An article in the ABA Journal reports that the New Mexico Supreme Court is considering licensing legal technicians to provide civil legal services.
Los Alamos lawyer George Chandler, a member of the New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice, said, “Justice should be accessible to everybody, and lawyers are priced out of reach of as much as 80% of the population[…]. I want to improve access to justice for people who don’t qualify for legal aid and free programs but who can’t afford a regular lawyer.”
The measure is one of several ideas under consideration to address a serious shortage of lawyers in the state, where many people do not have access to the legal services they require.
The state’s supreme court has established a work group made up of lawyers (including Chandler), the state’s chief disciplinary counsel, the chair of the state board of bar examiners, educators, a representative of the state bar’s paralegal division, and a law professor who teaches in a community lawyering clinic. The group is to report on the plausibility of the idea of licensing legal technicians by January 2020. “Twenty-one percent of New Mexico’s counties have five or fewer lawyers,” the ABA article states, quoting a court press release, “and two counties have no attorneys. [….] In fiscal year 2018, 51% of new civil cases filed in district courts had at least one party without an attorney. That’s up from 36% in fiscal year 2011.”
Other states, including Washington and Utah, have already implemented measures of this nature. In addition to lawyer shortages, cost is a factor.
My view is that if we as lawyers can not address issues related to access to justice – including cost – we stand to lose the traditional exclusivity of our rights and privileges.
I invite your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the law, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.