Top jurists call for regulatory change to increase access to justice

During the 9th June ABA discussion on regulatory change, Vice Chief Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer of the Arizona Supreme Court stated that despite decades of efforts to encourage practising lawyers to perform a minimum of 50 pro bono hours annually to increase access to justice, minimal results have been achieved.

Timmer is part of a growing list of top jurists calling for regulatory change to expand access to justice. Instead of relying on pro bono work to increase legal access, for instance, regulatory changes could lead to nonlawyers handling some routine legal matters. She and chief justices from Utah, Michigan and Texas discussed some of these changes in the inaugural Redesigning Legal Speaker Series, which is intended to provide a forum to explore the legal profession’s regulatory changes underway and the challenges they face. Three ABA entities — the Center for Innovation, the Center for Professional Responsibility and the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services — have teamed up with the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver and Legal Hackers to organize what is planned as a quarterly series.

The debut program, Redesigning Legal: Leading from the Bench — Expanding Access through Regulatory Innovation, also featured Chief Justice Bridget McCormack of Michigan, Chief Justice Nathan Hecht of Texas and Chief Justice Matthew Durrant of Utah, and showcased how supreme courts in Utah and Arizona have ushered in regulatory change to expand access to justice.

In Arizona, legal paraprofessionals can now practice in four distinct areas. The state Supreme Court also eliminated model rules that prohibit the sharing of legal fees with nonlawyers.

In Utah, 23 pilot programs have been approved in the state’s seven-year “sandbox” approach, Durrant said. They range from a solo practitioner giving his sole paralegal 10% ownership in the firm to law students at Brigham Young University providing counsel to domestic violence victims.

Hecht, who is also chair of the Conference of Chief Justices, said courts are rethinking their roles because jurists realize pro bono efforts are not sufficient to provide access to the courts for many Americans. McCormack added, “We are going to forge forward in Michigan because this is now the time in the process to try. And the big winner could be the public.”

Read more here.

New Zealand Lawyers, Pro Bono, and Access to Justice

Executive Summary 

This report summarises the results of a study about the provision of pro bono legal services in New Zealand. Pro bono legal services – free legal assistance provided by qualified lawyers – is often pointed to as an option for assisting more New Zealanders to access legal services. This is in recognition that a large portion of the population does not qualify for legal aid (particularly civil legal aid) and cannot afford to pay a lawyer. To increase the amount of pro bono legal services available, the New Zealand Law Society President recently suggested New Zealand lawyers should aspire to deliver 35 hours per year (the same aspirational target as Australia). Little is known about the amount of pro bono services being offered, who is receiving them, and lawyers attitudes to providing more pro bono. We, therefore, designed a study to provide more information about the pro bono landscape in New Zealand, to help inform policy discussions on this issue. The study was conducted in two phases from September 2018 to February 2019 as part of a wider project about free and low cost services offered by lawyers. The first phase was a survey of the profession, which 360 lawyers completed. The survey included questions about how lawyers define pro bono, how much pro bono work they perform and for which clients, and whether they regard providing pro bono legal services as a professional obligation. The second phase involved qualitative interviews with 23 lawyers to elicit more detailed information about attitudes to pro bono work and how pro bono service provision operates in Aotearoa.

The results of the study suggest there is little shared understanding of what constitutes pro bono legal services. This is a significant impediment to any discussion about pro bono legal services, the amount of provision, who is providing the services, and the design of policy to encourage the provision of more pro bono services. The study also identified a blurring between legal aid services and pro bono. The underfunding of legal aid has meant that lawyers either consider legal aid is a form of pro bono or lawyers are offering pro bono to supplement legal aid. This is problematic in that pro bono legal services – which should be directed at those who do not qualify for legal aid but cannot afford a private lawyer – are being offered to litigants who qualify for legal aid. The results also suggest that were the NZLS to implement an aspirational target of 35 hours per annum, most lawyers would fall short of this target. While 41 percent of lawyers are exceeding the target, more than a quarter are doing no pro bono work that enhances access to justice. The remaining quarter are doing some access to justice focused pro bono work, but less than the suggested aspirational target. Furthermore, pro bono services are not distributed fairly either within the profession as service providers, or across the public, as service recipients. The study makes ten recommendations focused on three key themes: (1) that the profession develops a shared definition of pro bono, focused on pro bono that enhances access to justice, and that this definition be the basis for all programmes, targets and incentives for carrying out pro bono; (2) that a national clearinghouse for pro bono be introduced to minimise the administrative burden on lawyers providing pro bono and more equitably distribute pro bono services among the public; (3) that the legal profession associations encourage an increase in the amount of pro bono service via a number of mechanisms including regulatory reform and the introduction of an aspirational target.

Citation

Kayla Stewart, Bridgette Toy-Cronin, Louisa Choe New Zealand lawyers, pro bono, and access to justice
(University of Otago Legal Issues Centre, March 2020).

Available here

Law Society of New South Wales launches free legal assistance to those impacted by bushfires

The Law Society of New South Wales, in partnership with Legal Aid NSW, community legal centres,  Justice Connect and the NSW Bar Association has launched the NSW Government’s Disaster Response Legal Service, which will provide free legal assistance to those affected by the tragic bushfires in NSW.

Richard Harvey, the President of the Law Society said: “In this time of great tragedy, we need to do all we can, as members of the NSW community and the legal profession, to assist those impacted by the bushfires who have lost so much.”

The Law Society’s statement also noted that many solicitors in the region may have been affected by the fires, and noted that the Law Society in partnership with Lawcover could assist in:

  • Trust accounting;
  • Professional support for loss of files; and
  • Professional support in costs, ethics and regulatory compliance for any affected legal practice, as well as any wellbeing issues that may arise.

The President’s full statement is available here. Full information about the response efforts is available here.