Professor Gillian Hadfield, who recently testified at one of the New York Access Hearings about non-lawer practice, has an important opinion piece on the CNN Website. She proves the total inadequacy of current access approaches, concluding that we simply have to permit such practice.
What we need are more efficient ways of delivering legal help and less expensive nonlawyers who can provide legal assistance. Supreme court judges in every state have the authority to accomplish this with the stroke of a pen.
The root of the crisis of access to justice is the scale of the problem. Here’s a little back-of-the-envelope arithmetic. Using data from surveys conducted by the ABA and state bar associations, I estimate that, at any given time, roughly half of all American households are dealing with about two legal problems each– evictions, divorces, bankruptcies, denials of health care benefits, and so on.
Giving these American households just one hour of help from a lawyer to manage a maze of legal documents and court procedures would cost close to $20 billion.
She discusses the UK non-lawyer experience:
The use of non-JD legal assistants and nonlawyer dominated businesses is not a venture into uncharted waters. The United Kingdom has a long history of allowing a wide variety of differently trained individuals and organizations provide legal assistance, and studies show that the practice works very well. In many cases, people are better served by a nonlawyer organization that specializes in a particular type of legal help—navigating housing or bankruptcy matters, for example—than they are by a solo practitioner with a general practice.
She concludes directly and to the point:
Solving the problem requires lawyers—especially those on the bench who bear the ultimate responsibility for regulating the profession—to share the field with other, less-expensive, non-JD professionals and nonlawyer dominated organizations who can provide perfectly adequate legal help in many cases. America’s legal profession is in dire need of reform; it’s time for those in leadership positions to step up.
Moving this debate into the public arena and beyond the legal arena may be uncomfortable for some in the profession, but represents a critical sea change and a major opportunity for access to justice. For more information on the UK example, see this blog post from a year ago.
The inter-relationship between simplification and non-lawyer practice should also be noted. The simpler the system is, the more appropriate non-lawyer practice will be. That should be seen as good news for the profession, which can then focus its work and market share on those cases in which advanced skills are needed. (If anyone can figure out a way to put numbers on this division of need, that might alleviate some of the profession’s potential anxiety — that is where the triage piece fits in.)