Making a Difference for Pro Se Litigants, and Our Clients
Yesterday I had lunch with one of our local trial court judges (and former local bar association president), a former president of the local bar association (and current chair of the Access to Justice committee) and a member of the Access to Justice committee. The conversation focus was on the concerns of the judges and their ability to deal with pro se litigants, specifically problems with divorcing pro se litigants. As the judge spoke, he talked about why he felt the pro se classes sponsored by local legal services providers were not helpful and the A to J Chair mentioned the ongoing Saturday Advice and Counsel Legal Clinics as a possible option for pro se litigants to take their paperwork for review.
I pointed out that the legal services providers struggle with the number of requests for divorce and how we simply don't have the staff, much less the volunteer base, to provide representation to all of the people seeking help and who are unable to not just afford attorneys but who might be unable to follow the instructions we provide. Part of the problem, I explained, is that the court system was not designed or built for use by members of the public but was instead designed for use by attorneys for their convenience and the for the convenience of the Judges. After I said this, there was a pause, and the Judge said, "What you said, Linda, is very profound. I never really thought about the fact that the system is not built to be understood by the public". I hope my mouth didn't drop open too much because to me it is so obvious. I mentioned this conversation to a friend, and he pointed out that sometimes it takes saying outloud the obvious before others can see the truth.
The truth, or at least the obvious truth to me, is that the legal profession is in the process of shooting itself in the foot. Statistics show that the savvy business consumer is no longer interested in litigating to the death. They are interested in things like problem solving and conflict resolution. Continuing to practice law using the existing paradigm is no longer an attractive business propostion.
I hope saying this out loud leads attorneys to look closely at how we can practice law as counselors, serve our clients better and continue to provide a valuable service to our communities. I hope lawyers as a group can understand that our clients are looking to us to redefine the practice of law in ways that are meaningful to them.