David Udell, drawing on the blog from the New York City Bar, blogs at the National Center for Access to Justice on the just-released New York City Bar Association Report on the potential of non-lawyer practice to help fill the justice gap. David is the chair of the Subcommittee on Access to Justice of the Bar Association’s Committee on Professional Responsibility.
The Committee recommends adoption of the following approaches:
Allow a nonlawyer in the role of “courtroom aide” to assist litigants in proceedings before selected courts and agencies, subject to varying degrees of regulation and oversight. In some settings, friends or relatives should be allowed to provide moral support and other assistance without formal training or regulation, subject to approval and oversight by the presiding judge or administrator, as long as the nonlawyer does so without financial compensation. The Committee also suggests considering whether, in a more limited range of cases, it may be appropriate for nonlawyers to render assistance for a fee, subject to formal regulation. Assistance by a courtroom aide “can be expected to facilitate proceedings in ways that benefit the litigant, the tribunal, and the justice system as a whole,” the report states. “For individuals with educational, language, or cognitive limitations, the courtroom aide can be especially helpful, not only as a source of information and emotional and administrative support, but also as an advocate.”
Allow trained and licensed nonlawyers, pursuant to a regulatory scheme to be developed, to provide for a fee certain specified services – e.g., explaining procedures, gathering facts and documents, and assisting in the completion of court forms – but not to participate in judicial and administrative hearings. This “legal technician” concept has already been adopted by the Supreme Court of Washington State. Absent a system for managing nonlawyer practice, the report notes, other, less desirable services inevitably arise to meet the unmet need. “It is often fulfilled – inadequately – by notarios and others who operate in the shadows of our legal system, without training or competency requirements. The legal technician model offers an opportunity to bring that activity out of the shadows and expose it to regulation.”
Consider additional roles beyond that of Courtroom Aides and Legal Technicians for nonlawyers, in order to significantly close the justice gap.
Given the influence that bar associations have historically had in these matters, and particularly given the high respect accorded the New York City Bar, this may well turn out to be a very important step.
I very much encourage folks to read the Report, which is very thoughtful, and includes comprehensive data on existing practices — which turn out to be far broader than many realize.