Legal Services Board of England and Wales research finds that consumers are missing out on legal expense insurance

A new report by the Legal Services Board of England and Wales (LSB) includes calls for legal expenses insurance to be promoted more widely to consumers, in order to widen access to legal advice amongst the public. The report estimates that 3.6 million people in England and Wales experience unmet legal need as part of a dispute annually, with few consumers able to pay for unexpected legal costs out of pocket. The report also found that millions of households have legal expenses policies as part of their insurance plans, however, they are rarely used, with only 7% of people who have not paid out of pocket for legal services having used insurance.

Previous research by the Financial Conduct Authority suggests that around 15 million adults may have legal expenses insurance. However, the LSB has found that as this is often included as a standard feature in home insurance contracts many people may not realise they have it. The LSB’s research found that participants had little understanding of these products and how their use.

The research also demonstrated that amongst the respondents, the majority assumed that legal expense insurance would be more expensive and restrictive than it is in reality, thereby limiting the role that this type of insurance is able to play in managing unexpected legal costs. Most respondents expected the cost to be at least double the average cost of £20-30 per year. Another misconception was that protection was only provided in relation to the product the insurance was sold alongside. In fact, while a product purchased with home insurance might cover housing issues, it will normally also cover legal issues related to employment, injury, contracts and other areas of law.

Steve Brooker, Head, Policy Development and Research at the Legal Services Board, said: “While legal expenses insurance is not a fix-all, it has the potential to protect more people from unexpected legal costs and is cheaper and covers more issues than many consumers think. People often need legal help when they are at their most vulnerable, for example when facing a housing or employment issue. Legal expenses insurance can provide consumers with the peace of mind that the cost of legal advice and representation will be covered. We see legal expenses insurance or similar products as one of the ways to enable more people to access legal services free at the point of need. The insurance industry has a role to play in better promoting legal expenses insurance to consumers and building stronger confidence in these products.”

Read more about the report here, or access the full report here.

 

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Law Society of Ontario launches contingency fee reforms

On the 1st July 2021, the Law Society of Ontario launched new requirements regarding contingency fees.  The new rules are designed to enhance transparency and fairness for clients, improving consumer protection and access to justice. As well as this the hope is that the changes will assist legal practitioners with client communication, reducing their administrative burden. The reforms focus on ‘no win, no fee’ contingency fee services, which have historically led to confusion amongst consumers and potential clients over potential costs.

Law Society Treasurer Teresa Donnelly has said: “The contingency fee reforms are intended to benefit the public by helping simplify and standardize the information that individuals receive if they need to engage a lawyer or paralegal to assist them in a legal matter which may result in money being awarded. These reforms also benefit lawyers and paralegals through the creation of standard documents and specified information that must be shared with potential and current clients. This reduces the administrative burden on them.”

Requirements set out in the reforms include:

  • a lawyer or paralegal who offers representation on a contingency basis must provide the potential client with a copy of the Law Society’s ‘Contingency fees: What you need to know’ consumer guide
  • a lawyer or paralegal who markets legal services on the basis that clients may be charged contingency fees must disclose the general maximum percentage of contingency fee clearly on their website or, in-person if they do not have a website
  • the use of a mandatory standard form Contingency Fee Agreement, which uses plain-language 

Read more about the reforms here. 

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Singapore to expand permitted categories for third party funding

The Ministry of Law (MinLaw) has approved changes that will be implemented on the 28th June, which will see the third-party funding (TPF) framework widened to allow for the inclusion of domestic arbitration proceedings, certain proceedings in the Singapore International Commercial Court (SICC), and related mediation proceedings.

The new funding options offer businesses an alternative option to generate funding, as well as helping to increase the competitiveness of Singapore’s international commercial dispute resolution market, benefiting both legal practitioners and buyers of legal services.

With effect from 28 June 2021, the categories of proceedings for which TPF is permitted will be extended to include:

  • Domestic arbitration proceedings;
  • Court proceedings arising from or connected with domestic arbitration proceedings;
  • Proceedings commenced in the SICC, for as long as those proceedings remain in the SICC;
  • Appeal proceedings arising from any decision made in the proceedings in paragraph 3c; and
  • Mediation proceedings relating to any of the proceedings above.

MinLaw has suggested that the reforms will be particularly welcome against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has limited many claimants access to funds, creating extra financial constraints. The ministry feels that alternative funding options may present a partial solution to these issues.

Read more about the changes here.

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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.

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The Surprising Success of Washington State’s Limited License Legal Technician Program

Washington State launched the Limited License Legal Technician program in 2015, aiming to provide competent, regulated, and reasonably priced legal services to moderate means Washingtonians with family law issues. By 2020, the Washington Supreme Court had soured on the program and voted to sunset it. What happened? For this white paper, we interviewed key stakeholders and looked at the available public data to answer that question.

