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Corporations have several compelling reasons to care about access to justice. Of course, a corporation has many duties. Among others, a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the shareholders and the company and to maximize and enhance the company’s financial performance. These duties are rooted in the principles of corporate governance and fiduciary responsibility. In this article, we will explore why access to justice matters to corporations and their shareholders, thus contributing to the organization’s long-term sustainability, reputation, and overall financial success.   

Why Should A Corporation Ensure Access To Justice

Access to justice refers to the ability of individuals and communities to seek and obtain a fair resolution through the legal system. Access to justice is a social good and also a business opportunity. Corporations that are perceived as fair, ethical, and socially responsible tend to have a positive public image, which can enhance a company’s reputation and build trust among consumers, investors, and the broader community. In the era of social media and increased awareness of corporate behavior, legal issues can quickly become public relations challenges. Proactively addressing access to justice concerns can help corporations avoid negative publicity and potential backlash, preserving their brand and market position. Employees are increasingly attracted to companies that prioritize social responsibility and ethical conduct. A commitment to access to justice aligns with these values, contributing to a positive corporate culture, higher employee morale, and improved retention rates. Corporations operate within legal and societal systems. Contributing to efforts that address systemic issues related to access to justice helps create a more stable and predictable business environment. This, in turn, benefits corporations by reducing uncertainty and promoting a fair and just legal system. Corporations that prioritize access to justice contribute to a more just and equitable society while also reaping numerous benefits for their own operations. By aligning business practices with ethical and legal standards, corporations can enhance their standing in the marketplace, build stronger relationships with stakeholders, and reduce legal and reputational risks.

Corporations reap economic benefits from operating in a stable democracy. Indeed, corporations depend on a functioning democracy and justice system for ethical regulation, protection of assets, and contract enforcement. Without equitable access to legal resources and fair representation in the justice system, the rule of law breaks down, rights go unenforced, marginalized groups face barriers to equality, and a culture of impunity can take root. As major stakeholders in a democratic society, corporations bear an important responsibility for supporting access to justice.

A system with fair and equal access protects the moral integrity of the marketplace. As pillars in local economies and champions of shareholder value, companies are uniquely positioned to build partnerships, donate services, pioneer technology solutions, and lead awareness campaigns centered on access to justice gaps while advocating for reforms. This corporate stewardship upholds democracy itself. Supporting access to justice strengthens the ecosystems businesses rely on, ultimately enhancing a corporation’s best interests.

Corporations’ Role in Promoting Access to Justice

Corporations can play several important roles in promoting greater access to justice. Corporations can provide direct financial support through grants and donations to legal aid organizations, pro bono legal networks, law school clinics, and other groups working to improve access to affordable legal help. Lawyers and legal departments within corporations can volunteer their own professional services for pro bono cases in the community. Companies can make it easier for their legal staff to take time for pro bono work by counting it toward billable hour requirements or granting administrative leave time. This expands legal resources for those in need. Corporations can incubate programs that provide training, mentoring, and practical experience for new lawyers serving lower income populations. This helps grow the field. Corporations have influential platforms that can be used to raise public awareness about access to justice gaps and solutions. This helps drive broader engagement. Corporations can contribute to access to justice by supporting civic education initiatives that enhance public understanding of legal rights, responsibilities, and processes. Informed citizens are better equipped to engage with the legal system, fostering a more participatory and democratic society.

The role of corporations in access to justice is a complex and multifaceted issue that involves examining both the challenges and opportunities they present. Since access to justice is both an ethical issue and in a corporation’s own self-interest, support for access to justice presents a unique business opportunity. When corporations act responsibly, comply with the rule of law, and engage in initiatives that support legal fairness and equity, they contribute to the overall health of democratic institutions and the financial marketplace while simultaneously ensuring that access to justice is available to all members of society. Conversely, irresponsible corporate behavior can undermine democratic principles, pollute the financial marketplace, and hinder access to justice for marginalized or vulnerable populations. Overall, corporations have an important part to play through funding, volunteerism, innovation, and public leadership. Their involvement can make a difference in driving meaningful progress plus contributing to the organization’s long-term sustainability, reputation, and overall financial success.

Ideas on how in-house counsel can assist in increasing their organization’s contribution to access to justice can be found in the MSBA’s article on The Role of Corporate Counsel in Access to Justice.