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USC Law Prof’s Lament: Why Can’t Wal-Mart Provide Legal Services?

Posted Mar 12, 2010 12:33 PM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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In the United Kingdom, legal clients will have a new option next year: They can seek advice from corporations. That means Tesco, the European equivalent of Wal-Mart, could get into the legal business.

A law professor at the University of Southern California says the United States should take note.

Writing in the Washington Post, Gillian Hadfield says the United States “stands largely alone” among advanced-market democracies in restricting how people can get legal help. In a country where many people can't afford lawyers, access to justice should not be so restrictive, says Hadfield, who was previously a visiting professor at Harvard Law School.

“Unlike people in Britain, those facing legal problems in the United States can't turn to local volunteer organizations, their unions or consumer organizations,” Hadfield writes. “They can't buy what they need from entrepreneurs or the full-service stores like Wal-Mart that now package low-cost eye exams, insurance, banking and more with their diapers and detergents.

“This may explain why in U.S. surveys 30 to 40 percent of Americans with an identifiable legal problem say they do nothing to resolve it, compared with just 5 percent in Britain.”

Updated on March 13 to reflect that Hadfield is no longer a visiting professor at Harvard Law School.

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