Tag Archives: IOLTA

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.

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The Lawyers Weekly Interview, Part II: details never before revealed about life & career of MidLaw scrivener

149HThe last post before this one set out the first part of the North Carolina Lawyers Weekly’s article and interview with MidLaw’s scrivener. Heath Hamacher wrote the Lawyers Weekly piece, and edited the interview “for length and clarity.” Below is Part II, the rest of the interview, which mostly addresses personal biographical details.

LW:   Tell me a little about your upbringing and how you came to get into the practice of law.

MIDLAW:   I was born and raised in Tarboro and Edgecombe County, North Carolina, which I later learned is the center of the universe. My father was in the horse-and-mule business until that played out and his work subsided into farming. What I learned about farming caused me to develop an interest in other ways of earning a living.

I got onto the path that led me to law practice late one evening many years ago when, in the course of a gentlemen’s card game, one of the players remarked that anyone who signed up to take the law boards the next day would be released from duty and provided with transportation to either Long Binh or Saigon where the tests would be administered.

I signed up for a day off, and one thing led to another.

 

LW:   Tell me about your practice area and exactly what you do as an attorney.

MIDLAW:   I started in a very general business law practice, focused mainly on litigation; then I followed opportunities that led to me becoming the general counsel of the North Carolina Savings and Loan League and later the North Carolina Bankers Association, and to representing financial services companies.

The time came about 15 years ago when my partners, Jim Williams and Dan McGinn, came and asked me to consider becoming the managing partner of our firm. I thought about that and agreed to do it if the partners approved, but on two conditions; namely: (i) that I could not both serve clients and also be managing partner at the same time, and (ii) that I would not be required ever to fill out a time sheet again. (I was bluffing about the second one, but it worked.)

At midnight this past December 31, Reid Phillips became our managing partner and now I am sort of rebuilding what I do. Something will come up.

 

LW:   Where did the idea of doing a blog come from? Its subject matter is pretty eclectic. Do you just write whatever’s on your mind?

MIDLAW:   Before there were blogs, I wrote a regular series of posts for the North Carolina Bankers Association’s website; before that, I wrote legal memoranda which the S&L League published. I started doing the blog because I wanted to understand what blogs are and how they might be used by law firms. Something I published on the blog (about hummus) got written up in the Greensboro newspaper, and all of a sudden I was in the blog business.

The blog is focused on a few topics: (i) mid-size law firms and law practice management; (ii) 19th Century NC lawyers (mostly from Edgecombe and Guilford Counties) and some things about Tarboro generally; (iii) legal services delivery (I am on the IOLTA board); (iv) the importance of liberal arts education; and (v) something we call the MidLaw Diet, which is about hummus mostly.

I certainly do not write about whatever is on my mind. I might get sued.

 

LW:   Tell me about your family. Are you married? To whom? How long? How many children and their ages.

MIDLAW:   I am well and truly married to Sally Patton Winslow, as I have been ever since 1980. We are the parents of Margaret Winslow who is 32 years old and lives in Greensboro, where she is Director of Strategic Initiatives at Elon Law School; and of Ted Winslow who is 27 years old and who teaches languages and literature and lives in Castellón de la Plana, Spain.

 

LW:   What do you do when you manage to find some free time? Any hobbies besides blogging?

MIDLAW:   We have this great place in the woods in southwest Virginia, where I engage in sedentary pursuits and limited physical activities, and where I like to go whenever I can. Also, I am very involved as a trustee of a Quaker boarding school in Pennsylvania (Westtown School) and of Guilford College in Greensboro. Hobbies might include reading or something. Maybe cooking.

The Trouble with Lawyers — new book identifies the challenges, suggests responses

Rhode bookThere’s a new book, another book, about the trouble with lawyers. It’s called The Trouble with Lawyers.

The National Law Journal has published a short interview with the the author, Stanford law professor Deborah Rhode. In that interview, Professor Rhode makes two points that have been made here before.

NLJ: What is the biggest challenge that the American bar is facing today?

Rhode: I think it’s a shameful irony that the nation with one of the world’s highest concentration of lawyers does such a poor job of making their services available to those who need help most. Over four-fifths of the legal needs of poor individuals are not being met. And that’s a problem with enormous social costs.

NLJ: Are law schools part of the problem or part of the solution?

Rhode: I think the one-size-fits-all model we currently have fails to address the diversity in what lawyers do. It just makes no sense to train in the same way someone who’s going to be doing divorces in a small town and the person who’s going to be doing financial mergers and acquisitions on Wall Street. We need to recognize the diversity in legal tasks and to have corresponding diversity in legal education. The book argues for having one-year, two-year and three-year degrees.

Deborah Rhode is a Stanford law professor, said to be the nation’s most frequently cited scholar on legal ethics. She’s a past president of the Association of American Law Schools.

If nothing else, it’s instructive to see which issues are rising to the top: the two identified above and others also addressed in the book.

A closed system — you have to have a lawyer to get in or out

Bird caught in a netAt one time, many politicians perceived legal aid as a program that subsidized poor people to assert grievances in the courts against businesses and institutions. That is not the case for legal aid, not now. Now, it’s about access to social systems.

American social, economic and government systems have become staggeringly complex. Ordinary people, when they encounter snarls in these systems, can hardly cope. Not without help. Think: mortgages and credit, employment, health care, consumer scams, domestic relations, government benefits, retirement, taxes.

