Pushing for Change in the Legal System

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For years, millions of Americans have been uncertain about how to approach the legal system. Consumers for a Responsive Legal System (Responsive Law) is working to help people use the legal system more effectively. As a national nonprofit organization working for greater innovation, competition and accountability in the legal system, Responsive Law believes in universal, inexpensive, user-friendly access to the law. When people choose to use a lawyer, it’s important to understand what their lawyer is going to do for them and how they’re going to be charged. Furthermore, those with common legal tasks, such as wills, divorces, corporate filings and small claims disputes, should be able to accomplish their goals without having to pay hundreds of dollars per hour for a lawyer. Responsive Law is working with legislatures, courts and bar associations on these issues to make sure the legal system is designed for the benefit of its customers.

To help ensure that people understand how to manage a lawyer-client relationship, Responsive Law has been promoting the Clients’ Bill of Rights. This is a list of ten proposed rights that everyone should be entitled to from the moment they begin talking to a lawyer, and includes information that lawyers should provide about billing practices, communication between lawyer and client, and clients’ direction of their own legal affairs. Some of these rights are already guaranteed by law—others are items that clients should insist that their lawyer provide when entering into a lawyer-client relationship. By providing this information to their clients, lawyers can develop an efficient, helpful and more understanding relationship between the lawyer and client.

The Clients’ Bill of Rights from Responsive Law:

1) Responsiveness: Right to have your calls, letters, questions and concerns addressed promptly

2) Participation: Right to be present at all meetings and court appearances related to your matter, unless a court orders otherwise

3) Deference: Right to have your goals respected by your lawyer, including whether to settle

4) Confidentiality: Right to confidentiality from your prospective lawyer, the lawyer you hire, and people who work for your lawyer, both during and after the engagement

5) Information Access: Right to have access to sufficient information to allow you to participate meaningfully in your matter, including access to all materials provided to your lawyer or prepared by your lawyer, during and after the representation

6) Dismissal: Right to fire your lawyer for any reason at any time even if he or she was hired on a contingency fee basis, and to hire a new one or go it alone

The following rights are not guaranteed, but you might want to ask your lawyer to agree to them.

7) Representation Agreement: Right to receive a written engagement agreement outlining the scope and objectives of the representation, the likelihood of success, and the risks involved

8) Fee Agreement: Right to have a written fee agreement describing how fees and expenses will be computed, as well as the terms of payment

9) Itemized Bills: Right to receive itemized bills on a regular basis describing the specific tasks performed, the name and title of the person who performed them, and, if you are being billed by the hour, the hourly rate and time spent by each person on each task

10) Lawyer Background: Right to be informed of the education, training, and relevant experience that each lawyer working on your case has

Responsive Law has been active in urging the legal profession to make its system of regulation consistent with a 21st-century internet-based economy that includes a wide variety of consumer choices. As the lone consumer voice before the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Ethics 20/20 Commission, which is considering changes to lawyer regulation, Responsive Law has urged the ABA to allow non-lawyers to own and run law practices, which would allow existing businesses to come up with innovative ways to provide everyday legal services that would cost consumers less. (Responsive Law’s advocacy on this issue was covered in the Wall Street Journal.) In addition to testifying to the New Jersey Supreme Court to amend rules that require lawyers to have bricks-and-mortar offices, Responsive Law has been vocal in numerous states in support of “unbundled” legal services, where lawyers are permitted to assist on relevant, specific areas of a entire legal matters without being required to provide costly full-service representation.

In all of these areas, Responsive Law is working to make a wide range of legal services available to meet the continuum of legal needs of self-represented litigants looking for a more friendly court system, small business owners who want a more integrated system of self-help forms and lawyer assistance, and individuals who would opt for the services of a lawyer if it were more affordable.

To learn more about Responsive Law, click here.