Access to justice has been a problem for the legal profession for as long as I can remember. The problem, of course, is money. (The oft-used caption from the cartoon “So how much justice can you afford?” Is more relevant than ever.) Lawyers, after long and expensive training, put a price on their services that few can afford. to allow. And taxpayers have little appetite for additional court facilities, judges, administrative staff, or legal aid programs.
The pandemic, however, has forced lawyers and courts to look for ways to be more efficient, thereby improving access to justice. This includes the increased use of virtual technology to conduct court cases. In a few states, small claims court trials are now conducted online, and in the big league courts of most states, case management conferences, motion hearings, and other activities not involving no trials have become online events. This online activity can be of great benefit to people struggling with COVID-related restrictions, who have child care and employment responsibilities, and who will save on legal fees if their lawyer can stay away. home or office. (However, there is no benefit for people without internet service and / or without connecting devices and the ability to use them.)
Most state justice systems are also strengthening their online legal information tools. In that sense, the Colorado Judicial Branch website (www.courts.state.co.us) has a remarkably detailed self-help tool, where you can even learn the steps required to file a claim for rights to the court. ‘water, which most lawyers (including this one) would have no idea how to do. And most state justice systems have taken steps to change procedural rules to find more streamlined avenues for dispute resolution. Colorado moved in that direction, following an experiment with something called the Civilian Access Pilot Project.
Many states are pushing the boundaries by allowing non-lawyers to provide limited legal services, although Washington, one of the first states to do so with a “limited-license paralegal” program, is shutting down its program. (Colorado kicked the tires off on this idea a few years ago, but backed off.) The Utah Supreme Court now has an Office of Legal Services Innovation, which thanks to what it calls a “sandbox” operation (several parties can play at the same time), allows entities of all kinds to provide services related to law without getting into trouble for the unauthorized practice of law.
Two powerful and apparently well-funded think tanks explore ideas on access to justice, execute and analyze experimental programs, and provide advisory services to justice systems and law firms. The University of Denver is home to the Institute for Advancement of the American Legal System, and Stanford Law School has what it calls the Legal Design Lab.
But, to put innovation in access to justice into perspective, it ultimately doesn’t help people who don’t have enough money to pay their bills. It is a problem in search of political solutions and lawyers and courts will not solve the problem no matter how available they may become.
Jim Flynn works for Flynn & Wright LLC of Colorado Springs. You can contact him at [email protected]