Demand for civil legal representation remains high, but many low-income and rural Americans are unable to find a local attorney who can help. This means that millions of people residing in “legal deserts” are unable to enforce their rights. Statistics show that the percentage of attorneys who are hired by individuals, as opposed to businesses, has dropped sharply. However, technology and industry reforms could remove some of the barriers that stand between potential clients and the lawyers who want to serve them.
In its report on the “justice gap,” that exists in the United States, the Legal Services Corporation estimated that 71 percent of low-income Americans face a legal challenge in a given year. Whether the particular concern relates to a family law matter, eviction proceeding, incidence of domestic violence, or something else, consumers and attorneys might be able to overcome the legal desert phenomenon by doing the following:
- Utilizing technology — Situations that require an attorney are often very personal, which is why a lot of prospects seek legal counsel from acquaintances or through references from someone they know. But what happens when individuals don’t have a friend in the business and there’s no brick-and-mortar attorney’s office nearby? Online engagement might be the only way to make a connection. Firms should make an effort not only to market to their town, but also to underserved communities where they can make occasional visits. Likewise, someone with a law-related concern can ask a question online and get an answer from an attorney willing to help. Legal directory websites and social media outreach simplify this process.
- Exploring different fee structures — When asked why people are not calling attorneys when they have legal needs, many people would likely cite high fees. Changes in the legal industry enable firms to work with less overhead and many have moved beyond the traditional hourly fee structure. Unbundled services, flat-fee arrangements and hard caps are part of the shift toward value-based billing.
- Reforming outdated rules — Even in states with large attorney populations, such as California, there are areas that don’t have enough lawyers to meet local needs. Bar admission is handled on a state-by-state basis, and in many cases, rules governing legal practice were designed to limit competition. It might be time to rethink these standards to increase remote representation and allow lawyers from nearby states to help fill the justice gap.
If you’re stuck in a legal desert or seek to help prospects escape from one, Martindale-Avvo offers a series of marketing solutions tailored to your particular needs.