There is now a lot to report on non-lawyer practice — with much of it not yet getting the attention it deserves.
First development. In New York Housing Court (Brooklyn) non-lawyer “navigators” are now actually in place helping litigants day-to-day. Its a revolution now happening. As announced by University Settlement on their website:
Our court navigators are trained non-lawyers that assist unrepresented litigants in housing cases. These navigators accompany litigants to court and respond to questions from the judge, providing moral support and information to litigants. Navigators can also help tenants keep paperwork in order, assist them in accessing interpreters and other services and, before they even enter the courtroom, explain what to expect.
This program represents a partnership with two other groups that serve different levels in the process. First, Housing Court Answers will be at the court during the early petition stages – before a date is set – to answer any questions about forms and determine if additional help is needed. Representatives will refer tenants needing additional assistance to either a New York State Access to Justice Navigator – who is on-site the day of hearings – or, in cases where individuals need additional preparation and help, the Housing Court Answers representative will direct them to us.
Our program is the first of its kind in NYC. We’re here to level the playing field and tackle the threat of eviction head on, and we’re not alone. New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman led the charge to establish this program, and we even received support from the editorial staff of the New York Times. (Note: first link modified to blog summary)
Second Development: In Washington State, seventeen students are now taking the classes that will enable them to be Family Law Limited License Legal Technicians. I understand that the expectation is that those of these who pass the exam, to be held early next year, will be in actual practice in the spring of 2015. Information about the enrollment is announced here at the March 26, 2014 meeting of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, with video here, at one hour and three minutes and 54 secs. There is lots more info here.
Third Development: In California, as reported by the Bar Journal, the State Bar Civil Justice Strategies Task Force held a hearing which included extensive testimony by Gillian Hadfield, an advocate of dramatic change in the structure of the market based delivery system. Professor Hadfield’s work has been highlighted before by this blog. As the Bar Journal reported Hadfield:
She said the typical hourly rate for lawyers must be reduced from more than $200 an hour to about $40 so low- and middle-income people could afford them. “The thing we have to come to grips with is, the problem is cost,” Hadfield said.
The California Daily Journal piece on the hearing, sadly behind a paywall, discusses her advocacy of non-lawyer practice in more detail.
At the same hearing, as reported by the Bar Journal, Associate Justice Laurie Zelon, spoke of a variety of approaches that include an expansion of the role of non-lawyers:
Among solutions showing promise, she said, are using non-lawyers in legal self-help centers and as “navigators” in courtrooms, and “unbundling” legal services, so a lawyer would represent a client for only part of a case. Court rules, forms and processes also must be greatly simplified, she said.
This all suggests that things are really starting to move, and that we are getting to the place that success with one idea in one state will be useful to those moving forward in other states.
Disclosure: I am on the New York Task Force on this topic, and have had a number of conversations with people in states and in the access movement. I am particularly concerned that we are able to do good evaluations that are built on a common approach, at least asking the same questions, and using data that is sufficiently similar that real comparisons of the costs and benefits of different approaches can be made.