In 2012, the Colorado Bar Association established a Modest Means Task Force to investigate the lack of access modest income families have to professional legal services. The task force produced a report highlighting the statistics and information they collected. Here are some highlights of their report.
- In the current legal environment, moderate income people cannot afford lawyers. This environment results in a large number of self-represented litigants in the Colorado court system, as well as in individuals using the Internet as their sole legal resource.
- In 2012, 58,000 civil cases were filed in Colorado courts in which a lawyer never entered an appearance. In domestic relations cases, 61% (21,441 of the 34,897 filed) did not have any representation by a lawyer at any time during the case.
- The major reason moderate income people are self-represented is that they believe they cannot afford a lawyer.
- The vast majority of self-represented people find the legal system confusing, complex, and frustrating, and would prefer the legal assistance of a lawyer.
- A series of recent New York Times articles by Ethan Bronner focused on the unaffordability of lawyers for low-income and middle-income Americans. Highlighting the fiftieth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright (those accused of a crime have a constitutional right to a lawyer whether or not they can afford one), one article noted that civil matters, including issues like home foreclosure, job loss, spousal abuse, and parental custody, are not covered by Gideon. As a result, many Americans are without lawyers.
- Laurel A. Rigertas noted in a recent article in The Journal of the Professional Lawyer: “It is somewhat ironic that although there are an increasing number of people with unmet legal needs, there are also an increasing number of lawyers looking for work. It is a clear market distortion when there is a large demand and a large supply that cannot meet up because the rates that lawyers charge (frequently to meet their law school debt) are unaffordable to those who need the services.”
- According to Rigertas, “For low and middle income Americans, the cost of obtaining legal assistance in the marketplace has become increasingly prohibitive.” She noted that nationally, household income has decreased 5% since 1999. While income has gone down, lawyers’ average billing rates increased 7.7% in 2007 from the previous year, 4.3% in 2008, and 2.5% in 2009.
At Oliver Law, LLC we are dedicated to putting families first. We understand that not everyone can afford to pay for traditional legal services. Our goal is to provide low and moderate-income clients with an economic alternative to the old-fashioned system of high hourly rates and unrealistic retainer costs.
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