ABAJournal.com on Middle-Class Dilemna

ABAJournal.com today has a post entitled, “Middle-Class Dilemma: Can’t Afford Lawyers, Can’t Qualify for Legal Aid.” There’s not much new in the article itself for regular readers here where access to justice has a category of its own. It says, in part,

Lawyers are just too expensive for many people needing legal help, a law professor says.

“You can hardly find a lawyer who charges less than $150 per hour, which is out of reach for most people,” University of Southern California law professor Gillian Hadfield tells the Wall Street Journal.

At the same time, people who can’t afford lawyers make too much money to qualify for legal aid. Most aid groups serve those at or below the poverty line, and budget cuts are forcing the organizations to turn away more people, the story says.

Comments to the post, not surprisingly, focus on “unbundling of services” as a possible solution. It is a possible partial solution. However, I continue to suggest that solving the access to justice problem will take more than attorneys. A real solution will find a way to maximize the  utilization of the talent, skill, and experience of professional paralegals.

 It might even include re-visiting UPL and allowing paralegals (suitable licensed) to provide limited legal services at an affordable cost without the supervision of attorneys. This approach is used in other jurisdictions. (Check the “Canada” category.) While many lawyers fear this options as opening the door to competition from paralegals, that approach does not make a lot of sense to me. After all we are talking about middle class people who are not able to afford attorneys. Even now with no competition, the lawyers are not getting that business. As the story notes:

The newspaper cites a survey of nearly 1,200 state trial judges by the ABA Coalition for Justice. Sixty percent of the judges reported that fewer people are represented by counsel in civil cases, according to results announced in a press conference earlier this month.

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  • Jo Anne says:

    As an alternative, the judges are helping pro se litigants in the courtroom. A friend of mine in Florida just recently had her child support modified. All of the forms are online to do so. She filled out the forms as best as she could figure out. After she filed the paperwork and served her ex-husband, he hired a lawyer who filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. When it was time for the hearing on the motion, the magistrate denied the motion and did the research to cite a case that supported her decision. The lawyer appealed it and lost. So then my friend had her hearing on her petition to modify the child support. When it was time for her hearing, the magistrate went over the paperwork that was filed, helped her complete paperwork that she couldn’t figure out (Child Support Guidelines Worksheet anyone??), and calculated the new child support right at the bench! I guess instead of fighting it, they are just trying to get it done and off the docket.

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