State Bar of California provides grants to twenty legal services organizations to hire provisionally licensed lawyers

The State Bar of California has selected the first 20 legal services organizations which will receive grants to hire provisionally licensed lawyers (PLLs) in 2021–2022. The grant-giving programme is designed to allow legal aid organisations to augment their staff, and is part of the Bar’s ongoing effort to address unmet legal need amongst low-income Californians, improving access to justice. The grant is funded by legislation that added an optional $5 donation, as part of the annual California attorney licensing fees.

Contributions are currently projected to total about $1.4 million in 2021–2022, and the awardees were selected by the Legal Services Trust Fund Commission as part of a competitive selection process. The average award is for 12 to 13 months. Of the PLLs to be hired, 17 will collectively serve 43 California counties, at least 30 of which are rural or have relatively few legal aid resources. Three PLLs will support services offered statewide. The majority are expected to help meet legal needs in rural areas and provide legal services related to COVID-19 or natural disasters.

The PLL programme was approved by the California Supreme Court in July 2020 in response to the pandemic, the provisional licensure program provides a limited license to practice law under the supervision of a licensed attorney. The program enabled recent law graduates to begin practice without taking a bar exam. To date, nearly 850 provisionally licensed lawyers have been approved for the program, which will terminate June 1, 2022, unless extended by the Court.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“These grants provide a powerful dual benefit: expanding the reach of these legal aid organizations when the needs are greater than ever and offering meaningful public interest jobs to new provisionally licensed lawyers. We are grateful to the thousands of licensees whose contributions made these grants possible.”

Read more about the programme and view all the organisations who received an award here. 

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Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten unveils website to allow consumers to easily access disciplinary rulings

The Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten (NOvA)  has created a website designed to allow consumers to easily access disciplinary rulings. The new feature has been launched as part of the ‘Find a lawyer’ search engine, which allows a litigant to better identify legal counsel. The website had previously shown indicative information about lawyers possibly facing a disciplinary decision, however, the website now includes a feature that allows users to click directly from a lawyer’s profile to access the full ruling of the court and or disciplinary board in relation to a lawyer.

The  zoekeenadvocaat.nl (find a lawyer) which was launched in 2019, provides consumers with the basic information on all lawyers in the Netherlands including contact and address details in registered jurisdictions, membership of specialist associations and whether the lawyer hears cases on the basis of legal aid. If a lawyer is suspended at that time, this is also clearly indicated. Lawyers who have been disbarred are completely removed from the search results.

The results previously contained a short description of any disciplinary decisions where a suspension or cancellation measure has been pronounced. However, it is now also possible to click on the relevant disciplinary decision and read the full decision directly on tuchtrecht.overheid.nl . This provides the litigant with easier access to disciplinary information, giving consumers better access to information when making a decision.

View the find a lawyer search engine here, or read more about the changes here. (Both resources in Dutch, but available via Google Translate)

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Law Society of Scotland survey finds support for increased use of remote civil hearings

A newly released survey of Scottish solicitors, by the Law Society of Scotland, has found that more than three-quarters of respondent think that aspects of remote civil court work should continue post-pandemic. The results found that the majority of civil court practitioners have indicated that they think remote hearings work well for procedural and uncontentious matters, however far fewer of the survey respondents thought that more complex hearings should be carried out remotely.

The survey found that:

  • 78.5% of respondents said they would like remote court hearings to continue after the pandemic. Of those, 91% said they thought procedural hearings worked particularly well, and almost all, at 99%, saying they would like to see them continue remotely.
  • However 5% thought proofs, a civil court hearing which is determined by a judge or sheriff, and 3% thought evidential hearings, such as a tribunal, worked well remotely. A quarter of respondents thought first instance debates worked well.
  • 32%, stated that they had no practical difficulties when participating in remote hearings, however 45% found it challenging to obtain clients’ instructions during remote proceedings. 41% of respondents thought that their clients struggled to either understand or participate and almost a quarter of solicitors, at 23%, found it more difficult to articulate their position.
  • The vast majority of respondents at 91% indicating that it saved travel time, 75% that it saved waiting time, 69% that it reduced costs and over half, at 55%, said it was more efficient than being personally present in court.
  • Concerns were raised in relation to the difficulties in assessing witness credibility and reliability remotely and respondents also said the lack of opportunity for proper face-to-face interaction with other agents, witnesses, and with sheriffs and judges, hindered effective participation. There were also issues with clients feeling disengaged from proceedings and problems with technology, including access to suitable devices and connectivity issues.

Amanda Millar, President of the Law Society of Scotland, said: “Covid-19 has instigated enormous change in the way we all work over the past year. The legal profession has adapted to this rapid change, however examining what has and has not worked well in relation to online proceedings will be essential as we begin to look at how civil courts should operate post-pandemic. We can draw useful insights from the survey findings and they will be helpful in considering what aspects, if any, of remote hearings could or should be incorporated into the civil court procedure longer term. While many of our members have indicated that remote hearings should continue in some form, there should be provision for in-person hearings, particularly in relation to more complex cases, but also for procedural hearings when required.”

Read more about the survey and the results. 

