Here Comes the Non-Lawyers, But What About the Lawyers?

November 29, 2012

Last week, CNN posted an opinion piece by Prof. Gillian Hadfield of USC. The piece included the following quote:

“[T]he only way to increase access to justice is to expand the group of people and organizations that can provide legal help beyond JD-trained and licensed lawyers.”

We’re no economists, but we really don’t get this claim. Lawyers aren’t exactly scarce these days. Do we really have a shortage of people who “can provide legal help?”

In fact, we have a massive oversupply of JD-trained and licensed lawyers (unless you live in Nebraska, DC or Wisconsin). These lawyers want to do legal work. They’re willing to do it for almost nothing. Shouldn’t we be looking for ways to enable them to provide legal help to the millions who need it but can’t get it? Wouldn’t that be another solution to the access to justice crisis? The best solution?

Don’t get us wrong, much of the work done by lawyers is grossly inefficient and has to be done better, faster, smarter and cheaper. There are many, many changes that need to be made in the way legal services are delivered. And the regulatory protections long enjoyed by the U.S. legal profession are often hard to justify.

But if we’re talking about satisfying unmet demand for the core legal services that lawyers can provide (such as giving “one on one” legal advice and representing people in court – both the focus of Hadfield’s article), let’s first put the unemployed lawyers to work. Then we can see about putting non-lawyers to work too.

(Note: I originally published this post on the Mootus blog)