People turn to lawyers when they get into these jams. In many cases only lawyers are permitted to help. Anything else is the unauthorized practice of law.

Where the system is so complex, the case for legal aid is about access to the system –  not subsidizing lawsuits. It’s about the social system; not the justice system.

80% of the civil legal needs of poor people are not met. And that applies to 20% of the people in North Carolina. 34% of the children.

The system ain’t working.

This “the profession is doomed” thing: if winter comes, can spring be far behind?

This past week, a consultant who is “renowned in the areas of legal management, marketing and technology” got a lot of attention for reporting, after participating in a bar leaders panel on the future of the legal profession, that “the profession is doomed.”Bluebird

“Doomed,” because lawyers’ training and experience have made them “a reactive and dogmatic group,” and this prevents them from embracing changes needed in delivery of legal services.

He cited a discussion about “limited license legal technicians.” This is an idea, adopted in the State of Washington, that permits persons who are not lawyers to practice law. These “LLLTs” will be permitted, in limited circumstances, to help clients prepare legal documents; advise them about the documents; explain legal procedures and proceedings; and gather and evaluate facts.”

Apparently, the bar leaders on the panel found only problems with this idea. They worried about potential harm from bad advice; they complained that licensed lawyers don’t have enough work to do as it is; they brushed aside evidence that most poor people handle most of their legal needs without any help from a lawyer because they can’t afford it, and that traditional sources of funding for legal services for the poor are steadily being reduced.

Doom.

BUT – also last week – the  ABA Journal reported that opening the practice of law to practitioners with limited licenses has met with some form of encouragement in Connecticut, Oregon, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts in addition to Washington. And for-profit services like Legal Zoom and Avvo seem to be making steady headway.

The American Bar Association, however carefully, seems to be encouraging the profession to consider new ways, many of which will threaten to loose the unlicensed into legal services.

AND – also in the past week – Brooks Pierce entered into serious conversations with – not one, but two – separate groups that have ideas for cooperative efforts by law firms and others to design and deliver standard legal services at low costs using cutting edge technology and the Internet. I’m not going to tell you what those two groups have in mind. That is secret. But, I can say this: one group would cut compliance costs and improve performance for boards of directors and particularly the boards of public companies; and the other will deliver innovations along more predictable lines in litigation support and document discovery.

Now I am often accused by my “reactive and dogmatic” colleagues of being an optimist – maybe even an inveterate optimist.  But, just now I am asking: “Skippy, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

This could be a very good time to be a mid size law firm – at least, a nimble and efficient one.

Demand for legal services booming; lawyer hiring down — what’s up?

It’s an abiding irony of the “legal industry” bear-fighting-tigertoday that, even as lawyer hiring is way down  and a return to growth in law firms is said to be a “mirage” – and as students are staying away from law schools in droves – the demand for legal services is said to be growing – maybe even growing “exponentially” (as the phrase goes).

Here’s the catch: the growth is in legal work that lawyers (understandably) don’t want to do. It’s work that doesn’t pay. This includes (i) legal services needed by low-wealth clienteles, and  (ii) what is called “tiny law” (legal services for small matters), and (iii) legal decision making that is now embedded in so many routine commercial and social transactions.

As many as 80% of Americans are said unable to find affordable legal services.

Even as lawyers evince little interest in low-pay and no-pay work, many want to hold the line on “the unauthorized practice of law.” They scrutinize computerized services which target low-pay customers and they mistrust law-related services delivered by people without law licenses. That’s understandable. Relaxing “unauthorized practice of law” strictures, can threaten harm both to unsophisticated consumers and to the legal system. But, at the same time, help from internet providers, corporate vendors and paralegals may be better than no help at all for unsophisticated consumers and others. Reportedly, millions are satisfied with the “unauthorized” providers.

This is going to take some sorting out.

Apparently, the ABA has begun.

 

 

Affordable legal services in a society bound everywhere by rules – problem

At one time many politicians opposed federal funding for civil legal aid because they were concerned that the money was used to fund social justice litigation.help

Well, now the focus of legal aid is on domestic violence, consumer scams, seniors, veterans, the disabled, housing, and protecting household income. Some of this work may be about social justice, but mostly it is about providing assistance to people who can’t afford legal services and protecting their rights in a complex, law-bound society.

In a society that is dependent on contracts and rules (private and public), affordable justice is necessary – else the society will not work – but in North Carolina right now, legal services are not readily accessible to 20% of citizens and 80% of their needs are not met.

I see three alternatives for fixing the problem:

  • Lawyers can do the work for free,
  • Government and private sources can pay lawyers to do the work, or
  • Non-lawyers can be allowed to do the work under appropriate conditions.

If I had to give a grade for fairness to a social system that is centered on rights, agreements and responsibilities but where 20% of the people have limited access to legal help, I’d have a hard time getting above a C, or a C-minus. What do you think?

Unmet civil legal needs of poor people growing; funding shrinking

lancszIn a recent post, I went and said

Legislatures are reducing government funding for legal aid programs even as the demand grows.

Well,

  • 20% of the population in North Carolina qualifies for legal aid
  • 34% of children and 18% of old people (“seniors”) are eligible for legal aid
  • 80% of the civil legal needs of poor people are not met.

Since 2008, the need for legal aid is up 30% and funding is down

  • Federal funding down 35%
  • State funding down 33%
  • United Way funding down 32%
  • IOLTA funding down 30%.

Source: NC Access to Justice Fact Sheet

I told you so.