No One’s Perfect (Not Even Close): Reevaluating Access to Justice in the United States and Western Europe

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The promise of equal access to justice for the rich and poor alike has been one of the most serious challenges facing liberal democracies during the last century. Critics of the American approach to legal aid for the poor advocate the adoption of Western European models. At the same time, Western European nations confront serious difficulties in maintaining those models, which have met with the disapproval of European critics. An unbiased evaluation of popular schemes in the United States and Western Europe reveals that critiques of both systems are correct: no model of access to justice currently in place is perfect. However, by borrowing from the best of the American scheme (its breadth) and the best of the Western European schemes (their high level of government commitment) an ideal access to justice system can be developed.