Zero Hedge ran this post last week about most Americans not being able to afford lawyers. It’s not an unusual take.
Stories like these suggest the problem is attorneys have priced themselves out of the market. I disagree. The problem is the civil justice system is not equipped to solve most people’s legal problems.
Consider this quote:
Most civil cases are usually about debt collection, landlord tenant disputes and home foreclosures. Lawyers will build their cases around litigants inexperience and inability to hire competent counsel.
Terry Lawson, a legal aid attorney in Missouri said: “These guys know they’re going to win. Their hope of hopes is that nobody will go get lawyers.”
The first paragraph is true. The second is true, but not the whole story.
As a reminder, lawyers aren’t magicians. Occasionally, an attorney can seemingly pull a rabbit out of a hat. That doesn’t make her a magician. In all likelihood, she will not repeat it in the next case.
The person looking for the lawyer in the debt collection usually owes the debt. Same for the tenant in the landlord-tenant dispute. Same for the homeowner subject to foreclosure. They are going to lose–with or without a competent attorney. So the creditor or landlord doesn’t really care whether the defendant gets a lawyer.
It’s also no surprise the consumer defendant can’t pay an attorney–no matter how much the attorney charges. If they could afford an attorney, they could pay their debt.
Lawyers want to help their clients. We crave job satisfaction and abhor feeling like we aren’t making a difference. These feelings don’t jibe with charging a client who is going to lose.
Who wants to charge a couple of thousand dollars to represent a client in a debt collection the client is going to lose anyway? How will that help the client?
In many of those disputes, the client is also on the hook for the other side’s attorney fees. Active litigation with an attorney will make those fees higher. Usually, they are better off not fighting the dispute in court.
I feel bad for people in those situations. It’s sad. But many times, a lawyer will just make a bad situation worse.
I get calls from people in these situations all the time. It’s soul sucking to hear their stories. It is the worst thing about my job. But I can’t help them regardless of whether they can pay my fee.
Want to help these people? Come up with a better system for handling these types of disputes.
The post continues:
And it’s not always about winning or losing in civil cases. Silvana Naguib, an attorney at Public Counsel, a California pro bono legal firm commented: “Lawyers can help negotiate better settlements. There’s a stark difference between the agreements signed by self-representing litigants versus what [I get] for clients.”
Ok. Want to help the problem? Fund more pro bono attorneys to advise consumer defendants. But that’s an issue for the legislative branch, not the judicial.
Lawyers didn’t create the system and are not magicians. We take way too much heat for something that’s not our fault.