Advancing Positive Change: How Trial Lawyers Are Closing the Justice Gap
All citizens in the United States are equal in the eyes of the law, but access to justice is not always so equitable.
The United States Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan, independent institute founded by Congress, states that, “There is no access to justice where citizens (especially marginalized groups) fear the system, see it as alien, and do not access it [and] where the justice system is financially inaccessible.” This unfortunately describes the situation facing too many U.S. populations, leading to what is often referred to as America’s “Justice Gap.”
According to a 2022 report from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) on the justice gap, low-income Americans are unable to find adequate legal representation for 92% of the civil issues that substantially impact their lives. Analogous research from HiiL and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) similarly found that lower income, rural, and multiracial (non-Hispanic) and black Americans are particularly vulnerable – resulting in significant percentages of marginalized groups not seeking resolution to their legal problems, leaving less than half of all legal problems resolved.
Plaintiff law firms are playing a critical role in turning the tide by leveling the playing field against institutions whose significant leverage may otherwise intimidate or discourage individuals from seeking restitution. Trial lawyers dedicate their lives to – and derive their livelihoods from – bridging the justice gap with tenacity and compassion, not to mention financial acumen. In fact, many champions of social justice will testify that these skills affect change as much courtroom savvy.
Seeking justice starts with empathy
Barriers to justice are often as much emotional as economical, rooted in physical and/or psychological trauma. Individuals requiring representation are often vulnerable, having been intentionally or negligently harmed. They may experience feelings of shame or stigmatization. Unsurprisingly, that’s why more than half of the respondents from the HiiL/IAALS survey stated what they sought most from their lawyer was emotional support.
“We’re there to help people when they’re really at their lowest,” says Elise R. Sanguinetti, a founding partner of Arias Sanguinetti Wang & Torrijos LLP. “We’re there to support when somebody has gone through something that’s very traumatic. I don’t think that that is necessarily the image that’s portrayed to the public, but that’s really what we do.”
Sanguinetti staunchly advocates the importance of hands-on time with her firms’ clients and ensuring that clients receive proper treatment throughout the legal process, especially those who may have been previously denied or unable to receive health care and mental health services.
Access requires inclusion
The need for compassion may only be matched by the imperative for communication, enabling clients to feel heard and understood. In the pursuit of justice, cultural representation can be instrumental to successful legal representation. This may also require the ability to speak the same language, literally.
“To me, the next chapter of civil rights is institutional access and reform,” states John Gomez, founder and CEO of Gomez Trial Attorneys. “We’re building a firm that can provide the very highest level of representation to the Latino community and Spanish speakers. We’re providing access to justice for people in their native tongue and consistent with their own cultural needs.”
Like Elise Sanguinetti, John Gomez also measures client success in terms of human-to-human connections. “We want clients to say we made them feel important. We listened to them. We made their family feel like our family. We allowed them to tell their justice story.”
Realizing victory, even in defeat
Every attorney wants to win and do right by their clients. That said, trial lawyers affecting social change also recognize that a measure of victory can be achieved even when a judgement goes against their favor. Civil litigation can be a catalyst for incremental or even systemic change by bringing a powerful argument before the court and into the court of public opinion.
Reza Torkzadeh, founder and CEO of TorkLaw and author of “The Lawyer as CEO,” recalls such a case: “We brought a wrongful death case against a city; our client was struck by a car at an intersection where there had been more than one-hundred prior accidents over a twenty-five year period. We argued that, with minimal expense, this incident could have been prevented. We ultimately lost the case – but after the trial, the city made all of the changes [we recommended]. All of the safeguards that we were arguing for are now in place, and it’s probably one of the safest intersections you could find in the city.”
“Even in defeat, we had an impact in the community,” adds Torkzadeh. “We lost and it was heartbreaking. But no one will ever get killed at that intersection again.”
Financial allies can extend access
Trial law firms that represent plaintiffs operate on a contingency fee basis; they recoup if/when their clients do. This enables clients, who may not ordinarily be able to afford adequate representation, to gain access to justice at no upfront cost. That said, shouldering the high costs of a trial can be a tremendous burden for firms to carry. From expert witnesses to investigations and court costs, litigation expenses quickly add up. That is why many successful firms gain the liquidity and capital to spend on case disbursements – and increase their odds of victory in their ‘David versus Goliath’ matters – with a finance partner like Esquire Bank.
“It’s been amazing to have a partner that gives us access to the funds needed to engage in very expensive and complex litigation,” contends Reza Torkzadeh. “Esquire Bank understands the impact that our work has on the lives of those we represent. A true partnership with a bank has made all the difference in the world.”
Without the worry of financing standing in their way, trial lawyers can truly focus on what is at stake – justice for their clients – all while enabling the growth to help even more people in need.
Dive deeper into these trial attorneys’ stories of social justice – or share your own – by going to justice.esquirebank.com.