the courts and correction centers. These three bodies have different roles and they form the pieces that make the justice system function.
As the first point of contact in cases of a crime, the police are the closest to enforcing law and public order in society at the local, state and federal levels. The federal officers, state police officers and local county officers all have their jurisdictions. While federal officers deal with issues directly related to the federal government, state police officers operate within the jurisdiction of state affairs.
A case can go to court once a crime has been committed and an arrest has been made. This makes the court the next in line in the system and it is tasked with making decisions and settling disputes in accordance with the law. The US judicial system is sectionalized into the federal and state courts, which deal with matters relating to the federal and state levels.
Correctional centers are where the accused are sent when found guilty by the court. These include the prison system and juvenile detention facilities. They are tasked with supervising individuals while they serve their sentences until they are considered safe to be a part of society again. The police, courts and correction centers all work hand-in-hand to protect the community against criminals and to maintain order.
Public perception of the US justice system
There is reason to believe that the justice system hasn’t been perfect, and there have been several cases of bias. The recent study mentioned earlier was carried out on the public’s belief in the American court system. When questioned about their view of the justice system, most participants in this study stated their significant concerns with the legal system. One of these is that the public hasn’t found there to be enough trust in the system, based on issues of fairness and divisions centered around discrimination in relation to financial status, gender, race and more.
On the other hand, when questioned about how the legal system ought to be, most participants referenced the need for fairness, honesty and accessibility. The legal system is made for the public and should be accessible and available to every individual, regardless of financial status or any other considerations. These opinions are valid, and the justice system is expected to fulfill its role of upholding the law.
Alongside other bodies like the courts, police and correction systems, lawyers are another significant piece of the puzzle. They have the potential to contribute to reshaping the legal system. Lawyers are the mouthpiece of the people, representing clients before the court. They counsel individuals on their legal rights and are in a unique position to support people with legal issues.
What roles do lawyers play?
The general saying is that lawyers are the high priest at the shrine of justice. This saying depicts their significance as a part of the judicial system and their role as advocates of the law. They are professionals who act as a bridge, facilitating significant interactions between the everyday person and the judiciary. A good lawyer fights for their clients and projects their rights at all costs. Here are some of the significant roles lawyers play in the justice system:
- Legal representation
- Legal advice
- Protection of rights
- Dispute resolution
- Law and policy advocacy
- Corporate counsel
- Review of legal documents and processes
There is no denying that law is one of the most sought-after professions globally, and this can be attributed to how much significance lawyers hold in society. There is a constant demand for enrollment in law schools, institutions and online juris doctor degrees. While law schools have always been an extremely popular choice of further education, a shift is beginning to be seen where individuals seek flexible ways to learn the law. If you’re interested in learning more about how an online juris doctor degree works from an ABA-accredited institution such as Cleveland State University, click on the link attached.
Legal skills are in-demand and lawyers are significant players in today’s legal systems. Lawyers advise, advocate and represent individuals and the public in court or during negotiations. The justice system is not built in an open way and the rules of the law can be complex for those not in the legal profession. The role of lawyers is to lead in representation and help people have a fair chance to defend themselves.
Lawyers also play significant roles for businesses and larger bodies where there is a need for legal advice, recommendations, conflict resolution, review or drafting of legal documents and other input. In the corporate world, lawyers often serve as in-house counsel for companies, advising them on various legal matters including compliance, intellectual property, labor laws, as well as mergers and acquisitions. They create and review legal documents such as contracts, wills, trusts and other agreements to ensure they are legally valid and protect their client’s interests.
How are lawyers reshaping the US justice system?
Lawyers are not only relevant to the justice system; they actively contribute to reforms in the US legal system.
A report from the American Bar Association (ABA) discusses how the governance and justice system is actively being strengthened through judicial reform programs. The ABA is one of the most prominent voluntary organizations comprised of lawyers and law students in the US. The network actively contributes to accountability, fairness and efficiency in the judicial system.
One of the network’s programs – the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) program – regularly assists in the creation and implementation of a code of judicial ethics and also provides the process for enhancing court and administration efficiency. The network is a regulatory body that strongly promotes fairness and stands against corruption in courts and the judicial system.
The judicial system is riddled with challenges. These include the issues of corrupt officials, unfairness, and discrepancies that ultimately endanger the lives of people who come in contact with the law. The role of the ABA ROLI program is to establish a system where there is a continual assessment of justice reform efforts and protection of individuals against abuses of power.
Some of its other functions include:
- spearheading conversations on judicial reforms and independence;
- integrating education and training programs for court personnel and judges;
- optimizing ethics and accountability in the system;
- bolstering efficiency, transparency, honesty and functionality in the justice system.
