ABA commission’s recommendations seek to close the access-to-justice gap
As expected, the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services delivered plenty of recommendations for how the bar can close the gap in access to justice in America, while steering clear of the most contentious issue: alternative business structures.
After two years of work, the commission released its final report (PDF) at the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. The underlying message of the report, said outgoing ABA President Paulette Brown of Morristown, New Jersey, is that “the future is not going to wait for us. We have got to go with it. We have to not let the future get away from us.”
Citing statistics that show that in some jurisdictions more than 80 percent of the civil legal needs of lower-to-middle-income individuals went unmet, the commission called on the legal profession to support the idea that all people should have some form of legal assistance for their civil legal needs. To that end, the commission found that the profession “should support the aspirational goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.”
The commission stated that courts should be open to innovations in the delivery of legal services and called on them to adopt the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services (PDF). States should “explore how legal services are delivered by entities that employ new technologies and internet-based platforms, and then assess the benefits and risks to the public.” Courts, meanwhile, should provide automated services for pro se individuals, including online dispute resolution and remote-access self-service kiosks.
The report also recommended the ABA open a Center for Innovation that would amount to a research and development division for the legal industry. “Industries as diverse as consulting, medicine and personal finance have invested in research and development laboratories to create new service offerings and substantially improve client relationships,” the report stated. “Lawyers must do the same, and the Innovation Center can play an active role in these efforts.”
The Center for Innovation has been approved by the ABA Board of Governors. Its primary tasks will include assisting law firms interested in introducing new approaches to their practices, studying innovations in legal services delivery in other countries, and developing training programs for law students interested in innovative law practice. The commission also will play a key role in carrying some of the commission’s recommendations forward.
It is crucial that the ABA and other elements of the legal profession help lawyers to understand how the legal environment is changing, said commission chair Judy Perry Martinez. “We can help lawyers understand what the public need is,” she said. “If we can help lawyers to be of service to the public, we can be of great service to our members.”
The commission also recommended that “all members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies” and cited the Florida Bar Board of Governors, which recently approved mandatory technology CLE requirements for state lawyers. Additionally, the report stated that the legal profession should partner with other industries to design, develop and create new delivery models and technological tools.
“Some may view the commission’s recommendations as too controversial, and others may view the recommendations as insufficiently bold,” the report says. “What is clear, however, is that the solutions will require the efforts of all stakeholders in order to implement the recommendations contained in this report.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Law’s Future Won’t Wait: ABA commission’s recommendations seek to close the access-to-justice gap.”