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February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
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The U.S. Legal System Needs to Do More for the Underprivileged


Consider this scenario: You are a college student working part time in retail in order to earn some money for your transportation, food and other expenses. Although you are being assigned a ton of homework, you don’t have the choice of not working, because you need to be able to afford your basic needs. However, at the end of the work cycle, instead of receiving a paycheck like you were promised (as it is in every occupation) you’re told by your employer to wait a few weeks due to one issue or another.

This continues for several months. As a confused teenager, you do not know what you can do to make them pay you the money you earned. You think to yourself, “This has got to be against the law.” But then you realize that you cannot afford legal consultation or a lawyer to defend your rights. Filing a non payment of wage form with the Attorney General’s office is a long and arduous process which would most likely culminate in a civil lawsuit which would undoubtedly cost a fortune in time, energy, and attorney fees. 

Since its Massachusetts, you can sue for three times the unpaid amount and your attorneys’ fees, but there is no guarantee of victory for unfairly treated employees. Hiring a lawyer and paying the legal fees based on the hope that it will be recouped at the end of what could be a long, drawn out process is a dangerous gamble that most students simply cannot afford to take.

This is not merely a hypothetical scenario it’s a real issue which plagues our society. A friend of mine even suffered this experience last semester. In his case he had to wait several months to receive the money he worked so hard for. The young student’s inability to affect the situation during the months without pay might have given his employer the impression that he can escape with an unfair treatment of employees, especially the younger faction of the work force. 

This is very possible with the current justice gap in Massachusetts.

Unfortunately for my friend and many other college students, Boston does not have many free legal service programs, with the most popular of such programs being the Greater Boston Legal Services. Unsurprisingly, the services provided by this organization has been found to have been subpar by past users. Personally, I had a pretty negative experience with Greater Boston Legal Services a few years back, when I went to their office and waited for about an hour and was told that they cannot help me with my problem.

Legal services for the low-income families and individuals are a big problem in the States. As a democratic nation, the US supposedly revolves around protecting human rights and enforcing the law. Yet, the ones most in danger of illegal oppression cannot get the help and representation they desperately need. Free civil legal representation in civil cases is nigh on impossible to come by in the country. 

This justice gap often times causes plaintiffs to represent themselves in court and that usually goes unsuccessfully, because many of them do not have a full understanding of law. Last year, New York State’s top judge showed that this problem could have a very simple solution.

In February of 2014, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman decided to allow Law School students to spend their last semester providing 50 hours of free legal services in exchange for taking the BAR exam early. This new option for Law School students in New York is called the Pro Bono Scholars Program. The only other state that has adapted a similar system is Arizona. The precedent set by the state of New York is one which should be emulated Massachusetts and the nation in general.

Protecting rights of citizens and making sure they get the best legal advice should be one of the priorities of this country and an implementation of a similar program can help ensure that it happens.