‘Jennifer Garcia stood alone before a judge with a stack of legal papers in her hands, answering questions about her personal life.’

So opens an article on NBCNews.com about the increasing number of litigants in person in the US, and the plight of a 23-year-old mother of two who has acted as her own lawyer in paternity, child support and visitation cases over the last three years.

The growing phenomenon of people representing themselves in the US has arisen from the recession, which has increased the number of people facing legal problems who cannot afford a lawyer.

It is a foretaste of what is likely to happen here once legal aid is withdrawn for many areas of law in April 2013, including most private family cases, debt, welfare benefits and employment. The solution suggested in the article by the American Bar Association is that it should be a professional responsibility of lawyers to offer free legal services to people in need.

New York will become the first state in the union to require lawyers to do pro bono work. From next year prospective bar applicants will have to show that they have completed 50 hours of pro bono work before they can obtain a law licence.

Lawyers doing pro bono work here have always been very careful not to do work that is properly in the realms of legal aid or to make others feel obliged to give up their time for free. But with such drastic cuts looming, has the time come to follow the route taken across the pond?

Catherine Baksi is a reporter on the Gazette

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