"We must open our minds to innovative approaches and to leveraging technology in order to identify new models to deliver legal services. Those who seek legal assistance expect us to deliver legal services differently. It is our duty to serve the public, and it is our duty to deliver justice, not just to some, but to all."
The American public deserves accessible and affordable legal services, and the legal profession has a special obligation to advance this goal. From 2014 to 2016, the American Bar Association Commission on the Future of Legal Services examined various reasons why meaningful access to legal services remains out of reach for too many Americans. The Commission also studied traditional and evolving delivery models for legal services, scrutinized the strengths and weaknesses of the profession and justice system that impact the delivery of legal services, and developed recommendations for ensuring that the next generation of legal services more effectively meets the public’s needs.Read complete foreword
As leaders in our society, lawyers have a responsibility to uphold the rule of law. When nearly half of all young people do not believe our justice system is fair, we have fallen short of our responsibility. Lawyers must use the incredible power given them by their law license to effectuate positive change. We must keep in mind what Charles Hamilton Houston taught us, 'a lawyer is either a social engineer or a parasite on society.' We must be social engineers and change the perception of our justice system. Maintenance of the rule of law requires it.
Just because we cannot see clearly the end of the road, that is no reason for not setting out on the essential journey. On the contrary, great change dominates the world, and unless we move with change we will become its victims.
In order to ensure that the public has meaningful access to justice, the next generation of lawyers must be prepared to develop innovative approaches to the delivery of legal services. Doing so will help lawyers thrive, while ensuring that we serve the public’s interests.
Solos must embrace unprecedented and exponentially evolving technology as an opportunity rather than as an impediment to the delivery of meaningful, affordable, and quality legal services.
Lawyers lag behind other professions in transforming the delivery of our services to better meet clients' needs. It's time for aggressive, intentional, and proactive innovation.
Our law schools must provide students with tools to innovate boldly and therefore to reimagine the structures and possibilities of legal services in the new millennium.
Technology is transforming the legal profession and our world. The only constant is change, moving ever faster. We owe it to ourselves to continually innovate.
Daniel Burnham once said: ‘Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men`s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency...’ As a profession, we too must aim ‘high in hope and work’ to chart out a ‘noble, logical diagram’ to increase access to justice.
In August 2014, the Commission on the Future of Legal Services set out to improve the delivery of, and access to, legal services in the United States. The Findings and Recommendations of the two-year undertaking are contained in this Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States and are a product of the Commission’s full membership including Commissioners, special advisors, liaisons, reporters, and ABA staff. This is a consensus document that was not authored by a single individual. Rather, the Report represents the expertise and input of the entire Commission, as informed by written comments supplied by the public and the profession, testimony at public hearings and meetings, grassroots events across the country, a national summit on innovation in legal services, webinars, and dozens of presentations on the Commission’s work at which the public’s input was sought. The Commission recognizes that portions of this Report may be viewed as controversial by some or not sufficiently bold by others, but the Commission believes that significant change is needed to serve the public’s legal needs in the 21st Century.Read complete executive summary Download executive summary
- A. Despite sustained efforts to expand the public’s access to legal services, significant unmet needs persist.
- Most people living in poverty, and the majority of moderate-income individuals, do not receive the legal help they need.
- The public often does not obtain effective assistance with legal problems, either because of insufficient financial resources or a lack of knowledge about when legal problems exist that require resolution through legal representation.
- The vast number of unrepresented parties in court adversely impacts all litigants, including those who have representation.
- Many lawyers, especially recent law graduates, are un- or underemployed despite the significant unmet need for legal services.
- The traditional law practice business model constrains innovations that would provide greater access to, and enhance the delivery of, legal services.
- The legal profession’s resistance to change hinders additional innovations.
- Limited data has impeded efforts to identify and assess the most effective innovations in legal services delivery.
- B. Advancements in technology and other innovations continue to change how legal services can be accessed and delivered.
- Courts, bar associations, law schools, and lawyers are experimenting with innovative methods to assist the public in meeting their needs for legal services.
- New providers of legal services are proliferating and creating additional choices for consumers and lawyers.
- C. Public Trust and Confidence in Obtaining Justice and in Accessing Legal Services is Compromised by Bias, Discrimination, Complexity, and Lack of Resources.
