We can’t be satisfied with a C average (at best) on affordable legal help

No state receives higher than a ‘C’ overall on the new Report Card on Barriers to Affordable Legal Help released today by Responsive Law.

Tom Gordon, Executive Director of Responsive Law, explains more in today’s USA Today:

Imagine that at tax time you’re required to either fill out your 1040 without help or pay a CPA hundreds of dollars to do it for you. There’s no H&R Block, and while TurboTax exists, it’s under constant siege by state regulators for being an unlicensed accountant.

That’s analogous to the situation that most Americans face whenever they have a legal issue. For even simple matters, they have to either do it themselves, hire a lawyer for over $200 an hour or use software that can do the job well but which the lawyer cartel is trying to put out of business.

Responsive Law’s Report Card on Barriers to Affordable Legal Help, which will be released Thursday, grades each state on how restrictions created by lawyers make legal help expensive and inaccessible for its residents. No state received a grade above a C. The two factors most responsible for the low grades are restrictions on who can provide legal services and restrictions on the corporate structure of law firms.

For a basic will or uncontested divorce, a consumer could be well served by a competent professional other than a lawyer. However, in most states, only lawyers are allowed to provide these services. State bars have used vaguely worded restrictions on the “unauthorized practice of law” to bring legal actions against everyone from major companies like LegalZoom to small mom-and-pop operations.

The worst offender in restricting competition is Florida, which received an F in the category of Barriers to Non-Lawyer Help. The Florida Bar has a $1.97 million annual budget dedicated to enforcement of unauthorized practice restrictions that it has used to pursue charges against people like Katie Vickers, a senior citizen who helped a fellow parishioner at her church with completing workers compensation forms.

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