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Auckland High Court consultation on reform of civil dispute resolution

The New Zealand Law Society has called on its members to respond to the Rules Committee’s ongoing consultation into reform in the civil dispute resolution system. The consultation is in response to new proposals put forward following concerns raised about an initial consultation paper in 2020. With concerned bodies including the Law Society.

Responders shared the Committee’s concern at what the Law Society termed in its submission the “justice gap” that has been “slow-burning” for at least a generation.  A number of causes for that ever-widening gap were identified by submitters.  One of these, particularly relevant to the Committee’s remit, is the high cost of lawyers and the significant costs associated with complying with procedural requirements.

The Committee’s draft proposals look to combat both of these barriers to civil justice, improving access to justice and public welfare.  Overall, the proposals are aimed at creating a range of fora for the resolution of civil disputes. With the goal of reducing the expense associated with complying with the procedural requirements, and bringing them into line with the value of the dispute being heard.

Within each forum, the Committee’s goal is for the particular procedures adopted in each individual case to match the importance to the parties of that dispute, in both theory and practice.  The more valuable and important the dispute, the more onerous the procedures that will apply, so as to avoid error and ensure “justice” is done. The Committee’s detailed proposals seeking to give effect to this vision are detailed in the consultation paper.

An overview of the proposals includes:

  • Recommending that the government enact legislation increasing the jurisdiction of the Disputes Tribunal and enhancing the Tribunal’s role in the civil justice system, positioning it as New Zealand’s primary civil trial court for disputes of up to at-least $50,000 in value.
  • Reforming the District Court to improve its structural ability to deal with civil claims, including by appointing part-time Judges, so as to allow that Court to make effective use of the existing potential for flexibility and tailored procedure found within its current rules.
  • Streamlining the presumptive model of procedure in the High Court. The existing extensive procedural rules will only apply to more complex cases, which truly warrant them. In other cases the new, less elaborate, approach will apply.  This will include replacing discovery with disclosure obligations, an early issues conference featuring substantive engagement by Judges, interlocutories dealt with on the papers, and a streamlined trial process placing much greater weight on the documentary record. Parties will have to justify the need for adopting more onerous obligations in a given case.

Read more about the proposals and consultation here, or view the Law Society’s first response here.

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Illinois Supreme Court announces new task force to review court fees

The Illinois Supreme Court and Chief Justice Anne M. Burke has announced the formation of a Supreme Court Statutory Court Fees Task Force. The task force has been established to conduct a thorough review of the new Criminal and Traffic Assessment Act (CTAA), an act designed to reduce the statutory fees imposed or assessed on criminal defendants and civil litigants, the task force is mandated with examining the fiscal impact of the civil and criminal fee schedules. The task force will also review the implementation of the act, suggesting any legislative or rule changes that may be required.  The Task Force will submit a report and recommendations to the Supreme Court and General Assembly within one year.

The Task Force is made up of a bipartisan body of judges, retired judges, legislators, circuit clerks, and members of the private bar from across Illinois.

The new Task Force serves as a replacement for the Court’s original 15-person Task Force created under the Access to Justice Act. Recommendations from the original Task Force were the foundation for the CTAA .

Chief Justice Burke has said “The reforms enacted to simplify court costs were an important step and we are grateful to the original Task Force for its hard work. There was always the expectation that additional improvements would be necessary, and we look forward to hearing from the new Task Force on what those might be.”

Read more about the task force here. 

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Demand-Side Justice

Abstract

The civil justice gap is well-known, well-documented, and widening. Although judges, practitioners, and scholars have attempted for more than fifty years to increase the supply of civil legal services available to those in need, demand continues to dramatically outstrip supply. This article argues that given the static (or worsening) state of the civil justice gap, and the millions of Americans who do not even seek legal help for problems that otherwise would fall within that gap, legal literacy education is paramount. Our colleagues in the public health profession are lightyears ahead of the legal profession in using health literacy to prevent unsustainable demand. High levels of health literacy lead to fewer emergency room visits and hospital stays and better health outcomes. Health literacy is taught as part of K-12 education. Consequently, teaching legal literacy to K-12 students has the potential to reduce civil legal needs and thus demand for legal aid. Legal literacy might also mean that Americans are better able to identify when their problems are legal in nature, come to legal aid before a problem is too far gone to solve, come to legal aid with more realistic expectations about results, and to represent themselves in court should they have to. After decades of chasing after disappointing supply-side solutions, it is time to look at demand.

Rubin Gomez, Alissa, Demand-Side Justice (March 1, 2021).

Read the full article on SSRN.

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California Closing the Justice Gap Working Group holds first public meeting

A California State Bar working group established to study access to justice innovations held its first public meeting on the 14th January 2021. The State Bar’s Closing the Justice Gap Working Group, created by the Board of Trustees to carry on with important recommendations from the State Bar’s Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services (ATILS), has been established with the objective of:

  • Investigating the development of a regulatory sandbox to foster experimentation with innovative systems for delivery of legal services
  • Exploring amendments to the Rules of Professional Conduct regarding the ability of lawyers to share fees with nonlawyers
  • Examining the addition of rule 5.7 to the Rules of Professional Conduct addressing the delivery of nonlegal services by lawyers and businesses owned or affiliated with lawyers
  • Considering amendments to the Certified Lawyer Referral Service statutes and Rules of the State Bar to enhance efforts to expand access to legal services.

