Part II of “Assessing Innovations” — A Rights Oriented Analysis

A recent post discussed how to analyze the value of different approaches to access to justice in cost benefit terms.  This follow-up post takes a different approach, looking at the same issue — of how to decided whether to implement an innovation in more traditional rights terms.

Civil Gideon” advocates assert a “right to counsel” in certain types of cases.  While they are deeply nervous about individualized assessment at the counsel assignment stage, they generally concede that there are cases that do not need, or are simply not worth, counsel.

More general access advocates assert that the right should be to access to justice, and that at a minimum one is entitled to an individualized (or triaged) analysis of what is needed to fulfill that right.  They believe that Turner, regardless of what it does to the right to counsel argument, strongly supports the general access argument in any case in which there is no right to counsel.

So, what does one do when faced, for example, with the question whether to implement an unbundled attorney advice only program, or a non-lawyer initiative?

For the general access advocates, the argument is simple, at least conceptually.  The question is whether the program, as designed, provides “access.”  Presumably that means whether the case is sufficiently presented that it is heard on the substantial and procedural merits in the particular forum.  How that is answered will depend on the court environment, as well as how what is being offered fits against what is needed to get the case prepared and presented — i.e. triage.

For right to counsel advocates, perhaps the question is simpler, whether this case fits in the broader class of case in which an attorney is necessary for such a presentation.  If the answer is yes, then it should be a right to counsel case.

If this is a fair analysis (and I welcome more nuanced versions or alternatives), then the benefit of the right to counsel analysis is that, assuming resources are available, it is less likely to produce cases in which cases that need counsel do not get them.  The obvious problem is that the resources are just not available, and are unlikely to be unless the class of cases in which counsel is needed can be radically reduced.  This too can be achieved by changes in court process.  (I would urge “right to counsel” advocates to focus heavily on court processes, and thus strengthen their argument for counsel when the process can not be changed enough.)

On the other hand, the benefit of the right of access analysis is that is more flexible, and perhaps easier to achieve, while the risks include that more complex cases are wrongly pushed into the wrong service category, or that lower levels of service to not provide the supervision and skill in fact required, given the stakes.

Perhaps the long term way to integrate these perspectives is to make sure that access innovations include real individualized triage that reduces the risk of the above errors.  It is equally important that they build in sufficiently specific and nuanced evaluations that that the lessons can constantly improve the triage process.

Similarly, perhaps right to counsel folks should focus as much as who does not need counsel as who does.

Once again, I welcome comments and alternative views on this central, important and difficult subject.

I hope to post a third part of this series, applying these modes of analysis specifically to situations in which the litigant is paying directly for the resource.  We will see how customer choice impacts the analysis, and whether this analysis then impacts back on the cost-benefit and rights analyses.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
This entry was posted in Access to Counsel, Budget Issues, Legal Aid, Non-Lawyer Practice, Systematic Change, Technology, Triage, Unbundling. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Part II of “Assessing Innovations” — A Rights Oriented Analysis

  1. Claudia Johnson says:

    Richard great series of blogs! On the access side, my main question is who sufficiently presents the procedural and substantive issues? Having done intake and triage for years (with technology and without), I learned that often times the person seeking help would not describe their needs in legal/procedural/substantive terms. It was up to my staff to figure those pieces out (after lots of training on soft skills, listening skills, and the law and the resources in the area to assist)–and work w/the applicant to provide the details. Sometimes, we needed to go back and read the law or the reg or the agreement–to make sure we did not miss the key issues (or fun issues) which at first gloss could have been lost. So–this issue of who sufficiently presents the procedural and substantive issues is in my mind kind of a big hurdle–one that could make some of these ideas circular–which is clearly not what we want. Often times the person looking for help won’t be able to do that presentation–and so the triage process itself will require legal analysis by an experienced person to pull out the facts of the case and match those to the law before being able to be confident that the person was put in the right path to Justice. I agree with you that any triage tool developed would need to be well evaluated/calibrated as an instrument to make sure it can be used by a diverse group of people and that the triage tools will need to be fine tuned, over and over until we develop a level of confidence in them and understand the rates of errors across the different problem types and by other characteristics. So validating the triage tools is a an area we should focus on and share–to start the iterative process of improving them. Not all triage tools will survive–but those that do will represent a big step forward.

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