from Sarah Martinson | Jan. 20, 2023 9:52 p.m. EST
Lawyers and judges need to involve consumers and community-based organizations in their design and decision-making process to implement legal regulatory reform, according to a panel at Legal Services Corp’s Innovations in Technology Conference. on Friday.
Stacy Butler, director of the Innovation for Justice design center, said during the panel that after four years of studying legal innovation, the organization found that the attorneys and judges driving regulatory reform in their states were not engaging with members of the community .
Early regulatory reforms in some states may have failed because policymakers didn’t address community members who should benefit from the reform, Butler said.
“We would recommend other jurisdictions to bring all these people together,” she said.
The panel discussed Innovation for Justice’s research on legal innovation and the framework it has created for legal regulatory reform that allows non-lawyer attorneys in the not-for-profit sector to provide limited legal advice to low-income community members they already serve.
The other panelists were Tate Richardson, Postgraduate Fellow at Innovation for Justice; Cayley Balser, head of community engagement research operations at Innovation for Justice; Anna Harper-Guerrero, Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Emerge! Center Against Domestic Violence; and Arizona Supreme Court Justice Ann Timmer.
Richardson said Innovation for Justice found in a survey conducted in Utah that consumers trusted someone with legal training but no law degree more than an attorney, and that they preferred to get help from organizations, friends or family members.
More than 65% of consumers said they would be interested in getting legal advice from an attorney, while fewer than 17% of consumers said they would be interested in getting legal advice from an attorney, Richardson said.
Richardson said the reason fewer consumers in this survey may have been interested in getting legal advice from a lawyer is because they know lawyers are expensive and those consumers couldn’t afford their rent, let alone a lawyer.
“[Consumers] seek services from someone who looks like them, understands their situation and is a trusted member of their community,” she said.
Balser added that Innovation for Justice’s research also found that community-based organizations are unaware of legislative reform opportunities, but would like to be able to offer limited legal advice with appropriate training.
Current regulatory reform opportunities present many barriers for community-based organizations, including time, educational requirements, certification, and financial costs, Balser said.
“Consumers are already asking community-based organizations legal questions, and staff would like to be trained to properly advise customers,” she said. “However, it is important to the CBOs that this training is manageable and does not take a lot of time from their existing tasks.”
Butler pointed out that no amount of pro bono or legal aid provided by lawyers can bridge the gap in access to justice.
“In our current status quo, only the most privileged and educated among us have the authority to know and apply the law,” Butler said. “This attorney-only service model is contributing to the judicial divide in this country.”
–Edited by Daniel King.