The barriers and complications to getting legal aid in the U.S. has created a system in which many Americans simply give up their legal battles—even if that means not seeing their children or sacrificing their homes.
That’s the argument of Harvard visiting professor of law and professor of economics and law at the University of Southern California Gillian Hadfield made in an editorial in today’s Washington Post.
In England, where non-lawyer professionals can offer specialised expertise, 5% of survey respondents with legal problems said they do nothing to seek a resolution. In the U.S., however, legal advice is limited to those with law degrees and between 30-40% of survey respondents say they do nothing to resolve legal issues.
WP: Yes, Britain spends far more public funds on ensuring access to justice — $76 in legal aid per capita compared with $13 in the States (including charitable contributions). But the critical difference is the widespread and diverse availability of help in Britain and other advanced-market democracies for people with legal troubles — not just criminal arrest but issues such as foreclosure, divorce, child custody, employment and bankruptcy. The United States urgently needs to expand capacity for non-lawyers to meet the legal needs of ordinary Americans in innovative and less costly ways.
Hadfield points out that starting next year in Britain, large companies such as Tesco (the U.K.’s equivalent of Wal-Mart, essentially) can offer legal services.
WSJ Law Blog: Lawyers typically argue that barriers to entry are necessary to save consumers from quack legal advice. Hadfield has a counter-argument at the ready.
“There’s nothing wrong with ensuring quality of service, but attacks on innovative providers in the United States go well beyond what can be justified in a world that looks so much to law to organise everyday life.”
If Hadfield is correct, opening regulations would be a win-win for both the legal industry and the non-legal industry that could crop up in providing legal aid.
Allowing non-lawyers to give advice would hardly discourage consumers from using lawyers, in fact it would probably have the opposite effect. In an ideal market, greater availability would reduce the intimidating reputation and cost of legal aid, encourage more people to seek legal help and thus increase the businesses of both those with and without law degrees.
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