Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Bard & Cunningham:  The Bench, Bar & Academy Should Join Forces To Expand Availability Of Legal Services

Washington Post op-ed:  The Legal Profession Is Failing Low-Income and Middle-Class People. Let’s Fix That., by Jennifer S. Bard (Former Dean, Cincinnati) & Larry Cunningham (Vice Dean, St. John’s):

80 percent of low-income individuals in the United States cannot afford the legal assistance they need to avoid the loss of their homes, children, jobs, liberty and even lives. The middle class doesn’t fare much better: Forty to 60 percent of their legal needs go unmet.

In case after case, people caught up in our court system must represent themselves in matters of landlord-tenant lawsuits, foreclosures and family disputes — often failing to navigate the complexities of substantive and procedural law. Less visible are people who do not seek legal representation because they do not realize they have a claim. No system of pro bono lawyers or government-funded legal-services organizations can meet these needs.

We do not expect charities and generous doctors to provide 80 percent of the medical needs for low-income patients, so why do we think this is possible for our legal needs? As law schools become increasingly unaffordable — resulting in plummeting enrollment and debt levels that make it impossible for graduates to offer legal services at affordable prices — the legal profession needs some major changes. 

Professionals must first acknowledge that not every legal task must be performed by a licensed lawyer. Instead, we need to adopt a tiered system of legal-services delivery that allows for lower barriers to entry. Just as a pharmacist can administer vaccines and a nurse practitioner can be on the front line of diagnosing and treating ailments, we should have legal practitioners who can also exercise independent judgment within the scope of their training. Such a change would expand the preparation and independence of the existing network of paralegals, secretaries and investigators already assisting lawyers.

New kinds of legal practitioners will require a new kind of legal education. Law schools today offer nearly identical curriculums taught by professors with nearly identical qualifications because students face nearly identical bar exams. Our proposal calls for differentiation, but not for throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Professors trained as scholars and researchers are as critical to the education of legal-services providers as they are to health-care providers. But that does not mean that every health-care or legal practitioner needs to follow a program qualifying him or her to be an active researcher. Legal education could create PhD tracks for those who want to research and design shorter and more direct programs of study for professionals who can provide access to justice in discrete areas at a lower price. ...

We should encourage an acceleration of this kind of innovation by the bar, the bench and the academy so that legal training and services can be more widely available.

Legal Education | Permalink


Of course, no discussion of reducing the exhorbitant cost of legal education. The continuation of high salaries and 3 class-per-year average remains a fixture in any reform proposal made by an academic. Of course, real sacrifice is required by others.

Posted by: JM | Jun 7, 2017 11:27:14 AM