LSC-funded programs are overwhelmed with requests for civil legal assistance, in part because of the economy. Courts—especially housing and family courts—have seen an increase in the number of low-income individuals without a lawyer. Studies in several states have found that about 80 percent of the legal needs of low-income families go unmet.This topic always reminds me of an excellent 2005 report that I've saved, called "Civil Legal Assistance for All Americans," by Jeanne Charn and Richard Zorza. It has seemed to me that the full access vision they espouse should be a template for our work in Texas, with the Census bureau recently documenting the increase of people living in poverty in our state, from 4.26 million to 4.63 million. Charn and Zorza advocate a full-access legal system with the following foundational principles:
The systems that LSC-funded programs use to conduct client intake—most often telephone hotlines and in-person interviews—are often swamped by requests for legal services, frustrating clients and programs. The new round of technology grants continue efforts to develop new, user-friendly online intake systems for clients who need alternatives that permit the filing of applications for legal assistance outside normal business hours. . . .
In an effort to help people who must navigate courts without a lawyer, Lone Star Legal Aid will undertake a project to merge Texas Law Help, which provides self-help forms, and Texas Courts Online, which offers information about the state court system. The project will create a one-stop, easy-to-understand information source and include Spanish and Vietnamese translations of legal forms.
Scope and Coverage of a Full-Access Legal Services SystemI hope that we can have a rational conversation here in Texas and pursue a vision that will provide justice for all.
Consumer Assurances and Responsibilities
- An expanded delivery system should serve moderate- as well as low-income people.
- The types of legal needs for which assistance will be provided should be defined as a matter of policy. Specific service priorities, within broad categories, should be determined locally.
- Consumers will be entitled to advice and assistance, but an attorney’s services should be available only when lawyers provide the highest-quality and most cost-effective response.
Provider Diversity and Innovation
- Consumers should have a choice of providers appropriate to meet covered needs.
- An expanded delivery system should be consumer-driven, clientcentered and holistic.
- An expanded delivery system should protect representation of unpopular claims and insulate funders from the appearance of interference with service to individual clients.
- Consumers should be responsible for copayments for many services as well as reimbursement of out-of-pocket costs related to service.
- Courts and administrative agencies should reform their rules and processes and provide information and assistance in order to reduce, wherever possible, the need for full-service attorneys.
- The private bar should be the first resource for low- and moderate income people with legal needs.
- Private attorneys should have opportunities to provide service, on a paid basis, when they are a cost-effective and high-quality option.
- Paralegals should provide service in all areas permitted under existing rules. Policymakers and bar leaders should support expanded paralegal practice with appropriate quality assurances and consumer protections.
- Technology should be fully deployed to deliver assistance directly to consumers and as an integral part of the infrastructure of a full-access delivery system.