Posts filed under ‘USA’

Economic benefits from civil legal aid

My fellow bloger Richard Zorza from the inspirational accesstojustice.net blog has brought to my attention a succinct depiction of the direct and indirect benefits of civil legal aid. The analysis has been prepared by the Laura K. Abel from the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School. Briefly, the value of civil legal aid delivered to people who cannot afford to procure legal services from the free market comes to:

– Savings of public money by reduction of domestic violence. Requests for protective orders within the serviced area fall by 35.2%. Less public money is spent on medical care, special education for affected children and police and prisons resources devoted to perpetrators;

– Savings of public money by helping children leave foster care more quickly. “In Washington State, the rate at which children were reunited with their parents was 11% higher when the parents were represented by lawyers whose caseloads were kept to a manageable level than when the parents were represented by high-volume contract attorneys.”;

– Savings of public money by reducing evictions. Tenants who are represented are significantly more likely to retain possession. In 2009-2010 New York state saved $116 million in shelter costs’;

– Savings of public money by protecting patients’ health. Civil legal aid helped patients of asthma improve their housing conditions which allowed them to stop taking steroids for about 6 months. Others were helped with health insurance, disability benefits or alleviation of health-related job discrimination;

– Savings through helping low-income people participate in safety-net programs. In 2011 the federal benefits awarded to beneficiaries of civil legal aid totalled to $348 million.

Download the Economic Benefits of Civil Legal Aid from here

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September 20, 2012 at 10:13 pm Leave a comment

Research finds that 27% of Americans used cell phones to settle an argument or disagreement

Survey research of Pew Internet finds that 27% of the Americans used their cell phones in the last 30 days to settle an argument or disagreement. Very likely only a portion of these disagreements were justiciable but still – there is an important interaction between dispute resolution, access to justice and mobile technologies.

Predictably, younger people use more often their cell phones to solve disputes. What is interesting is that men are using cell phones more frequently than women when there is a need to settle and argument (31% vs. 22%).  Also those who have smartphones are significantly more likely to use them to solve disputes than owners of cell phones.

These findings raise many additional questions: how people use mobile phones to settle disputes; what types of problems are more likely to be resolved with mobile technologies; do people who use mobile phones in the dispute resolution process achieve more results.

May 8, 2012 at 9:46 pm Leave a comment

Call for papers: Teaching Social Justice, Expanding Access to Justice: The Role of Legal Education & The Legal Profession

The Society of American Law Teachers organises on October 5-6 2012 a conference entitled:  Teaching Social Justice, Expanding Access to Justice: The Role of Legal Education & the Legal Profession. Among other things the conference will examine “innovative efforts to advance social justice within the law school curriculum and important efforts to extend access to justice to underserved individuals and communities.” The submission deadline is March 30, 2012.

Panel themes might include, but are not limited to:

  1. the meaning of “social justice” and “access to justice,” especially the role of law schools and the legal profession in realizing justice in society;
  2. the lawyer’s core mandate and identity as a public citizen having special responsibilities to the quality of justice;
  3. curricular innovations that engage students in social justice or access to justice issues; and
  4. the cost of legal education and the economic crisis, their impact on social justice and access to  justice, and potential response

Read more about the conference here or download the full call for panels and papers

January 30, 2012 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment

Settlement mills – how good are they for access to justice?

Settlement mills are allegedly edgy law firms that process high volume – law value personal injury cases. In a recent paper, Nora Freeman Engstrom provides detailed account of the practices of settlement mills and discusses their pros and cons. Interestingly, one of the arguments in favor of the mills is that they might provide access to justice for tort victims who otherwise would not have been able to find their way through the personal injury maze.

To start with, the characteristics of settlement mills is that they target a niche of relatively low value “cut and dry” cases. Very few ‘mill’ cases ever go to trial – most get settled for some amount. This is where the settlement mills provide value. They thrive on the disadvantages of the traditional tort system – quick compensation; predictability, low transaction costs and reduced court congestion. All this advantages are achieved through economies of scale, specialism and increased shift of work towards non-legal staff.

Do settlement mills increase access to justice? According to Nora Freeman Engstrom that might be the case if one compares for the alternatives in the US legal market. Lawyers working on contingency fee basis is the most obvious alternative route to justice. However, contingency fee personal injury lawyers are notoriously picky. Studies have shown that risk mitigation strategies result in high volume of client refusals. Close to 2/3 of the clients are not signed due to meager profit prospects.

It is a different story with settlement mills. Almost everyone who comes with a claim is signed and most of the cases are processed. Indeed, the trade off is the amount and depth of work. But the point of Nora Freeman Engstrom is that most likely these victims would have otherwise done nothing. Another argument  supporting the thesis that settlement mills in a way expand access to justice is that they advertise aggressively. Many tort victims relegate their claims because they do not know what to do and where to seek support. TV and printed adds (and perhaps internet) bridge that gap and signpost people to paths to justice.  Yet another argument, well depicted in the paper, is that most clients receive something. Simply the modus operandi of settlement mills is that they squeeze perhaps not optimal but some compensation from insurers. Moreover, this compensation usually arrives rather quick – within two to eight months from the accident.

