Posts Tagged ‘middle class’

An Explosion with no Bang

Friday, January 21st, 2011

As is no secret by now, this commentator argues that well-trained, well-regulated, professional paralegals provide one viable answer to the access to justice issue. In support I’ve quoted authorities such as Giliam Hadfield, a Harvard law professor arguing in The Washington Post for innovative approaches to low-cost, quality legal services. He notes,

…in U.S. surveys 30 to 40 percent of Americans with an identifiable legal problem say they do nothing to resolve it, compared with just 5 percent in Britain. Yes, Britain spends far more public funds on ensuring access to justice — $76 in legal aid per capita compared with $13 in the States (including charitable contributions). But the critical difference is the widespread and diverse availability of help in Britain and other advanced-market democracies for people with legal troubles — not just criminal arrest but issues such as foreclosure, divorce, child custody, employment and bankruptcy. The United States urgently needs to expand capacity for non-lawyers to meet the legal needs of ordinary Americans in innovative and less costly ways. [Emphasis added.]

To this I can add the comments of Lester Brickman, Professor of Law at the University of Toledo College of Law writing in the University of Vanderbilt Law Review:

If access to legal services is thus essential for the attainment of democratic values, then the efficacy of the legal delivery system is of supreme importance. Much has been written examining the inefficiency of present methods of law practice as a means of conveying services to the consumer, and still more written decrying the shortage of basic legal services for the poor and for the middle class. In response to this criticism and as a way of meeting other needs, the profession is trying such new delivery systems as group legal services, prepaid legal insurance and specialized practice. Additionally, there has been a virtual explosion of interest in using legal paraprofessionals to assist the lawyer in supplying legal services.

The problem is that Professor Brinkman’s article, “Legal Paraprofessionalism and Its Implications: A Bibliography,” appears in 24 Vand. Law Review. Yes, volume #24 published in 1970-71. How can it be that forty years after a virtual explosiong of interest in using legal paraprofessionals to assist the lawyer in supplying legal services to the poor and middle class that Professor Hadfield can state:

“My research suggests that Americans have a much higher rate of simply giving up in the face of legal difficulties, with effectively nowhere to turn if they cannot afford a lawyer who comes at a minimum price of $150 an hour. This means giving up on seeing their children or saving their homes or credit ratings or jobs. Unlike people in Britain, those facing legal problems in the United States can’t turn to local volunteer organizations, their unions or consumer organizations. They can’t buy what they need from entrepreneurs or the full-service stores like Wal-Mart that now package low-cost eye exams, insurance, banking and more with their diapers and detergents”?

And after forty years,

The United States stands largely alone in advanced-market democracies in drastically restricting where and how people can get help with their legal problems. In all states, under rules created by bar associations and state supreme courts, only people with law degrees and who are admitted to the state bar can provide legal advice and services of any kind. on Middle-Class Dilemna

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010 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.