John M.A. DiPippa*
40 Campbell L. Rev. 73 (2018)
Justice and the Poor,1 a 1919 book by Reginald Heber Smith, is one of the landmark books on the legal profession. It is credited with the expansion of legal aid in the twentieth century. Smith’s book includes the first history of the development of legal aid societies, anticipates important developments in the administration of justice, and concludes with a ringing call for the bar to provide access to the legal system for people who cannot afford attorneys.
As we approach the 100th anniversary of its publication, it is time to revisit Smith’s work and consider what progress, if any, we have made toward his vision of equal justice under the law. Sadly, we are no closer to providing equal justice under the law to people without means than we were in 1919. Indeed, we may be worse off today than we were when Smith wrote his book. This is due in part to structural changes in the administration of justice and in law firms. But, it is also because providing the poor with access to the court system is not politically neutral, as Smith thought. Rather, providing legal assistance to the poor is freighted with political meaning that has not been lost on the opponents to the legal services program.
Part I of this article explores Smith’s book and outlines its recommendations. It shows how Smith’s concerns were rooted in a desire to protect the rule of law during a time of rapid social change. Part II describes the impact Justice and the Poor had through the middle to latter part of the twentieth century by encouraging the development of legal aid offices and the eventual creation of the Legal Services Corporation. Part III describes the current state of legal services for the poor and concludes that we have not improved much since Smith wrote Justice and the Poor.