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The unpleasant truth is that the United States is rapidly falling behind most of the other developed countries in attacking the systemic social, legal, and economic causes of poverty.

On 9 October 2017, the International Bar Association will begin its working sessions with an in-depth examination of Poverty in the First World and the essential role of the legal profession in the final eradication of systemic poverty.

This shameful situation is the product of a number of failures of the American political and economic systems since the 1980s. The American legal profession probably is the only catalyst that can enable the United States to meet its commitment to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal #1, the complete elimination of poverty in all of its forms everywhere in the world by 2030. 

Why should American lawyers travel all the way to Australia to attend this session?

The program will be led by the Poverty and Social Development Subcommittee (Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee) of the International Bar Association. Although lawyers from around the world will be there, it is especially important for American lawyers to be represented; because the challenge of eradicating poverty arguably is greater in the United States than in any other developed country in the world.

Everyone is concerned about poverty, but why should lawyers become more active in eradicating the basic causes of poverty in our countries and communities? Three of the main points, which the  IBA hopes that every lawyer will take away from the session are:

  • Poverty is a complex economic and social system. It's not just about money and not having any. Lasting solutions to the condition of poverty require a lawyer’s insight, penetrating analysis, and, most of all, creativity. Helping people to find those solutions exercises the skills that make you a better lawyer.
  • A poverty and social development practice is not only pro bono work. Businesses, investors, social entrepreneurs, and other social action organizations need good lawyers; and they are willing and able to to pay reasonable fees for legal service. You can do well by doing good.
  • By actively leading efforts to eliminate systemic poverty, empower the social and economic development of everyone in our communities, and attaining the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, lawyers are actively promoting the development of more productive economies and legal markets. In short, social development builds the demand for legal services that develops more profitable law firms.

What will we discuss?

Are developed nations and economies doing their share to eradicate poverty in their own countries? This session will consider national case studies of the United States, Australia and Spain, all of which have serious and persistent problems with deeply-engrained systemic poverty. We will investigate what the legal profession is doing in each of these countries to lead the struggle against poverty rather than just support it or deny its relevance. We will also identify strategies and tactics for lawyers in law firms who want to do more to eliminate poverty in their own countries and communities, whether developed or still developing.

Who will be on the panel?

Four of the world's recognized experts on poverty and the legal profession will lead our discussion:

  • Norman Clark: Walker Clark, Fort Myers, Florida, USA; Chair, Poverty and Social Development Subcommittee
  • Neil Gold (session chair) Professor Emerius, Windsor University, Ontario, based in Vancouver, British Colombia, Canada; Senior Vice Chair, Poverty and Social Development Committee
  • Bryan Horrigan: Professior and Dean of Law, Faculty of Law, Monash University, Clayton, Victoria, Australia
  • Carmen Pombo:  Fernando Pombo Foundation, Madrid, Spain; Executive Member, Co-Chair, Poverty and Social Development Subcommittee; Co-Chair, IBA Rule of Law Forum

My colleagues on the Poverty and Social Develoment Subcommittee hope to see you in Sydney for a discussion that could fundamentally change your understanding of the nature of poverty, and the responsibilities and opportunities for the legal profession to take the lead in eliminating it.

Other Access to Justice events

In addition to Poverty in the First World,  the IBA will also hold several sessions sponsored by the Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee:

  • Legal aid and best practice: guidance for all jurisdictions (0930-1230, Tuesday, 10 October 2017)
  • Access to justice for persons with disabilities: an international review (1115-1230, Wednesday, 11 October 2017)
  • Unrepresented litigants: the cost to clients and country (Thursday, 12 October 2017)

Make the investment in your future.

Yes, Australia is a long journey from America.

But attending these sessions could be one of the most important investments that American lawyers can make in the future of the United States and in the continued economic success of the American legal profession. Unless America stops trying to deny or ignore persistent, engrained poverty at home, it will continue to fall behind the rest of the developed world, and much of the developing world, in terms of sustaining the social and economic infrastructure that the country will need in the 2030s and beyond.

Lawyers can -- and must -- make the difference.


Norman Clark