Tag Archives: future of legal services

NC legal system — invest or divest?

In the past year the North Carolina legislature enacted cuts or reductions (or proposed to) in the following, which might be characterized as the infrastructure of North Carolina’s legal system.

The number of trial court judges (emergency judges)

               The number of appellate judges

The budget (therefore staff) of the Department of Justice

Funds (therefore staff) for Legal Aid of North Carolina (formerly taken from filing fees)

Funds for the UNC Law School

Dues (paid by lawyers) that fund the North Carolina State Bar.

In periods leading to this year, North Carolina’s population has grown and its economy has grown. Commerce has picked up and unemployment has dropped. The State has pursued a policy of promoting trade and business investment in North Carolina by companies outside the state and outside the United States.

Unless North Carolina’s legal system was overfunded in the past, the conclusion might be reached that more, not fewer, resources are needed to maintain what we’ve got.

The American justice system is credited as a core element of the economic and cultural success of the United States. Enforcement of obligations (commercial and other) —predictably, impartially, efficiently and effectively — is a big part of what made America great.

And, actually, we are at a time when improvements are needed.

Access to legal system is fundamental: John Hood of John Locke Foundation

John Locke

John Hood, Chairman of North Carolina’s John Locke Foundation, makes the same point this week that MidLaw made last week: the legal system and meaningful access to it for everybody is fundamental to our system of government. Access is a matter of infrastructure. (An on-ramp, if you will.)

Hood is not addressing the federal budget with its proposed de-funding the Legal Services Corporation. Instead, he is endorsing the just-released final report of the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice.

The final report calls for investments in North Carolina’s courts system up to $91 million over 6 years to improve access to the system. Hood sums up:

this plan is affordable and reflects the highest priorities of any government: public safety and the protection of individual rights.

But, if the federal government de-funds Legal Services, then the cost of the North Carolina plan will go up — both now and later.

The North Carolina report finds that

Statistics about low-income individuals’ access to lawyers are quite discouraging, … partly because legal aid programs have lost significant funding in recent years. Pro bono (donated legal services) programs have helped some litigants but simply do not have the capacity to come close to being a complete solution

Legal Aid of North Carolina brings legal services to low-income people in North Carolina. It appears to deliver a very high volume of access to justice (legal services) with limited and now declining resources. It depends heavily on funding from the Legal Services Corporation.

Hood points to technology and service providers other than lawyers, as emerging means of improving access to the justice system. He concludes:

Legal practice and public expectations are changing in response to new technologies, like it or not. North Carolina can either adjust its court system to that reality, or pay a far heavier price in the future.

Might there be better ways to deliver legal services to the poor? Technology, say, and providers other than lawyers? Bring them.

In the meantime, eliminating funding from the federal budget for Legal Services sounds like making a bad situation worse (“pay a far heavier price in the future”). And it puts a premium on State funding.

Video interview with NC Chief Justice on future of legal services

future-legal-services-hero_jpg_imagep_980x179-2-png-imagep-980x179North Carolina Chief Justice Mark Martin represented the judiciary on the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services whose report was published earlier this year, and so Chief Justice Martin was interviewed recently by Ralph Baxter, Chairman of Thomson Reuters’ Legal Executive Institute, who asked the Chief  (i) about broadening the scope of those who can participate in delivery of legal services (that is, who beyond licensed lawyers can provide legal services?); and (ii) about opening the door for non-lawyer investment in the business of legal services (can law firms issue stock?). Chief Justice Martin described the process by which such changes could come.

New proposals can come either through the ABA or directly at the state level. The ABA’s House of Delegates has already refused to approve outside investment in law firms. Even so, the Commission recommends that the states continue to consider the issue.

“So [non-lawyer investment in law firms is] one of those things that might happen,” Ralph Baxter observed to the Chief Justice in the video interview. The Chief’s response, a nonverbal chuckle, is the very model of making a noise without making a comment. Judicial and judicious. Worth the price of the (free) video.