The Florida Bar has sent a report to the state supreme court with suggestions for improving public access to legal services. According to the Bar’s press release, the suggestions include the creation of a permanent committee to address issues concerning self-represented litigants, increasing legal aid funding, expanding pro bono services, and lowering bars for legal interns to help represent clients.
Each of these suggestions, and many others like them, recognize the crisis of access to justice, which is especially acute in state court systems. And all of them are good ideas. But unsurprisingly, the suggestions are also deliberately crafted to preserve the special role of attorneys as gatekeepers to the legal system. Indeed, the press release itself mentions that last year the Bar pushed back against a much broader set of proposals, coming from the court system itself, which would have (among other things) tested non-lawyer ownership of firms and sought an expanded role for paralegals.
So this a turf war of sorts, but a constructive one. Access to justice is a real problem. Courts must recognize that attorneys will not readily cede their special role as intermediaries between the courts and the public, and attorneys must recognize that the public’s need for affordable and reliable court services far exceeds the ability of the bar to provide it. Much like the field of health care, where the model that predominated for decades is being upended to fit the needs of a modern society, so too the field of legal services is being upended. My sense is that changes are coming quickly, so it’s important that all stakeholders contribute to the conversation now.