Herrera, instead, sees technology as enabling a new viability for the community-law-office model—a way to bring down overheard and allow the middle-class model pioneered by Jacoby & Meyers and Hyatt Legal Services in the 1970s and 1980s to return to dominance. She points out a service called DirectLaw, founded by Richard Granat, which allows smaller firms to integrate technological innovations onto their personal firm websites. “They provide the infrastructure to be able to compete with LegalZoom,” she says.
Even so, the scale problems of brick-and-mortar are formidable. Like a face-to-face LegalZoom, Community Lawyers charges below-market rates for document assistance, but demand overwhelms supply: “There’s a lot more need than there are resources,” Herrera explains, “so we’re only helping a fraction of people who need help.”
Despite Herrera’s critiques, her and Moore’s similarities come across as greater than their differences. Both are looking to increase access to lawyers, and both are ultimately endorsing a model that relies on healthy doses of both technology and client effort.
Community Lawyers, for example, is very much a “collaboration,” as Herrera puts it, between the organization and its clients: “we bring in attorneys who provide pro bono consultations, but the consumer of legal services goes and files the documents—we don’t do any of that,” she explains.
“I think that’s what limited-scope representation is about,” she continues, citing Sue Talia, a family law specialist and expert on limited-scope legal representation. “Talia writes about the ability to form a partnership with the client, and that the attorney and the client have to have a conversation about what you can do, what can’t you do—‘If you only have a thousand bucks, is it better for me to fill out the form, or is it better for me to just review it and go with you to the hearing?’”
“Full-service representation is no longer the primary model,” Herrera states plainly. “The primary model is ‘Let’s see how much lawyer we can afford.’”
Lawyer as Friend
Involving clients in their own legal help is, interestingly, less a new idea than a resurrected one. John Tobin, the longstanding executive director of New Hampshire Legal Assistance (NHLA), recalls that the approach of enlisting the client was much discussed in the early days of legal aid, when the War on Poverty was still a heady new idea. “When legal aid first started having paralegals,” he recalls, “the notion was to have community people, not bright college students.” Thirty years ago, Tobin notes, these discussions yielded mixed results, but more recent experience is encouraging. He reports:
We have had people who helped us a lot on their own cases, and who help us on some of our bigger cases—help us organize other clients, help us understand the system, be part of the litigation team. It makes a big difference. And these days, we are asking more of our clients—we’re asking them to do more of the gathering information and pulling together evidence and getting the documents and all those things. Because we don’t have the resources.
The model certainly would have worked for Ned Henry, who did all of his own legwork anyway, coached in part by his lawyer friends.