We’ve all seen them, television shows like “The People’s Court,” “Judge Judy,” and “Judge Mathis”. They portray cases where plaintiffs have some type of legal problem, but instead of choosing a lawyer to represent them, they opt for the pro se route (acting on one’s own behalf). Yet, these court t.v. shows do not only stem from people shying away from legal representation, they reveal a much larger theme when it comes to access to justice.
Access to justice is an issue lawyers and their potential clients have faced for decades. It can be hindered by everything from a lack of qualified legal protection to a lack of awareness, but the biggest barrier is affordability. Lawyers cost money, and not everyone can pay to get the legal services they offer even when it’s needed the most. So the result is a large gap between the people who can afford a lawyer and the ones who are eligible for free legal help. However, Sam Glover, editor-in-chief of Lawyerist says closing the access to justice gap will mean more than lowering the high cost of legal representation.
According to the American Bar Association and an analysis by TyMetrix Legal Analytics and CEB, the average hourly rate for a lawyer back in 2012 was $370 for associates and $536 for law firm partners. Yet, this is not the sole method of paying an attorney for his or her services. There are also contingent fee arrangements where a client is required to pay if and only if a lawyer is successful in a case (most often one involving personal injury or workers’ compensation). Contingent fees can be a financial relief for clients as there are no upfront costs associated with them. The money comes out the final amount awarded to you, and that means less debt and less headaches during the course of your case.
Many people are not aware of the benefits of choosing a lawyer who offers contingent fees. A recent study by the Federal Reserve found that half of the U.S. is not able to come up with the money it takes to use legal services at the comparable billable rate. Free legal representation may be offered to a person who is below 125% of the poverty line, but the Legal Services Corporation says even they can be turned away when they apply for help.
Could the access of justice gap stretch farther than just affordability? There are many that believe the value of legal services also plays a big role. Glover says there are online legal document services available that give people free tools for their cases, but they are not utilized. He says the majority of people would rather save the money and pay for a lawyer to get the job done, but there are plaintiffs that believe they can do the job just fine themselves. Yet, Glover says the people you see on court t.v. could just as easily not be able to afford a lawyer, as they may not appreciate their value.
Access to justice is not an issue that can be chiseled down to one solution. Lawyers may always be expensive, and there will be times people will need actual representation to solve their legal problems (and making fees cheaper may not make them more accessible). Yet, plaintiff law firms that work on a contingency basis are helping bridge the gap. They are the ones Advocate Capital, Inc. helps get even better results for their clients through strategic financing and our Case Expense Funding product. If plaintiff law firms continue to fight injustice without it being a financial burden on their clients, more people should be able to get the legal protection they need and deserve.
You can check out Sam Glover’s full article on Access to Justice by clicking here.
Photo Credit: Kamil Macniak