Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

Consumer Centric Design: The Key to 100% Access

Academic journal article The Journal of Law in Society

Consumer Centric Design: The Key to 100% Access

Article excerpt

Table of Contents   I. Introduction  II. Consumer Centric Design: Consensus for Coordination III. Four Consumer Centric Pressure Points       A. Self-Help Service Centers: The Essential Foundation           1. Court Based Self-Help               a. Supervised by an Experienced Attorney               b. Managed by a Director with a Recognized Leadership                   Role Within the Court Administration               c. Actively Engaged with the Development of Forms and                   Technology               d. Designed for Remote Access           2. Independent Nonprofit-Supported Self-Help Services           3. Legal Aid-Supported Self-Help Services           4. The Power of Collaboration: Michigan--A Case Study       B. Making Necessary Connections: Legal and Non-Legal          Providers           1. Self-Help Service Centers as the Pipeline to Legal              Representation           2. Making the Self-Help Center--Unbundled Connection:               Alaska--A Case Study           3. Integrating Non-Legal Referral & Collaboration                Networks       C. Simplification: Looking to Self-Help Centers for Ideas       D. Minding the Digital Divide  IV. Conclusion 


According to Richard Susskind, one of the world's leading legal futurists, access to justice is the greatest problem in Western democracies because most people cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to assist them with legal problems. (3) Susskind also suggests that to address this problem, revamping the way we have always provided legal services will not work in the future, and that we must find innovative new ways that increase efficiencies, liberalize who can provide legal help, and maximize new technologies. (4)

The authors agree. Like many others who have worked on improving access to justice for those in need, we have spent a good share of our careers trying to sustain or tweak the current system so it can provide help to more low-income people. That system was built on the idea that all or most client needs must be handled by lawyers, mainly in nonprofit agencies dependent on grant funding, but there has never been sufficient funding to add enough public interest lawyers in nonprofit civil legal aid agencies to provide such services to all clients who need them. In fact, 80% of the civil legal needs of the poor go unmet each year. In Michigan, for example, there is one lawyer for about every 300 persons in the general population but only one legal aid lawyer for every 13,000 eligible poor persons. (5) Similar to national data, (6) Michigan legal aid agencies turn away half of those who seek their help due to lack of resources to assist them. (7)

These authors, like many in the justice sector, believe this is a unique time and that, through the integration of key innovations, we will move towards 100% access, which we define as a system in which we can provide some form of effective legal assistance to all people facing civil legal issues. However, these innovations will only be successful if they offer a consumer-centric approach in which consumers can be efficiently and effectively directed to the type and level of help they need. This article focuses on consumer-centric design through maximizing the following four areas:

* self-help services,

* building connections with providers,

* simplification, and

* minding the digital divide.

The authors also hope that exploring the key aspects of these areas will lend a perspective on how consumer-concentric design can maximize many emerging developments such as non-lawyer practice, enhanced unbundled legal services, Alternate Dispute Resolution (ADR) and online dispute resolution (ODR), remote legal services, and other innovations that give promise to a robust and integrated justice system. (8)


The distinguishing characteristic of the current access to justice environment is the growing consensus that the delivery innovations of the bar, legal aid, and the courts must be coordinated to offer an integrated system capable of differentiating services for people with legal issues. …

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