The paper does not juxtapose other options for tort victims which exist outside the US. For instance legal cost insurance in some European countries is a potent alternative. State funded compensation schemes can also be compared against the costs, processes and outcomes of the settlement mills. Using the TISCO Methodology for measuring the costs and quality of access to justice might provide interesting parallels.

Inevitably there are drawbacks in the practice of settlement mills. In a nutshell the paper identifies and discusses in detail the following risks:

– settlement mills’ “assembly line” approach deprives tort victims of in-depth, intimate, fact-intensive, truth-searching process that underlie traditional tort

– clients with serious injuries or high claims run serious risk to wind up undercompensated

– as most of settlement mills’ work is performed by non-lawyer personnel there are no ethical or professional standards and concerns and

– settlement mills tend to sell service which is priced as legal service but has little to do with the traditional understanding of legal services.

Read the full text of  Sunlight and Settlement Mills here

January 2, 2012 at 10:45 pm 1 comment

Justice as poetry: judge delivers opinion in rhyme

Informational justice plays crucial role for how people perceive justice processes. Motivated and well explained court procedures and outcomes define positive experiences with access to justice. Recently Justice Eakin from the Supreme Court of Pennsilvaniya added a new dimension to the art of justice. A fraud opinion was disposed in …. rhymes!

 

In January, 2001, appellant’s car was in a collision.

His insurer totaled the aging New Yorker, then made a just division

of the value of the insurance claim, sending $6,289 to the lender;

the balance of $135, to appellant they made tender.

And thus the matter terminated, or so one might have thought,

but that was not to be, when Goodson’s later schemes were caught

Appellant was unhappy with his meager share, we guess —

comparing the two payouts, his disbursement was much less —

so six months later, in July, Mr. Goodson would appear

at a branch of First National Bank, and there he made it clear

that he’d a check made out to him, which he innocently presented

to open a new bank account — “from State Farm,” he represented.

The check was numbered familiarly, same as the prior one

for $135 that he’d been given when this saga’d just begun.

And it was for $6,289, a unique and memorable amount.

The bank obligingly took the check and opened a new account.

“Welcome our new customer!” a greeting that we’d bet

the bank would come to think of with a measure of regret.

….

Sentenced on the other crimes, he surely won’t go free,

but we find he can’t be guilty of this final felony.

Convictions for the forgery and theft are approbated —

the sentence for insurance fraud, however, is vacated.

The case must be remanded for resentencing, we find,

so the trial judge may impose the result he originally had in mind.

What Goodson did is serious, but doesn’t comprise this crime —

there’s simply no rhyme nor reason for it, for these reasons (and in rhyme).

Madame Justice Orie Melvin did not participate in the consideration or decision of this

case.

Mr. Justice Baer joins the opinion.

Madame Justice Todd and Mr. Justice McCaffery concur in the result.

Mr. Justice Saylor files a dissenting opinion in which Mr. Chief Justice Castille joins.

Read the text of Commonwealth v. Goodson here

December 28, 2011 at 5:46 pm 2 comments

Access to Justice Research: Connecting Self-Representation to Civil Gideon

Do self-represented litigants fate better off than those who are represented. No, according to a 2010 article by Russel Engler (Connecting Self-Representation to Civil Gideon: What Existing Data Reveal About When Counsel is Most Needed, 37 Fordham Urban Law Journal). An extensive meta-analysis of emprirical studies of the outcomes achieved by pro-se litigants, Engler concludes that presence of a lawyer is an important factor when we analyse case outcomes. But there are other non-less important variables: substantive law, complexity of procedures, individual characteristics and practices of the judge, and the courts’ modus operandi.
Russel Engler also recognizes that a universal Civil Gideon (civil legal aid scheme) is not viable policy alternative. Therefore, the right to council is seen as a part of a broader Access to Justice strategy based on three points:
“(1) the expansion of the roles of the court system’s key players, such as judges, court-connected mediators and clerks, requiring them to assist unrepresented litigants as necessary to prevent forfeiture of important rights;
(2) the use of assistance programs, rigorously evaluated to identify which most effectively protect litigants from the forfeiture of rights; and
(3) the adoption of a civil right to counsel where the expansion of the roles of the key players and the assistance programs do not provide the necessary help to vulnerable litigants.”
Read Connecting Self-Representation to Civil Gideon: What Existing Data Reveal About When Counsel is Most Needed here.

October 20, 2011 at 9:37 pm 2 comments

Economist: An underfunded court system weakens the economy as well as access to justice

The Economist published an insightful article which dissentagles the effects of budget cuts on the US judiciary and access to justice. Slower justice and increased waiting times are just two of the many dire consequences. Enforcement is compromised by increasing backlog.  Budget cuts also affect the physical conditions of delivery of justice: “around the [US] 3,200 courthouses are “physically eroded” and “functionally deficient”. Judges pay has been frozen in times of increasing caseloads.

At the same time the economic crises generates ever more legal problems many of which has to be resolved in courts. “This means that the courts are limiting access just when Americans need more adjudication.”

Read The feeblest branch: An underfunded court system weakens the economy as well as access to justice here

September 29, 2011 at 10:15 pm Leave a comment

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