A recent interview that LSC’s Jim Sandman gave to Bloomberg/BDA underlines how fast things are changing in access to justice. Among the nuggets:
- Among the reasons Jim gives for the access crisis is “A regulatory system that stultifies innovation and constricts the ability of competent, qualified non-lawyers to provide assistance to clients in the way that nurses and physicians’ assistants provide medical care to patients.“
- On the mismatch between the system and the reealities of who is represented and who not: “We have legal system that was largely created by lawyers for lawyers and built on the assumption that you have a lawyer. It’s a system that works pretty well if you have a lawyer and not well at all if you don’t. Litigants forced to represent themselves often experience poor outcomes even if they have meritorious claims or defenses. Can you imagine a system less user-friendly to people without lawyers?”
- On simplification, pricing, and regulatory barriers: “We need more and better do-it-yourself resources, particularly online. We need to relax regulatory barriers that impede competent paraprofessionals in assisting people who can’t afford counsel. We need to simplify the legal system to make it more user-friendly for people who don’t have counsel. The system is far more complicated than it needs to be, especially in areas of law affecting the necessities of life for people who can’t afford a lawyer. We need to develop pricing models and service-delivery systems that permit lawyers to earn a decent living without charging rates that only the wealthy can afford.”
- A brilliant summary of the potential of technology: “Technology allows us to push out information to the public that was previously accessible only to lawyers. It can provide user-friendly form-preparation assistance for the unrepresented, much like TurboTax helps people prepare tax forms. It can stretch limited resources for legal aid providers, allowing them to automate processes that lawyers used to handle. It can enable legal aid offices to offer some assistance to people they otherwise would have to turn away with nothing. It can assist pro bono lawyers taking on matters in areas of practice that may be new to them. It can help increase the efficiency of routine business processes. LSC’s “Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice” provides a blueprint.”
- On the high tech legal businesses: “The do-it-yourself movement is pervasive across all segments of the economy today. It’s not going away, and anyone who thinks law is immune to it is delusional. These players are making legal information much more accessible. They are simplifying and routinizing processes for dealing with the most commonly occurring legal problems. And they are reducing costs to consumers.”
That Jim understands the potential of the transformations taking place today makes me much more optimistic about the potential impact of the 100% Access to Justice Resolution passed by CCJ and COSCA.
To get to 100% we will need to make every use we can of these new approaches, and the leverage and legitimacy of LSC and its Board will be critical in ensuring that this happens. LSC, through its grantees, has impact on every civil court in the country, just as the Chiefs and COSCA do.
The strategic question is how to use that leverage in ways that facilitate speedy change rather than stimulating anxiety and therefore less progress. I believe that the creation of self-reinforcing momentum among institutions at all levels is the key. The Resolution provides a trigger, a spur, and at least the beginning of an organizational structure through its encouragement of the use of ATJ Commissions or alternatives.
This exciting and rewarding conversation should be starting in every group.