New Zealand Law Society - IBA says legal expenses insurance may help ‘forgotten middle’

IBA says legal expenses insurance may help ‘forgotten middle’

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A new report suggests that greater uptake of legal expenses insurance (LEI) could increase access to justice for the ‘forgotten middle’ – individuals without disposable income to spend on private legal services, but whose earnings or assets prohibit qualification for legal aid or pro bono assistance.

The findings, based on research conducted by the International Bar Association’s (IBA’s) Legal Policy & Research Unit was launched at the of the 2019 IBA Annual Conference, in Seoul, South Korea.

Access to justice is a pressing concern for all jurisdictions, regardless of legal system or socio-economic status. Justice simply cannot be served without timely, robust legal representation,” says IBA Access to Justice and Legal Aid Committee Co-Chair, Andrew Mackenzie.

"It is our duty as a profession to ensure that all who need access have it. However, the legal community cannot achieve this in isolation. I urge others, including the insurance industry and policy-makers, to play their part.’

LEI is a purchasable product through which individuals can obtain legal assistance from a private provider with some or all of the expenses covered by an insurer. The report, titled Legal Expenses Insurance and Access to Justice, presents a cross-jurisdictional analysis of nine jurisdictions where the LEI market is either widespread or limited, and explores whether certain factors act as barriers to the greater implementation, uptake and use of LEI in limited LEI market jurisdictions.

The findings suggest that the ‘forgotten middle’ could benefit enormously from LEI. However,  three key barriers to increased implementation and uptake of LEI policies are identified in the report, including lack of awareness among consumers; limits of indemnity; and perceptions of conflicting interests of legal representation appointed by the insurer or in-house lawyer employed by the insurer.