Expanding Access to Justice: Legal Aid, Self Help Center, Technology, Lawyer Referral, and Modest Means
Richard S. Dellinger, Esq. | The Briefs, August 2018
In the winter of 2016, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) published a comprehensive report on the future of legal services in the United States. The report was published alongside a compilation of white papers in the South Carolina Law Review. The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services concluded that there are civil justice problems in the United States that are “common and widespread,” and that most individuals who have civil justice problems never consider hiring a lawyer. The commission further concluded that those who never consider hiring a lawyer to resolve their problems simply rely on their own personal networks of non-lawyers to resolve problems.
As a profession, these findings should cause concern. We are specially trained to solve problems, yet, we are losing our position in the forefront of problem solvers. We hear report after report of an overabundance of lawyers, while the demand for paid services remains flat. The legal problems remain; we are just not solving those problems for the public, and we are charging more than what most members of the public can afford to pay. As a result, the public relies on their own abilities or on new technologies to solve their legal problems. This causes a “justice gap” that we as a profession must not ignore.
Our OCBA is committed to serving that justice gap. The OCBA does more to serve the public than the ordinary bar association. We must continue the progress we have made to date.
When the OCBA was founded, our founders directed that the OCBA provide services to those who are in need and unable to afford legal services. The founders established the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association, Inc. (“LAS”) and required all members to take cases or pay a fee. This requirement continues today, and we are not aware of any other bar in the country that has a similar requirement.
The OCBA recognizes that there is a justice gap between those who are eligible for the services of LAS and those who can afford their own lawyers. The OCBA developed and continues to grow numerous methods and systems for serving this gap in access to justice. They include a low-cost Self Help Center developed as a partnership between the OCBA and the Clerk of Court, Tiffany Moore Russell, Esq.; a Lawyer Referral & Information Service; and a Modest Means Panel.
The Self Help Center is the first of its kind in Orange County. Members of the public can use the center for family law, small claims, and residential eviction cases. Self Help Centers are located in the downtown Orange County Courthouse and in the Apopka branch of the Clerk of Court office and are staffed by OCBA members who agree to accept a reduced fee to help consumers who attempt to handle their legal matter themselves.
As a supplement to the Self Help Center, the Clerk of Court and our Ninth Judicial Circuit post forms on their websites that the public can use for filing in their cases. Our local provisions for distribution of forms was enhanced even further by the Florida Supreme Court when it announced the adoption of application-based software designed to help a self-represented person through domestic proceedings.
In our federal courts, District Judge Roy B. “Skip” Dalton and Bankruptcy Judge Karen Jennemann led teams that updated the pro se resources on the websites for the Middle District of Florida and the bankruptcy court. These websites include commonly used forms, a guide to proceeding without a lawyer, and connections to The Florida Bar’s Lawyer Referral Service.
Of course, we lawyers know that there are many legal matters where there is no substitute for the full-time services of a lawyer. In these matters, the OCBA Lawyer Referral & Information Service (“LRIS”) fills the gap. Our OCBA staff, led by referral coordinators Candice Maul and Michael Krug, Esq., serve on the front lines, channeling problems to a panel of highly qualified LRIS lawyers. The lawyers are selected for the LRIS panel based on their high level of experience and qualifications. When consumers call into LRIS they are first screened by attorney Krug and referred to a private attorney willing to take the case. If that client is of modest means, the OCBA has recruited a separate Modest Means panel of attorneys to serve the client. If you see clients who need a lawyer and you cannot serve them, please feel free to “take a pass” and send them to LRIS. Our LRIS staff will help to fill the need.
The OCBA is committed to serving the community and we are committed to “bridging the access to justice gap.” Through LAS, our Self Help Center, new technologies, the LRIS panel, and the LRIS Modest Means panel, we will continue to serve the underserved.
Orange County Bar Association The Briefs, Vol. 86, No. 7, August 2018. All rights reserved.