What Are We Selling?

It seems a simple question to ask, but one we do not think enough about in law and too often answer incorrectly. Getting that answer right is the first essential step towards carrying out my New
Year’s Resolution for 2019
for the legal profession to tackle our affordability problem for everyday people.

Two recent commentaries in the New York Times and the Atlantic challenge us to re-examine our profession’s longstanding assumptions on this question, and offer a good jumping off point for discussion.

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A Make or Break Issue for Access to Justice

Whether an issue is a challenge or an opportunity is often simply a matter of perception. As Winston Churchill once put it, “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.” Over the CBF’s first 70 years, we have taken pride in confronting challenges head on and converting them into opportunities, and that has led to a number of significant innovations and long-term improvements in access to justice.

But sometimes an issue really is both a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. There is one such issue for access to justice looking ahead, a central one where our legal community will need to lead the way in striking the right balance if we are to reach the ultimate goal of a legal system that is truly fair and accessible for all.

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2019 Resolution—Time to Tackle our Affordability Problem for Everyday People

Lawyers often joke that they couldn’t afford themselves if they ran into a serious legal problem. While that is (usually) an exaggeration when a lawyer says it, it reflects a reality we all know to be true for most people in our community. It was not always like this, but somewhere along the way our profession managed to price the proverbial “regular guy” out of the market for most legal services.

As lawyers, we like to think of ourselves as problem solvers. This time the problem is us, and in 2019 we all need to make it a priority to solve it.

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Access to Justice: How We Will Know When We Get There

When I recently took a stab at defining what we mean when we say access to justice, I looked to the great Yogi Berra for inspiration: If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

Now that we have established a working definition of where we are going (at least I have!), the question becomes how do we measure our progress to that promised land.

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Stand by Someone Who Needs You, In a Way Only You Can

This year’s Pro Bono Week theme, Celebrating the Power of Pro Bono, invites us to think about what that power looks like in real life to someone who is facing a serious legal issue but unable to afford the legal help they need. As I often do, I am turning to music for my inspiration, echoing the choice of theme song for our Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon earlier this year.

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What Do We Mean When We Say Access to Justice?

Access to justice or equal access to justice, as it often is stated* is the promised land we all are seeking. But what is it? And what is necessary to achieve it?

After I proposed a banned words list for access to justice earlier this year, several people commented that we should add another phrase to the list: access to justice! That was not meant as snark, but as genuine concern that the phrase has grown too amorphous and inconsistent to be meaningful. And that presents a big problem for all of us who care about these issues.

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Our Profession’s Losing Battle Against the Market

By any definition, we have a failure in the market for legal services for everyday people today, and a growing one at that. We have more lawyers than ever before at the same time as record numbers of people who need or would benefit from legal help are not getting it. Yet when faced with proposed changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct to address this market failure, the default response of our profession is to fight to maintain a losing status quo perhaps making some technical changes but avoiding the larger issues.

Lipstick on a pig, as the saying goes, when what we really need is a new regulatory approach that does not force lawyers to compete in the market with one hand tied behind their backs.

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A Fool for a Client? How to Avoid Playing the Fool

Part 4 of a 4-part series

Having identified the core roles lawyers play that are most important for someone facing a legal problem and what that means for our profession, today’s series finale looks at things from the perspective of the person facing a legal problem.

How can we best help people facing legal issues assess when they realistically can do things on their own, when they need a lawyer, and how much lawyer they need to achieve a just yet cost-effective outcome for their case?

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A Fool for a Client? A New Agenda for Our Profession

Part 3 of a 4-part series

In my last post, I identified the ways that lawyers will continue to have an integral (though evolving) role in ensuring access to justice. Our profession has the urgent responsibility to better focus on those core functions to make our services more efficient, accessible, and affordable.

So how do we do that? Along with the continuous improvement and adaptation that will be an integral part of any individual law practice, the bar, the courts and law schools need to adapt their roles as well.

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A Fool for a Client? Where Lawyers Matter Most

Part 2 of a 4-part series

What is it we do as lawyers that is essential? Startling advances in technology now enable people to do so many things on their own that previously required the help of others. But to achieve true access to justice, lawyers still play several indispensable roles that cannot be delegated to a technological solution.

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