I've never been the type to appreciate "we need to do something" speeches. Yes, the first step is to admit you have a problem, but the most important step is finding a way to fix the problem.
We have too many law graduates. We have little to no access to the justice system for low income and rural residents. Both are massive problems, and the new ABA President, James R. Silkenat, has twice in two months mentioned the problem. Last month, in the weeks before the ABA Annual Meeting, he spoke about the scope of the problem, and a possible Legal Access Job Corps that could kill both birds. This month, he reiterated his interest in such a program.
But we still haven't heard the how.
There's your biggest obstacle. As he acknowledged in early August, there's no way Congress is going to fund, well, anything, other than their own paychecks.
He referenced the South Dakota rural lawyer program, which is a localized solution to a nationwide problem. It could serve as a model for a national program, but that program, funded by the state bar, doesn't pay recent grads enough to live, let alone pay off massive student debt loads.
If you want funding, you're probably going to have to beg from BigLaw and the rest of the private sector. Public funding is not forthcoming. Plus, if you have a public interest nonprofit, recent grads that work for ten years in those types of positions can get loan forgiveness. It's a win-win, provided you can squeeze enough donations out of an industry in the midst of massive contraction.
Change the System
Lawyers are technophobes. California is just now, finally, considering the concept of handling the filing of some civil cases online. It's ridiculous, especially considering that California is the tech hub of the nation.
If you want to lawyers to cover rural areas, one thing to consider are Virtual Law Offices. The population density in rural areas of the Midwest, such as South Dakota, make lucrative legal practice nearly impossible. One would have to rotate through scattered offices or operate like the Lincoln Lawyer to meet the needs of rural clients and to appear in rural courthouses.
Online filing. Simplified web conferencing (perhaps WebRTC-based) with clients in need.
Simplify the Courts
I couldn't imaging being a pro se litigant without access to a lawyer, especially in a high-stakes legal case. With local rules differing between courthouses, deadlines buried in statutes, and different cover sheets and forms required for each type of lawsuit in each county, it's hard enough for a new lawyer to play catch-up with the veteran attorneys.
California's Family Law system has made great strides in this regard, reducing many tasks to simplified statewide forms. Most courthouses also have a Family Law facilitator's office, which helps pro se parties with the paperwork and filing procedures. This type of overhaul, preferably with an online filing component, would go a long way towards expanding access, even in areas where lawyers don't reside.
- The 'Practice Ready' Law Student is a Fantasy, Says Law Professor (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- 4 Other Job Tips: When Being 'Practice-Ready' Isn't Enough (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- Need a Job? 5 Reasons to Head to D.C. (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)