Reforming legal practice
The ABA ROLI also works with lawyers to provide the necessary assistance to build a strong body of competent and independent lawyers nationwide. The Association offers training and legal education on various subjects that could improve the system. Such assistance not only benefits lawyers; ultimately, it is a service to the people as generations of competent lawyers would, in turn, work for the people. This is not only about contributing to the level of education lawyers acquire but also looking into law institutions. This helps ensure that the US legal, educational system complies with the existing laws and meets international standards.
Fighting for civil rights and social justice
Playing a part in the civil rights movement is another significant way lawyers assist in advancing and reforming the judicial system. Lawyers have been instrumental in advancing civil rights causes and social justice movements. They litigate high-profile cases that challenge discriminatory practices and advocate for the rights of minority groups, women and other vulnerable populations.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is an active committee making commitments in this regard. The Committee was created in 1963 and has been involved in making democracy a reality, representing the minority, making every voice count, and fighting for people’s rights and social justice. This is another clear example of how lawyers are actively involved in reforming and reshaping the justice system.
Lawyers are working to represent every part of society, ultimately embracing diversity and defending people against injustice. In addition, lawyers work to improve access to justice, especially for marginalized communities and those with a low income. The problem of financial discrimination is a significant issue and often affects those with a low income. Lawyers have found ways to collaborate with legal aid organizations to provide crucial legal services to those who cannot afford representation.
Restructuring and regulating courts
In July 2022, the ABA reported on the lawlessness in America’s courts. The basis of this report was to show how the court justice system has been experiencing a significant disconnect from its duties and responsibilities in providing legal assistance through the right channel. That is, lawyer-driven adversarial litigation. Most state civil courts are primarily lawyerless and have been performing their duties without giving citizens the legal representation they need as civilians.
As a result, the judicial system is broken, the law isn’t improving and most people on the end of this face inequality and injustices. Several approaches are being taken to resolve this, and one is the move to restructure and regulate the court justice system. In some states, lawyers are collaborating with the community to reform this system and bring more balance to the courtroom.
The results from these approaches demonstrate several ways lawyers can work together with non-lawyers to deliver a balanced justice system for society. The process of reforms cannot be carried out by lawyers alone as they are mainly dependent on other bodies, including the government, judges and the court. There must be a balance in these systems where lawyers can operate under the proper rules and precedents. There have been some recent news stories in 2023 that support lawyers’ attempts to reform the justice system in the US.
Recent news promoting lawyers’ moves for reform in the US legal system
One example of a news story that points towards lawyers’ active involvement in reforming the US legal system is District Attorney (DA) George Gascon’s big plans to reshape the criminal justice system in Los Angeles. The news story from The National Partnership for Pretrial Justice reveals the newly-elected DA’s plans for a series of systematic reforms. He further stated that he intended to end the era of mass incarceration in Los Angeles and redirect the course of the criminal justice system.
He also intends to put an end to the need for cash bail for low-level misdemeanors and instead direct those accused towards receiving the necessary help rather than being sent to jail. He also emphasized the need for changes in juvenile justice and addressing systematic racism. Racial disparities are a significant problem in every part of the US justice system network, from police stops to arrests, the court and the correction systems. The move to change this could be a significant game- changer for the legal system. Although ending this problem in one go is impossible, the DA is positive that steps can be taken to work towards a fairer system.
While the crime rate today is very high, his beliefs and deductions revealed that there are ways to reduce the rate of incarceration and still make public health and safety a priority.
Other events that have contributed to reforms in the US legal system
Other moves have been taken in several states that have contributed to making the legal system a more just place for all people, regardless of race, color or other differences.
In September 2020, California implemented a series of legislative measures to address issues related to the justice system. These measures intend to combat biases in jury selection, prevent prosecutors from considering race or ethnicity in convictions or sentences, and establish a framework for potential support of the black community.
During the COVID-19 public health emergency, Governor Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill into law in October 2020, permitting incarcerated individuals with less than a year left on their sentences to be released up to eight months early. The measure aimed to alleviate challenges within New Jersey’s prison system, which faced racial disparities in incarceration rates and had among the highest COVID-19 deaths behind bars in November 2020.
A final note
The need for reforms in the US legal system is imperative, and it is reassuring to see that lawyers are taking steps as legal professionals to mitigate the cracks in the system. It is even more reassuring to see other bodies in the system making moves to contribute to this effort. With more steps in the right direction, the country is moving closer to giving society a fairer and more just system for all.