Is there any room in the provision of legal services for nonlawyers?

The immediate answer given by UPL attorneys is usually a cautious, “No, but.”

And that makes sense. No one (well, almost no one) wants legal advice dispensed by people who are not trained and admitted to do it. The results could be disastrous.

But the “but,” even among UPL attorneys, comes from their awareness that certain self-help centers, some even sited in courthouses, fill an important unmet need. As the category of Americans who cannot afford a lawyer grows, centers like those provide crucial assistance (though it is arguably nowhere near the quality you could achieve by consulting with a lawyer).

The current Consumer Reports, though, fails to make a distinction between subpar legal online dispensaries and resources like those. And that has upset a reliable and trustworthy advocate for access to justice.

Richard Zorza calls out Consumer Reports and its article “Legal DIY Websites Are No Match for a Pro,” dismayed by the magazine’s failure to distinguish between the resources. As he says, the article “failed completely to tell consumers of the wide availability of free non-profit information and forms on the Internet, accessible directly through LawHelp and others, and the courts themselves.”

Here is the complete article, so you can decide for yourself if the publication should have added a few lines about the legal value to be derived from sources other than lawyers.

I found the article pretty helpful in its review of various legal products. My biggest surprise (and here I may get in trouble with some law schools) was whom the editors selected as its judges and reviewers. For an article whose purpose was to discover which company delivered the best product in practice, they didn’t turn to people in practice. Instead, they turned to … law professors.

In its analysis of offerings from Nolo, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, editors asked the academy for law practice answers:

“Using their online worksheets or downloads, we created a will, a car bill of sale for a seller, a home lease for a small landlord, and a promissory note. We then asked three law professors—Gerry W. Beyer of Texas Tech University School of Law, who specializes in estates and trusts; Richard K. Neumann of Hofstra University, a contract specialist; and Norman Silber, an expert in consumer and commercial law at Hofstra and Yale—to review in a blind test the processes and resulting documents.”

Excellent legal minds all, I’m certain. But in my years as a lawyer, active and inactive, it has never occurred to me to refer someone with a legal need to a law professor. How about, instead, asking lawyers who write these legal documents every day to review the products? Even better, ask lawyers who are actually Certified Specialists in those areas, rather than profs who (lowercase) “specialize.”

It occurred to me that the magazine editors may be nonlawyers themselves and therefore were unaware that it would help to turn to lawyers for this task.

Given the subject matter, ironic, don’t you think?

NY Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman

Is there a new generation of state Chief Justices? Should there be?

I’ve mentioned before the great content Richard Zorza publishes on his Access to Justice Blog. And this week he praised the New York State Chief Justice. But then he went beyond that praise to suggest there may be a new way of doing business in the offing.

Zorza reported on Chief Justice Jonathan Lippman’s speech in regard to a new pro bono requirement for New York lawyers. But he added, “The news provides yet another example of how a Chief can use his leverage and ‘bully pulpit’ to put and keep access to justice on the public agenda.”

Bully pulpit is a loaded term, one not typically associated with judges and court administrators. In fact, when I read Zorza’s line, I’m sure my eyebrows arched, at least a little.

But Zorza anticipated that, and so he says:

“Some Chiefs are nervous about seeking the limelight, or being too ‘political.’ CJ Lippman seems to have avoided these problems by focusing directly on the courts and on access to justice. He brings to his agenda a long history in the courts, in many roles, during which time he has developed many relationships that have surely been helpful in this more public role. It has also not hurt that he is operating in a relatively progressive political environment. But it is also noteworthy that Chiefs in different environments, such as the one faced by Texas Chief Wallace Jefferson, have been able to make similar progress using similar techniques.”

Is there a role, as Zorba suggests, for “an emerging new generation of Chiefs more willing to be more assertive in their roles”? Are stakes higher, demanding a higher response? Are the forces arrayed against courts, funding and access issues becoming more ominous, so CJs have to mix it up more than ever?

You can read Richard’s whole post here.

In February 2011, I had the chance to attend a conference at which Chief Lippmann delivered the keynote address. He is a passionate and articulate advocate of the justice system and access issues, to that I can attest.

I posted some photos from that criminal justice conference, including photos of the Chief, on the Arizona Attorney Magazine Facebook page.

Richard Zorza

This past week, access-to-justice advocate Richard Zorza wrote a brief but compelling blog post. In it, he pointed readers to content regarding how courts may attain “high performance.” That content was found in an article by some great authors, including Minnesota state court Judge Kevin Burke.

(I wrote before about Richard Zorza here.)

As Zorza opened:

“One approach the National Center [for State Courts] has been taking to improve the functioning of courts nationally is to focus on overall strategies for achieving “high performance.”  There are seven such strategies, highlighted in an article by Judge Kevin Burke, Brian Ostrom and Roger Hansen.”

Zorza lists the seven strategies, a few of which immediately caught my eye:

  • Establish the Court’s Cultural Landscape
  • Abandon the Myth of the Lone Ranger

See the full list here.

Zorza kindly provides a PDF of the complete article here (which otherwise is behind a members-only wall).

And more on the National Association for Court Management is here.

Can you identify your own local or state court in these descriptions? Or do they fall short in one or more ways?

 

Richard Zorza

Today, I commend to you a great blog and its blogger, who writes on a compelling subject, and who does so eloquently.

The writer is Richard Zorza, and his blog was brought to my attention by a good friend. It is titled “Richard Zorza’s Access to Justice Blog,” and you can read it here.

Hon. Kevin Burke

Any day of the week, he provides valuable content on one of the most pressing issues in our society. But yesterday’s lighter fare was a blog post of another variety.

In it, he reported that the American Judges Association has a new President—as associations are wont to do. This year, the new top jurist is Judge Kevin Burke, a state court judge in Hennepin County, Minnesota.

Judge Burke is reason enough for the item to come to my attention. He is a highly accomplished judge, one who is well (and often) published and who has garnered praise and awards both locally and nationally. You may read more about him here.

Here in Arizona, there’s another reason to know Judge Burke—he is brother to Dennis Burke, until this month the United States Attorney for the District of Arizona.

Dennis Burke

In his post, Richard Zorza wisely provides a link to Judge Burke’s Wikipedia entry. But that made me chuckle, because when I interviewed Dennis Burke a few years ago, he praised his brother–judge up and down, and added a smirk when he pointed out that Kevin has his own Wikipedia page. O brother—Some families are accomplished beyond belief!

Zorza’s post also alludes to a connection between chocolate and judges ruling well. In fact, Judge Burke (on his own blog!) provided his own commentary on the sugary subject.

Litigants benefit from a well-fed judge, a recent study reports.

As I read that, I looked past my computer screen to some old print ads I have framed on my wall. Once is a yellowed Kellogg’s Corn Flakes ad showing a judge chowing on the stuff in chambers. The subtitle advises, “More judges pass down a friendly verdict on Kellogg’s Corn Flakes than on any other cereal.”

Now that’s an ad.

All around an educational post, for which I thank Richard Zorza. But that makes me wonder: Are any Arizona judges blogging? I’d love to hear from them, or from those who read their pages. Contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.