The American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on the Future of Legal Services has released a final report which says the legal profession should support the aspirational goal of 100% access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.
The Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States finds that despite sustained efforts to expand the public's access to legal services, most people living in poverty, and the majority of moderate-income individuals, do not receive the legal help they need.
The Commission says the public often does not obtain effective assistance with legal problems, either because of insufficient financial resources or a lack of knowledge about when legal problems exist that require resolution through legal respresentation.
Among the findings:
- The vast number of unrepresented parties in court adversely impacts all litigants, including those who have representation.
- The traditional law practice business model constrains innovations that would provide greater access to, and enhance the delivery of, legal services.
- The legal profession's resistance to change hinders additional innovations.
- The legal profession does not yet reflect the diversity of the public, especially in positions of leadership and power.
- Bias - both conscious and unconscious - impedes fairness and justice in the legal system.
- The complexity of the justice system and the public's lack of understanding about how it functions undermines the public's trust and confidence.
The Commission also notes that advancements in technology and other innovations continue to change how legal services can be accessed and delivered. It finds that courts, bar associations, law schools and lawyers are experimenting with innovative methods to change access and delivery.
New providers of legal services are also proliferating and creating additional choices for consumers and lawyers.
Among 10 recommendations, is "the legal profession should support the goal of providing some form of effective assistance for essential civil legal needs to all persons otherwise unable to afford a lawyer".
Courts are also urged to consider regulatory innovations in the area of legal services delivery, and all members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies.