The population of people priced out of the legal services market is large and apparenlty growing. Many can afford to pay something but not market cost.
A few weeks ago, a federal appeals court judge at a judicial conference I attended told me that 40 percent of appeals in his court had a pro se on at least one side and sometimes both sides. Partly to address the problem, he said, large firms were asked to take on clients in cases that would benefit from counsel. To encourage them, the court promised oral argument.
More than 40 percent of law graduates do not get permanent, fulltime jobs for which a law degree is required within nine months after graduation. Debt prevents them from working in firms or other organizations that make reduced cost legal services available to those who can pay something -- to the extent there even are such organizations.
This is insane, of course. Lawyers without work. Clients without lawyers.
But the profession itself seems unable or unwilling to correct for the dramatic market failure. Meanwhile, technology has encouraged others, outside the traditional law firm model, to try to fill the gap. Rocket Lawyer. Legal Zoom. The potential profits in being able to serve a market that the legal industry cannot or will not ensures that other entrepeneurs will figure out how to do it. That will only increase. (This assumes that the bar does not seek to use unauthorized practice rules to curtail or stop the trend, as Texas lawyers once sought to enjoin Quicken Family Lawyer. The legislature stymied that effort.)
Some of these other service providers may be outside the country, using "lawyers" who may not be lawyers at all or if lawyers not admitted in the U.S. So far courts have not, so far as I can discern, shown interest in regulating this other market, which is a shame because the risk of harm to consumers is apparent. I don't mean they should be shut down -- I do not think that's feasible -- but I do mean that they should be regulated.
How? For starters, the lawyers who provide the work needed to generate the forms should be identified on the websites with contact information and state of admssion. The company and these lawyers ought to be subject to civil process in the customer's jurisdiciton.
Courts, bar associations, law schools, lawmakers (if it comes to that) have a responsility to remedy this situation. There have been small signs of progress but far too little. Every state high court and bar association in the nation should be addressing this market failure. It is, after all, a failure in the rule of law. We export the importance of the rule of law to other nations. What about at home?