Legal Changes Address Access to Justice
October 16, 2019 by
The Access to Justice Gap
Nearly 80% of civil legal issues do not reach the courts. People often don’t realize some of their life problems are legal issues. Some choose not to pursue legal remedies because they don’t know what to do or can’t afford an attorney. An estimated 75% of the civil cases that reach the courts have at least one self-represented litigant (SRL). Concerned with magnitude of unmet legal needs, several U.S. states are now considering reforming regulations covering the practice of law in order to encourage innovative solutions to addressing the access to justice gap.
Legal Regulatory Change Initiatives Gain Momentum
Several states appointed expert task forces to study the problem and make recommendations. Among the changes considered are around ownership of law firms and allowing “non-lawyers” and technology companies to deliver certain legal services under regulatory oversight.
The Utah Supreme Court unanimously approved the recommendations of the Utah Work Group on Regulatory Reform published in a report titled Narrowing the Access-to-Justice Gap by Reimagining Regulation. One of the recommendations is to create a “sandbox,” under court oversight, to allow legal services providers and others to explore innovations without violating regulations covering unauthorized practice of law (UPL).
Arizona’s Supreme Court set up a Task Force on Delivery of Legal Services to explore regulatory changes to enable lawyers to work with other professionals to improve access to justice. The task force conducted a survey and generated 10 recommendations aimed at opening up the regulated market for legal services. Recommendations include changes to advertising rules, fee-sharing, and allowing lawyers to work with other professional to offer legal services in innovative ways including using emerging technologies. The task force’s recommendations would require approval from Arizona Judicial Council before implementation.
The State Bar of California formed a Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS) with the aim of addressing the access to justice gap. (Disclosure: I was asked to join and currently serve as the chair of the ATILS Sub-committee on UPL and Artificial Intelligence.) Building on the Legal Market Landscape Report, the ATILS Task Force generated 16 conceptual options for regulatory reforms including allowing persons or businesses other than a lawyer or law firm to provide certain legal services, provided they meet appropriate eligibility standards and comply with regulatory requirements. The State Bar requested public comments online and held public hearings and town hall meetings. After the ATILS Task Force completes final recommendations the State Bar might consider developing some ideas further and to seek. approval of the California Supreme Court and the Legislature.
Public Hearing of State Bar of California's Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS) Photo: Mimi Lee, State Bar of California
Illinois, New Mexico, and Washington are also exploring regulatory changes. There is strong opposition to changing regulation including concern about unintended consequences and impact on the legal profession. Proponents of regulatory reform argue that what we have now is not working and we need change to address the access to justice gap. If the initiatives in Utah, Arizona, and California spur more states to make similar changes, the legal services landscape could be transformed significantly.
Abhijeet Chavan is a Senior Executive Advisor at Tyler Technologies, Inc. He has over 20 years of technology consulting experience with public sector, higher education, and non-profit clients. Mr. Chavan was named to the Fastcase 50 list of global legal innovators in 2017. He regularly presents at conferences on access to justice and artificial intelligence. Mr. Chavan sits on committees of the State Bar of California, American Bar Association, and National Association for Court Management. Previously, Mr. Chavan served as chief technology officer of a consulting firm; co-founded a media business; and managed geographic data projects. Mr. Chavan has graduate degrees from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.