Legal Services Deserts
This week in access-to-justice news, we learned about Illinois lawyers opening branch offices in legal services deserts, where there are few if any lawyers. Peoria Public Radio reports that when Bloomington, Illinois, lawyer Amelia Buragas opened a branch office in Lincoln, there was so much immediate demand that she started setting up regular office hours.
The station also cited articles by Mark Palmer, chief counsel for the Illinois Supreme Court on Commission on Professionalism, who’s been documenting “The Disappearing Rural Lawyer” in which he notes that only 10% of Illinois’ lawyers serve the 95 counties outside of the Chicago region. Palmer notes in a second article that finding a lawyer isn’t the only problem. Cost is also a factor. Palmer calls on lawyers to reassess their business models and closely evaluate the client experience. “If the law firm product is no longer marketable by default, then reevaluate the business model and deliver a new product that’s affordable and in demand,” he writes.
When disaster strikes, volunteers often pour in while the disaster is unfolding and in its immediate aftermath. But the need for legal services is long-term, extending months and years after a cleanup. On Wednesday, the Legal Services Corporation and the Louisiana Supreme Court announced the release of LSC’s Disaster Task Force report, which sets out recommendations for organizations to better prepare and coordinate with legal services providers before, during, and after a disaster. The venue is New Orleans which is recognizing the 15th anniversary of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. [The only time I’ve been to New Orleans was right after Katrina when the city was still under National Guard watch and the lights were off almost everywhere except the struggling French Quarter. See After Katrina, ABA Journal]
The Florida Supreme Court is set to hear arguments this week about whether the app TIKD (which helps Floridians dispute parking tickets by matching them with lawyers for a flat fee) and its founder have run afoul of lawyer regulations that prohibit the unauthorized practice of law. TIKD is one of many such apps, but a Florida law firm that handles tickets and presumably charges much more filed a bar complaint about TIKD in Florida. Notably, in this case, a circuit judge appointed to be a referee in the case has recommended that the state’s high court dismiss the bar complaint, according to Bloomberg Law.
“The fact that TIKD, rather than the customer, pays the attorney does not convert TIKD’s services into the practice of law. It is permissible for a third party to pay an attorney on behalf of a client, if the relationship is disclosed,” the referee, Judge Teresa Pooler, determined.
Pro Bono Partners on the Rise
Citing a new report from the Pro Bono Institute and DLA Piper, Law360 reports that the role of pro bono partner is at an all-time high. The pro bono partner role was created in the 1980s and is now firmly established in U.S. law firms and is a formal position in 66 international firms. The article notes that the position is an indication that the firm highly values pro bono and is willing to fully fund a partner-level position with greater authority to coordinate pro bono projects.
Anonymous Funding for Women’s Prison Project
An anonymous donor gifted $2 million to Tulane Law’s Women’s Prisoner Project, which provides legal services to women caught up in the criminal justice system when they strike back against their abusers.