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The ARDCís Study of Client Lawyer Matching Services:
A Call for Comments

By: Jerry Larkin, ARDC Administrator

May 25, 2018

The ARDC invites you to review and to provide comment on its study of client lawyer matching services, available at www.iardc.org.
The study cites documented access to justice challenges in our state and in our nation.  Two key excerpts demonstrate that:

  • Three-fourths of the civil legal needs of the poor and up three-fifths of the needs of middle-income remain unmet. Issue Paper Concerning New Categories, at page 15, American Bar Association Commission on the Future of Legal Service Providers (Oct. 16, 2015); and
  • The majority of moderate-income individuals do not receive needed legal help.

 

Researchers have identified causes of this untapped legal market. Individuals may not hire a lawyer because they do not think of their problems as ones that would benefit from affordable legal solutions. 46% of people were likely to address their problems themselves, 16% did nothing, another 16% received help from a family member or friend, and only 15% sought formal help. Rebecca L. Sandefuer, Accessing Justice in Contemporary USA: Findings from the Community Needs and Services Study, American Bar Foundation, at 12 (Aug. 8, 2014).
The access issue affects the administration of justice in Illinois. In 2015, 93 of the 102 Illinois counties reported that more than half of their civil cases had at least one self-represented litigant. Advancing Access to Justice in Illinois: 2017-2020 Strategic Plan, Illinois Supreme Court Commission on Access to Justice, at 1 (May 2017). The vast majority of self-represented litigants are not self-represented by choice; although they would prefer to have legal representation, they were either unable to afford it or unable to find an attorney (Id. at 15.)

This access issue persists even though many lawyers, especially recent law graduates, are unemployed or under-employed.  In fact, a New York Times report showed that 43% of all 2013 law school graduates did not have long-term full-time legal jobs nine months after graduation. Editorial Board, The Law School Debt Crisis, The N.Y. Times (Oct. 24 2015), available at https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/25/opinion/sunday/the-law-school-debt-crisis.html?_r=1.

The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services has recommended that the legal profession “should support the goal of providing some form of effective assistance for essential civil legal needs to all persons otherwise unable to afford a lawyer.” Moreover, “[c]ourts should examine, and if they deem appropriate and beneficial to providing greater access to competent legal services, adopt rules and procedures for judicially-authorized-and-regulated legal service providers.” Commission on the Future of Legal Services, Report on the Future of Legal Services, at 6 (2016).

The ARDC study includes a framework to regulate entities that would connect clients and lawyers, while preserving lawyer independence and other core values of the profession. The approach could encompass bar association referral services and other entities that bring together clients and lawyers. Matching service providers could be required to demonstrate their legitimacy by registering with the ARDC and could be subject to regulation carried out under the administrative authority of the ARDC. A portion of resulting registration fees could be remitted to access to justice programs. 

The approach could help to alleviate access to justice issues by bringing together prospective clients and lawyers. Consumers instinctively search the web for solutions, often settling on “do it yourself” options. Online matching services have demonstrated capacity to show prospective clients the need for legal services and the availability of counsel to provide that legal service affordably.

Regulation would eliminate ambiguity regarding whether a lawyer would be permitted to undertake representation of a client from a registered matching service. Regulation could also reduce concern for antitrust and constitutional challenges under the current regulatory approach. 

The framework under discussion does not contemplate authorization of alternate business structures (ABSs) for the practice of law. The United Kingdom permits ABSs, which allow for non-lawyer ownership of entities that provide legal services to clients. Rather, the framework would guard the independence of lawyers. The regulation would not alter the requirement that only lawyers and law firms are allowed to deliver legal services.

The ARDC recognizes that the decision whether to allow client lawyer matching services requires examination of competing core values of the profession. The obstacles consumers encounter in seeking lawyers to solve challenging legal problems and the under-employment of lawyers are among the circumstances warranting our attention and discussion.

The ARDC seeks your comment on its study. You may email comments to information@iardc.org. Comments will be welcome through at least August 31, 2018.
Thank you.