Thursday, November 1, 2007

Access to Justice Commission Proposes Role for Non-Lawyers as Advocates in Court

This just in from the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, concerning a well-intentioned, but not so well-reasoned or articulated, proposal for permitting the use of non-lawyers as advocates in certain civil cases, including domestic violence/restraining order cases: 'Access' panel favors use of non-lawyers in some civil cases ('Access' panel favors use of non-lawyers in some civil cases; Bar leaders voice skepticism) By Barbara Rabinovitz, Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, October 30, 2007

There are a number of good points made in the report, but I think many of the actual proposals are either not clearly articulated, or otherwise are unworkable or unwise. But read the report and decide for yourself. The full report of the Access to Justice Commission is available on the Boston Bar Association's website:

"A statewide commission that has been examining barriers to access to justice in Massachusetts has recommended that trained non-lawyers be allowed to speak in court on behalf of low-income parties embroiled in certain civil matters — a recommendation that has ignited renewed debate over the use of lay advocates.

The 21-member commission, chaired by former Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Herbert P. Wilkins, spent much of 2006 and this year conducting public hearings in Boston, New Bedford, Lawrence and Springfield and compiling a 47-page report for submission to the SJC.

The panel was charged by the court with suggesting ways for making legal assistance more readily available to poor people caught up in civil cases involving such issues as evictions and domestic violence. High on the panel's list of suggestions is permission for the use of non-lawyers in some court settings ....

Wilkins told Lawyers Weekly that the proposal dealing with non-lawyers is 'not talking about a general permission' for them. 'We're talking where a person is indigent, and no lawyer will take the matter.' ....

But Boston Bar Association President Anthony M. Doniger voiced reservations. 'The fundamental issue is that one of the great virtues of having lawyers do things is that lawyers are a regulated profession and there are standards they have to follow,' he said. 'As soon as you're talking non-lawyers, it's not at all clear what the quality control will be, what the training will be, who's in charge'.... "

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