As the LO has outlined in previous sections of this report, there are certain areas of services to which a parent can help a minor gain access, and that anyone can access once she has reached the designated age of majority. A minor who no longer lives with a parent or guardian is disadvantaged in these areas, which become somewhat off-limits to them. One of those areas, considered by most to be an important part of being an adult in modern society, is access to the legal system.
In general, minors cannot access the legal system without the aid of a parent, a guardian ad litem (GAL), or a next friend. This creates a barrier for those minors, such as homeless youth, who no longer have the benefit of a parent or guardian. Those minors must rely on a GAL or next friend to help them assert their legal rights. The role of a GAL can be slightly different from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, however, one consistency is that the GAL is court-appointed and her role is to represent the best interests of the minor to the court. The issue of ``best interest'' is discussed in-depth in the emancipation section of the report. As that discussion indicates, the recommendations put forth by a GAL may not encompass what the minor wants. It is often difficult to determine what exactly is in the best interest of the minor, particularly when the minor is not in agreement with the determinations made by the GAL. This presents a problem for minors who feel that their interests are not being represented, as, in many states, minors cannot have their interests brought forward in a court case unless an adult finds it to be in their best interest. In addition to a GAL, a ``next friend'' can also help a minor access the legal system. The concept of a next friend is defined by Black's Law Dictionary as: ``A person who appears in a lawsuit on behalf of an incompetent or minor plaintiff, but who is not a party to the lawsuit and is not appointed as a guardian.''147 What exactly constitutes a next friend, and who can be one, seems to vary dependant on jurisdiction. In Massachusetts, the distinction between the GAL and next friend has been virtually eliminated. A next friend is chosen from among those court-approved to be GALs. The two terms are used synonymously.