It’s been a busy year here at Responsive Law, and we wanted to remind you of some of the top developments from the past twelve months. Starting on December 16, we’ll be counting down the top five stories that have affected your ability to easily find affordable legal help. We'll be revealing a new item each weekday on this page, so check back often. Or you can subscribe to our e-newsletter to receive these updates in your mailbox.

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#1: ABA Identifies Problems With Lawyer Regulation But Fails to Act Read More

In August, the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services released its final report, identifying key components of the access to justice crisis but stopping short of recommending concrete reforms. Responsive Law had testified to the Commission multiple times and urged it to recommend a wide range of reforms to protect consumers’ access to the legal system.

The Commission found that people aren’t getting legal help or can’t locate it, and that “the legal profession continues to resist change, not only to the public’s detriment but also its own.” Instead of removing the regulatory barriers it decried, however, the Commission merely encouraged courts and state bars to “consider,” “examine,” and “engage in continued exploration of” reform.

Responsive Law Executive Director Tom Gordon condemned the Commission's recommendations as “milquetoast pronouncements falling woefully short of any functional reform of the legal system."

#2: CA Bar Refuses to Implement Supreme Court RulingRead More

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in North Carolina Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission established that professional organizations may not use their authority as regulators to stifle market competition. Throughout the year, the State Bar of California (SBC) has refused to recognize that this ruling applies to it. This refusal leaves consumers of legal services with no effective avenue to reform regulations that harm them, and could subject the SBC to antitrust suits.

In its 2016 session, the California Legislature attempted to address these shortcomings when considering the SBC's annual authorization to collect dues from its members. The Assembly version of the dues bill, supported by Responsive Law, would have required that the SBC be governed by a non-lawyer majority board, but the Senate refused to accept this condition and the Legislature adjourned without passing a dues bill.

The SBC then asked the California Supreme Court to authorize it to collect dues without legislative approval. The California Supreme Court acquiesced to this demand, despite a brief from Responsive Law asking it to impose public oversight of the SBC's anticompetitive actions as a condition of its authorization.

"The California Supreme Court's decision is an unfortunate defeat for consumers of legal services, who need a judicial system more responsive and accountable to the public interest," stated Responsive Law Executive Director Tom Gordon. "In California and across the nation, state bars need to adapt their practices both to serve the public and to conform with the U.S. Supreme Court's standards for professional regulatory organizations."

#3: New Portal Offers Affordable, Innovative Legal HelpRead More

This year, Responsive Law launched a legal resources portal on its website that gathers affordable, high-quality legal resources into one easily accessible location. Partners in the legal services portal provide legal assistance at rates affordable to the average American.

While the portal is free to use, consumers can also receive discounts of up to 50% on these services by joining Responsive Law's Legal Discount Plan for $25 a year. Among the portal's resources are lawyers who charge $39 for a 15-minute consultation, a low flat fee for a lawyer to tackle a particular task, or a low monthly fee for on-demand legal help.

Responsive Law continues to add providers to the current roster, which already includes industry leaders such as Avvo, JustAnswer, LegalZoom, LegalShield, Nolo, RocketLawyer, and SmartLegalForms.

#4: Responsive Law Introduces Policy Advisory BoardRead More 

Drawing upon a wide range of academia and advocacy experts, Responsive Law has inaugurated its Policy Advisory Board, which provide expertise and support to the organization's advocacy efforts.

Among the members of the advisory board are:

  • Deborah Rhode, the nation's most cited scholar on legal ethics;
  • Alan Morrison, co-founder with Ralph Nader of the Public Citizen Litigation Group;
  • David Vladeck, former Director of the Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection

Rounding out the advisory board are Martha Bergmark, Jordan Furlong, Oliver Goodenough, Gillian Hadfield, Margaret Hagan, Renee Knake, Rebecca Sandefur, and Charles Wolfram.

#5: Lawyer Protectionism Causes U.S. to Fall in World Justice RankingsRead More

In 2015, the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index ranked the United States 65th out of 102 countries regarding affordable and accessible civil justice, placing the U.S. behind Russia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.

In 2016, unfortunately, the U.S. slipped even further, to 94th out of 113 countries, placing access to civil justice in the U.S. behind the conflict-torn nations of Sierra Leone and Myanmar, a disheartening trend in American legal culture that comes as no surprise to those tracking the ever-present realities of the access to justice crisis.

Much of this decline can be traced to the practice of lawyers using their positions as policy makers and regulatory officials to stifle innovative legal service models and block non-lawyers from providing even simple quasi-legal services. "The access to justice crisis continues to be a blight on the nation's legal culture," lamented Responsive Law Executive Director Tom Gordon. "Without comprehensive and systemic reform, this decline will only continue. It is imperative that lawyer insiders face this reality and pursue legitimate restructuring of the legal services market."