Today I had the pleasure of hearing LSC President Jim Sandman speak to a conference hall full of Legal Service Providers from Floria, at the Florida 2015 Legal Aid Summit. He reinforced one big message at the end: the civil legal system in the US is dysfunctional. We need to reform it, because access to justice and provide the safety net around housing, domestic violence, family stability, recovering from debt, and dealing with employment issues. All of these other ‘social goods’ depend on a good, ‘unrationed’ civil legal system.
Right now, the legal system has been designed for lawyers by lawyers. It works okay if you are represented by a lawyer. It does not work at all if you as a layperson go through it without a lawyer. The rules of civil procedure and evidence are an impenetrable maze of failpoints for a normal person.
We need to change this system from the inside-out: the rules, the procedures, the forms, the number of steps on the process, the places you have to go, the fees you have to pay — all of it needs to be reimagined from the layperson’s perspective, from the user’s perspective.
This call from Jim Sandman is spot on. It is about creating new service modes with the system and resources we have in the legal system — and then it is about thinking macro, opening up new initiatives to change the actual legal system itself. The system does not have to be the way it is, even if it’s been like that for decades. Humans made it and humans can change it. Where can we start?