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Sunday, 12 September 2010 20:00

DIY Legal Software Reviewed in New York Times

Recently, the New York Times did consumers a great service by reviewing self-help legal products. That review can be found here. A follow-up blog post on the article can also be found here. While it's true, as was noted in the article and the blog, that not every consumer is best served by DIY software, not every consumer is best served by a lawyer either. Consumers are best served when there is a wide range of legal services available to meet the continuum of legal needs that they face.

What's missing in the current model of the profession is a wide selection of options between full service and self service. In medicine, nurse practitioners, physicians' assistants, and midwives are among the options that people can use when dealing with health issues. Unfortunately, the legal profession has very few professionals occupying this middle ground. More states need to follow the lead of California and Arizona in licensing legal document assistants and legal document preparers--non-lawyers with training to prepare simple legal documents. Also, lawyers need to be more innovative in providing mid-level services. For example, more lawyers need to make themselves available for review of DIY forms, or to draft documents for self-represented litigants, or to provide short coaching sessions to small claims litigants.

The bottom line is that consumers need more options in how to navigate a legal system that is too complex, and that they need to be educated about how to best use the services that do exist. That is why we're working to make the legal system more affordable and accessible for its users by educating consumers and influencing policy around the customer-friendly practice of law.

Published in Blog
Monday, 20 May 2013 00:00

Unbundling Lawyer Services in Arizona

The Arizona Supreme Court is considering a rule change to make it easier for lawyers to unbundle their services. Click here to read our comments to the court in support of the proposal, and our suggestions on how to make further improvements.

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Slate recently ran an opinion piece about the different state laws regarding getting vaccinations in pharmacies. While nearly all states allow pharmacists to administer the flu shot, many states do not allow pharmacists to administer similar shots for diseases like shingles and whooping cough. Even though pharmacists have the training necessary to administer shots, state medical associations continue to insist the only doctors should be allowed to give these other vaccines. The article persuasively argues that this system doesn’t make sense. Pharmacists have the training to do this work safely and competently. Allowing pharmacists to give these shots would improve the availability of immunizations and reduce sickness. As the article argues, the level of treatment should match the level of expertise: why should folks be required to book a doctor’s appointment when they can get the service they need from a visit to their local pharmacy?

In many ways, this situation has an analogue in the legal world. Many states continue to support laws that attorneys must be involved in basic legal work such as drafting a will. Even though other types of experienced professionals are trained to handle these basic legal matters, laws often require an attorney to do this work, driving up costs and curtailing access. Given the shortage of legal services many people face, it does not make sense to squander an attorney’s time when another professional could do the same work more efficiently. Just like a doctor should only be consulted on more serious medical issues, an attorney’s extensive knowledge (and expensive rates) should be brought to bear only on legal matters that absolutely need it. Attorneys should not be required to weigh in on routine matters when there is a competent alternative available, often for a lower cost.

As Responsive Law has noted, some states such as California and Arizona allow people to use legal document assistants (LDAs) for certain services. LDAs are professionals licensed by the state to prepare documents without the assistance of an attorney. This recognizes that just as not every medical problem needs a doctor, not every legal problem needs an attorney. But state bar associations have been just as strident as their medical counterparts in their efforts to limit consumers’ choices. They continue to support laws that artificially keep the supply of licensed professionals down, which drives the price of services up. Just as states should be concerned about the fact that the public’s health needs aren’t being addressed, they should recognize that people’s legal needs aren’t being addressed. They should undertake similar reforms to expand the work that LDAs and other qualified non-attorneys are allowed to do for the public.

Will Downes, a law student at Georgetown University Law Center, is a Responsive Law intern.

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