People who have not spent a lot of time in a courthouse can find the U.S. justice system daunting, even with a bright and energetic lawyer co-piloting them through the many legal mazes.
These days, more and more people are deciding to fly solo through the complicated processes — everymen attempting do-it-yourself law.
William Hubbard, president of the American Bar Association, has spent much of his first year on the job traveling the country talking about the repercussions when studies show that more than 80 percent of the population in this country does not have adequate access to legal services.
In the criminal courts, the indigent have access to public defenders.
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But in civil court, where people fight eviction notices or go to sort out thorny family and custody matters, not only the people on the lowest rungs of the income ladder are going these legal battles alone. More and more, people of moderate means are either choosing to, or are forced tf moderate means are either choosing to, or are forced to take on these matters without a lawyer by their side.
“The self-represented litigants are really straining the courts,” said Hubbard, who was in Raleigh on Wednesday and spent an hour with editors and writers at The News & Observer.
Hubbard, a lawyer based in Columbia, S.C., touts technology and broader thinking about streamlined processes as means to close what he refers to as “the justice gap.”
In some places, legal clinics have cropped up to help the unrepresented bring polish to their civil suits.
The state of Washington has a new class of legal workers — the limited license legal technician, a worker with the necessary education courses and training to fall somewhere between a higher-paid lawyer and a paralegal.
In 2013, the American Bar Association, an organization with 410,000 members, set up the Legal Access Job Corp to connect new lawyers struggling to find work with under-served populations.
But Hubbard said this week that he thought the legal profession needed to use new strategies that streamline processes for completing the volumes of forms and documents required in routine legal matters and free attorneys up for a larger clientele.
For example, Hubbard held up his smart phone and said someone fighting eviction could take a picture of a notice and then text it or email it to an attorney. Working in such a way could save someone from traveling a great distance to see a lawyer and save the attorney time, too.
Hubbard also talked about a lawyer in North Carolina who makes a six-figure income, doing debtor bankruptcy work. She typically has one meeting with a client, he said, and gathers lots of background information that is then fed into a server that electronically files the court documents. The lawyer has been able to serve a larger clientele that way.
Those strategies could be expanded for other areas of law, Hubbard said.