Legal Check Ups and Narrowing the Access to Justice Gap
The conversation of access to justice is nothing new. It’s been “trendy” for decades. Recently, however, access to justice has become a buzz word with legal scholars and innovators. The ABA’s Presidential Commission on the Future of Legal Services issued its report last fall. It was a much anticipated analysis of the failures and promises of the legal profession to solve the access to justice gap.
In a myriad of possible solutions to the access to justice problem, one concept has been reinvigorated by the ABA – the legal checkup. The concept is not new. The solution is not new. In fact, legal checkups have been used in Europe and by some American referral systems for some time. The ABA is encouraging or profession to follow suit. As a result of the Future Commission’s report, a task force has been created to create a protocol, prototype or program for legal checkups.
So how do legal checkups work? The goal in my view of a successful legal checkup is to educate a consumer that they have a real legal need and then connect that consumer with a legal service provider. Recent research suggests that most Americans do not even recognize a legal issue and when they do, they do not know where to find a lawyer. A legal check up, with a few simple questions, can help a consumer recognize a legal issue. Do you have a will? Has your family status changed? Do you plan to buy a home, car or boat in the next year? Has your identity been compromised or stolen? Have you received a creditor’s collection notice in the last three months? Any of these situations can be resolved faster, better and easier with a lawyer because they are all legal issues. A legal chekup with help a consumer recognize that these everyday situations are legal situations. With additional questions, not more than 3 or 4, the legal checkup can help the consumer see their issue and know where to find relevant, experienced legal counsel and help. It should not be difficult.
The concept of legal checkups is not new to legal plans, or legal plan attorneys. For decades legal plans and their provider attorneys have been asking consumers and clients questions to assist a client in recognizing a legal need. Education and information is critical to solving the justice gap problem. Connecting clients and attorneys is a real solution to a real problem. Legal checkups, whether in the form of legal plans, or in a new initiative by the ABA, will educate consumers and create relationships. The time has come for legal checkups to be recognized and promoted as a solution.