If bar leaders are inspired by Ben Cowgill‘s excellent post today proposing thatlawyers use Law Day for “self examination, not self-congratulation,” I have someprojects to suggest for them. Of course, we should be working on them every day:Instead of blocking efforts to make Small Claims courts meaningful(with higher dollar limits), consumer-friendly and effective, lead the fight tobring small claims into the 21st Century. (See HALT’s small claims projectand my SuperSize Small Claims article.)
Realize that pro bono will never be adequate to get legal servicesto the poor and that improving self-help resources (both for litigation andtransactional legal needs) is the only meaningful way to make access areality. See our post on NY’s doomed pro bono efforts, where we said:Bar associations who are serious about improving access to the legal system could help fund, tailor and produce, in their own states and locales, self-help programs similar to the online and courthouse resources available in California and Nevada, Local bar groups could also recruit and train volunteers for hands-on assistance in programs similar to those in Duluth, MN, and Santa Clara, CA. [plus Portsmouth, MA], where lawyers help persons with legal problems represent themselves. Much more can and must be done.Acknowledge, as the New Hampshire have done in Challenge to Justice,(Jan. 2004) that every member of the public — not merely the poor – hasthe right to represent himself or herself in our courts, whenever that is feasible,and “Our obligation is to give these citizens the help they want, need and deserve.” (see our post)
- NYSBA’s brochure telling the public “he who represents himselfhas a fool for a client,” and the Massachusett’s Bar Ass’n insisting every litigant needs a lawyer just will not do.
- Which reminds me of the quote from Edward Day Parsons: “He who pleads his own case may have a fool for a client; but it’s more probablethat he who employs a lawyer will have a knave for an attorney.”Make “unbundling” an effective tool for making legal services cost-effective and allowing consumers a more central role in solving their own legal problems.(e.g., get necessary rules and sample agreements in place, and tell the publicabout the concept)Stop the phony and annoying public relations campaigns. Spend the moneyinstead on improved self-help technology.Improve Lawyer Referral Services — in most states, they do little more thangive consumers the next name on the list, with no more information than youcan find in the phone book.Get more nonlawyers on your disciplinary panels. See HALT’s accountability project.Read about and emulate Sol Linowitz.That should hold you for suggestions, but feel free to email me for more. Meanwhile,let me leave you with two quotes:If it weren’t for lawyers, we wouldn’t need them.. . . . Williams Jennings Bryan[click for a cartoon concurrence by Wiley]
Ninety percent of our lawyers serve 10 percent of our people. We areover-lawyered and under-represented.. . . Jimmy Carterp.s. Does any one know why the White House hasn’t issued a Law Day proclamation thisyear? Or did I miss it? Last year, Pres. Bush did issue such a proclamation, on April 30,2004.