Access to Justice: Reimagined
Lawyers are well-versed in the conceptual virtues of access to justice. Likewise, many lawyers understand the problem and practical consequences of failing to deliver equal access to justice.
Conceptually, the United Nations defines access to justice as: “[A] basic principle of the rule of law. In the absence of access to justice, people are unable to have their voice heard, exercise their rights, challenge discrimination or hold decision-makers accountable.”
Practically, the North Carolina Equal Access to Justice Commission describes the problem as:
80% of all the civil legal needs of the poor go unmet each year. Civil legal needs include legal representation in the areas of domestic violence, divorce, child custody, housing, consumer protection, employment, veterans’ benefits, and health.
71% of low-income families will experience at least one civil legal issue a year. There is only one legal aid attorney for every 11,000 North Carolinians eligible for legal services. In contrast, there is one private lawyer for every 362 North Carolina residents.
There were more than 2.2 million North Carolinians eligible for the services of legal aid providers in 2016.
But the world (lawyers and non-lawyers alike) knows this (the problem). Perhaps, compassion apathy has set in. [Here’s a quick read on a variant of the concept—psychic numbing.] Don’t wanna read the link, no problem. Here’s another way to think about it:
Hope cannot be had by the individual if everything is corporately hopeless.
It is hard to heal individuals when the whole thing is seen as unhealable.
Fr. Richard Rohr.
We continue to propose the same or similar solutions to the equal access to justice problem. Those solutions go something like this: (1) fundraise for organizations bridging the access to justice gap; and (2) recruit more lawyers to provide pro bono services to bridge the gap. Those solutions are noble and virtuous. More work needs to done on that front. The work will never be finished.
But, there’s a third (ignored?) solution and it has two parts: (a) reducing the cost of practicing law for all attorneys; and (b) leveling the playing field for all attorneys by bridging resource gaps. If we succeed on that front, then lawyers:
Are empowered to pursue their passion(s);
Have greater freedom of choice;
Have greater capacity to think creatively and implement creative solutions that address the access to justice problem; and
Can provide pro bono legal services more efficiently.
Because right now, the quality and capacity to deliver legal services is tied closely to a lawyer’s access to resources. It shouldn’t (or doesn’t have to) be this way.
Einstein said it best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” On the access to justice front, we continue to focus on two legs of the three-legged stool, perhaps not appreciating the potential impact of the third leg. The time is now to address that third leg.
What’s the point? Here it is: CoLaw—from its inception to its go-to-market—has focused singularly on ways we can reduce the cost of practicing law by bringing lawyers together; ways we can empower lawyers through independence; ways we can bridge the resource gap by deploying disruptive legal technologies more economically and more efficiently. Sure, big dreams; but, dream big.
So, we’re excited to launch (officially) on April 1. We’ll update you over the next month. Those updates will highlight strategic partnerships to help make space, law practice management, and legal tech easier and more economical for lawyers.