  • Jason Solomon & Noelle Smith, The Surprising Success of Washington State’s Limited License Legal Technician Program, Stanford Center on the Legal Profession, April 2021.

Available at SLS

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Law Society of New South Wales welcomes new advocacy service for cognitively impaired users

The Law Society of New South Wales (NSW) has welcomed the NSW Government’s decision to invest $28million in to the Justice Advocacy Service (JAS) and the establishment of a new court-based diversion program for individuals with a cognitive impairment. 

JAS is a support service provided to victims, witnesses and defendants with a cognitive impairment. The aim of the service is to facilitate client’s ability to exercise their rights and participation in criminal justice processes. Those eligible for the service are connected with a support person when they are in contact with police, courts and legal representatives. JAS is available across NSW, including rural, regional and remote areas.

The new court based diversion program will build on the supports offered by JAS, providing more targeted assistance for people with cognitive impairment accused of low level offences.

President of the Law Society of NSW, Juliana Warner, said the Law Society has long advocated for increased diversion at all stages of the criminal justice system for people with cognitive impairments. Saying “People with cognitive impairment are currently over-represented throughout the criminal justice system. We commend the Government for investing in the JAS and providing greater support to people with a cognitive impairment. The announcement concerning new court based diversion services at Sydney’s Downing Centre, Parramatta, Blacktown, Penrith, Gosford and Lismore Local Courts is also a positive one and the Law Society looks forward to learning more details about what they will entail, when they become available.I am particularly happy to see that the new diversion program will support people with a cognitive impairment who come into contact with the criminal justice system in regional NSW.Effective diversion requires offenders to engage with adequately resourced treatment and service providers. Diversion can benefit both the offender and the wider community by addressing the causes of offending and reducing offending behaviour, as well as reducing the costs of imprisonment and hospital readmissions.”

Read more about the investment here. 

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Nobody Can Really Afford Legal Services: The Price of Justice in Namibia

Abstract

Nobody (except for the privileged few) can afford legal services in Namibia. In the light of this dawning awareness, how should the government and other stakeholders design the legal profession so that the greatest number of Namibians can access legal services and, ultimately, justice while preserving the profession’s financial viability? The predominantly economic nature of this question means that its solutions lie less in the field of law than in the field of economics. Thus, this article adopts a methodology that reflects that insight.

As a primary purpose, this article works towards solving the high cost of legal services in Namibia. It utilises a literature-review methodology that searches the scholarship on the legal profession for practical, down-to-earth solutions put forward in other countries to take the edge off the prohibitive cost of legal services. The article mainly finds that, if structured as a compulsory salary deduction, legal insurance promises the greatest positive impact on costs. And it concludes that the optimal solutions should consist of measures aimed at heightening competition in the legal profession and measures that broaden cost-sharing in providing legal assistance to the public. The article argues that competition can be effectively increased by lubricating the flow of information about prices and services, and by having more public entities bear the burden of expanding the system of legal assistance.

Zongwe, Dunia, Nobody Can Really Afford Legal Services: The Price of Justice in Namibia (May 28, 2021). (2021) 24 Potchefstroom Electronic Law Journal 1-42,

Available at SSRN.

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California State Bar Board of Trustees approve updated law school accreditation rules

At its meeting on May 13, 2021, the California State Bar Board of Trustees adopted new accreditation rules for California accredited law schools. The new rules will come into effect on January 1st, 2022, with law schools required to demonstrate compliance by January 1, 2024, and are designed to incorporate best practices and provide a framework to recognise law schools that are accredited by regional or national accreditors. As well as these rules aim to focus accreditation on its essential purpose, rather than creating extraneous requirements.

Donna Hershkowitz, Interim Executive Director of the State Bar has said.“This effort is the latest example in the State Bar’s many efforts to broaden access to quality legal education in our diverse state. The new accreditation rules will ensure that law schools and the State Bar are focusing on what matters most to ensure positive student outcomes and ultimately support our efforts to protect the public.”

California is one of the few states in the USA that permits accreditation other than by the American Bar Association (ABA), and offers more separate pathways into qualification as a lawyer than any other state. Currently, nearly two dozen law schools are directly accredited by  the California Bar, with the goal of offering accessible, affordable, and flexible options for law students.

The revised rules further four key purposes for accreditation of California law schools:

  1. Consumer protection and transparency;
  2. Student success;
  3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion; and
  4. Preparation for licensure and professionalism.

The approval of the rules, which comes as a culmination of two years of work by the Committee of Bar Examiners and the Committee of State Bar Accredited and Registered Schools. The aim of the reforms is to create a clear, understandable public protection framework for accreditation in keeping with the State Bar’s mission. Each provision in the revamped rules describes a specific, measurable action designed to fulfill one or more of these purposes. Prior accreditation requirements that did not further any of these specific purposes were eliminated, and new requirements were added to ensure that schools are meeting these goals.

Read more about the Board of Trustees meeting here, or read the new rules here.

 

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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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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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