- The legal profession does not yet reflect the diversity of the public, especially in positions of leadership and power.
- Bias–both conscious and unconscious–impedes fairness and justice in the legal system.
- The complexity of the justice system and the public’s lack of understanding about how it functions undermines the public’s trust and confidence.
- The criminal justice system is overwhelmed by mass incarceration and over–criminalization coupled with inadequate resources.
- Federal and state governments have not funded or supported the court system adequately, putting the rule of law at risk.
- RECOMMENDATION 1: The legal profession should support the goal of providing some form of effective assistance for essential civil legal needs to all persons otherwise unable to afford a lawyer.
- RECOMMENDATION 2: Courts should consider regulatory innovations in the area of legal services delivery.
- 2.1 Courts should consider adopting the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services.
- 2.2 Courts should examine and, if they deem appropriate and beneficial to providing greater access to competent legal services, adopt rules and procedures for judicially-authorized and-regulated legal services providers.
- 2.3 States should explore how legal services are delivered by entities that employ new technologies and internet-based platforms and then assess the benefits and risks to the public associated with those services.
- 2.4 Continued exploration of alternative business structures (ABS) will be useful, and where ABS is allowed, evidence and data regarding the risks and benefits associated with these entities should be developed and assessed.
- RECOMMENDATION 3: All members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies.
- RECOMMENDATION 4: Individuals should have regular legal checkups, and the ABA should create guidelines for lawyers, bar associations, and others who develop and administer such checkups.
- RECOMMENDATION 5: Courts should be accessible, user-centric, and welcoming to all litigants, while ensuring fairness, impartiality, and due process.
- RECOMMENDATION 6: The ABA should establish a Center for Innovation.
- RECOMMENDATION 7: The legal profession should partner with other disciplines and the public for insights about innovating the delivery of legal services.
- RECOMMENDATION 8: The legal profession should adopt methods, policies, standards, and practices to best advance diversity and inclusion.
- RECOMMENDATION 9: The criminal justice system should be reformed.
- RECOMMENDATION 10: Resources should be vastly expanded to support long-standing efforts that have proven successful in addressing the public’s unmet needs for legal services.
- RECOMMENDATION 11: Outcomes derived from any established or new models for the delivery of legal services must be measured to evaluate effectiveness in fulfilling regulatory objectives.
- RECOMMENDATION 12: The ABA and other bar associations should make the examination of the future of legal services part of their ongoing strategic long-range planning.
National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services
Stanford University School of Law
May 2-4, 2015
A “National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services,” convened in partnership with Stanford Law School, challenged more than 200 thought leaders from within and beyond the legal profession to develop action plans to ensure access to justice for all.Read more about the Summit Summit Storify
Highlights of the commission's work
Other professions have embraced technology more quickly than the legal profession. We must adapt to fulfill our mission and do so true to first principles.
It is neither easy nor comfortable to embrace innovation, but we must do so—now. As lawyers, we have so much to offer to those who need help, but millions cannot access our services. This has to change, and we must drive that change. If we want to make justice for all a reality, we need to listen to different perspectives and open ourselves to new approaches and ideas, all while following our core value of protecting the public.
Now is a time for great opportunity and excitement in the legal industry. If you have an idea for how to make the legal industry more effective or how to serve clients better, the time is ripe for becoming a leader and defining these new service offerings and business models for law. We need entrepreneurial lawyers to create new solutions for getting people legal help, new roles for JDs, and new types of interdisciplinary, user-centered legal organizations.
The National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services in May 2015 underscored the importance of looking beyond the legal profession for guidance on how lawyers can improve client service. Other disciplines are far ahead of ours in their measurement of consumer needs and in their design of user-focused solutions to meet those needs.
The future will demand our full collective resources. Law students, lawyers, judges, innovators, and legal providers of all varieties will need to work collaboratively to achieve a sustainable, relevant, and valuable legal system.
Rigorous, grounded research is essential to ensure that new — and existing — forms of service meet regulatory objectives.
We are going to have to continue this conversation because I guarantee you that many of the things we think are innovative today this time next year will already be obsolete.
The future is literally in our hands to mold as we like. But we cannot wait until tomorrow. Tomorrow is now.