IF THE administration's proposal to abolish the Legal Services Corporation were part of a larger intention to overhaul the role of lawyers in American society, it might be worth consideration. As it is, however, the proposal would merely eliminate the organization that gives poor citizens a chance to compete -- or defend themselves -- in a land where every problem seems to end up in court and at the mercy of lawyers.
The Legal Services Corporation is far from perfect.Its leadership and the lawyers who do most of its work have made mistakes; they have certainly rattled some cages that might better have been left alone. But besides solving the ordinary legal problems of tens of thousands of citizens too poor to hire their own counsel, these lawyers have helped expose to public view a large and fundamental fault in the legal system.
It is that the system has traditionally provided excellent service for the nation's corporations and its richer citizens and previous little for the rest. Those with money hire the best lawyers, pay them incredibly well and receive in return the benefits of a system in which the dispensation of millions of dollars rests on the way a "t" is crossed or an "i" dotted. The lawyers -- many of them young redhots -- of the Legal Services Corporation have shown that those same benefits can flow to other citizens at a much lower cost if those citizens also have access to competent legal help.
But rather than regard the excesses of the legal profession as justification for dismantling this corporation -- as does a letter to the editor today -- we regard them as justification for continuing its life. As long as this organization exists, those at the top and the bottom of the economic ladder will get quality legal assistance. Perhaps those in-between, the majority who can't afford the best and all too often must settle for low quality or no assistance at all, will grow increasingly impatient with the situation -- as they should. That seems to us a better prescription for reform than abolition of the corporation, which would force the poor to rely once again on the munificence of the rich lawyers for whatever legal aid the profession wants to provide.
The legal profession is going through a time of great change. Advertising is bringing down the fees of ordinary lawyers, although not those of the corporate breed. The heavy flow of young people into the profession is greater than the existing structure can absorb. The two elements provide an opportunity for society to break the strangehold the legal establishment has had on the way law is practiced and on the nation's pocketbooks. It seems a particularly inopportune moment to abolish the organization that has been breaking the ground for some new kind of legal system in which quality service is available at reasonable rates.