The task force chair Justice Alison M. Tucher, Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, Division 4, in San Francisco has said “The immense challenges of the past year have only heightened the needs that this group’s work is intended to address. Fortunately, meeting virtually enables us to bring together a truly remarkable working group, all of whom are volunteering their expertise to help California move forward. We are honored and excited to get started.”

The working group is made up of 20 state, national, and international experts an is expected to submit recommendations to the Board of Trustees no later than September 2022. Each recommendation is expected to balance the dual goals of public protection and increased access to justice.

Read more about the meeting here. 

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New Zealand Law Commission seeking views on class action and litigation funding

The Law Commission of New Zealand is undertaking a first principles review of class actions and litigation funding. They are currently seeking feedback from interested parties, having released an issues paper in December 2020.  The New Zealand Law Society is planning to respond to the call, and is asking for views on the issue.

The review is part of ongoing efforts to improve the affordability and efficiency of litigation. Class actions allow claimants with common issues to group claims together, allowing for more efficient and cost-effective resolution,  litigation funding can improve access to justice by allowing a commercial body to cover legal costs in exchange for an agreed percentage of compensation awards.

The Commission says the crucial question is whether the potential benefits of class actions and litigation funding can be realised in a way that manages the risks and outweighs any disadvantages. The Issues Paper summarises the issues and explores some options for addressing them.

The Commission’s preliminary view is that Aotearoa New Zealand needs a statutory class actions regime, the key advantages of this are improved access to justice, promotion of efficiency in litigation, and improved incentives to comply with the law.

The New Zealand Law Society committees considering the Issues Paper welcome comments from the profession and these can be sent to lawreform@lawsociety.org.nz by 22 February 2021.

Read more about the Law Society Response here, or view the commission’s issues paper here.

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Canadian Bar Association releases new resources to improve access to justice

The Canadian Bar Association has released a new guide aimed at addressing the country’s access to justice crisis. The guide has been developed by the CBS’s Access to Justice Subcommittee, based on past research, particularly the Reaching Equal Justice Report. The guide is divided into three different sections, with each section providing background to the issues and links to resources created by the CBA. The sections are broken down into

  1. Preventing Problems – focused on improving legal capability, taking legal health seriously, enhancing triage and referral systems to navigate paths to justice as quickly and efficiently as possible, and taking steps to ensure that technology is well used to facilitate equal, inclusive justice.
  2. Providing Legal Services – focused on reinventing the delivery of legal services so that a wide spectrum of legal services are available to meet the range of legal needs.
  3. Transforming Justice – focused on reforming the formal justice system, complementing informal everyday justice innovations and eliminating gaps between formal and informal justice to create a seamless civil justice system.

The goal of the guide is to give members the information and tools to talk about access to justice with colleagues, clients and communities, post on social media about access to justice issues, and to speak with politicians about the problems – and possible solutions.

The guide says “As lawyers and notaries, we have a professional duty to the courts, the justice system and the public. We need people to feel confident that the justice system is fair and accessible to all. Governments need to invest more and develop creative solutions to our access to justice problem. Change only comes when governments are pressured to act.”

Access the guide here.

 

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A Critical Analysis of the Online Court

Abstract

It is no secret that many judicial systems across the globe are stumbling beneath a heavy burden of thousands of suits filed eve- ry year in court. The need to optimize the judicial system of Eng- land and Wales led Lord Justice Briggs to write a comprehensive report about the subject, in which he suggests the establishment of a model, the first of its kind in the United Kingdom, which he terms the “Online Court.” In Civil Courts Structure Review: Final Report, he sets out the details of this Online Court, which I will analyze in this article.

The article contains two main parts. In the first part, the model is analyzed and broken down by its three stages. The advantages inherent to the Online Court are presented, including: saving time and money, making the court accessible to the disadvantaged, and reducing the caseload of each courtroom. Although there are many advantages, the Online Court has some serious drawbacks, including enabling frivolous lawsuits and the threat of identity theft by either party or even by a third party.

In the second part, I will attack the crux of the matter, tackling the attendant issues raised by moving legal proceedings to a virtual environment. These aspects relate to the absence of legal representation envisioned by the model, as well as the concern of false testimony. In the final analysis the pros of this model far outweigh the cons. Indeed, the model is a desirable template which should first be employed as a pilot program, dealing with civil proceedings which may be easily resolved and claims involving relatively small amounts of money. Further down the road, this model may be applied to additional proceedings involving cases which are more expensive or more complex.

Ultimately, the online legal system proposed constitutes the first step toward accommodating the court system to the innovative reality of the Internet Age, in a manner which is both systematic and controlled. The aim is to streamline existing legal proceedings and to make all legal services accessible, with the overarching ideal of “justice for all” as the guiding principle.

Menashe, Doron, A Critical Analysis of the Online Court (2018). University of Pennsylvania Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 4, 2018,

Read the full article at SSRN. 

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