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Subj: Commission on Nonlawyer Practice
Date: 95-08-06 02:15:38 EDT
From: Rich Dunn

By Gail Appleson
Reuters

CHICAGO - A commission created by the American Bar Association released a report Saturday recommending that nonlawyers play a greater role in helping the public meet their needs in the nation's legal system.

''When adequate protections for the public are in place, nonlawyers have important roles to perform in providing the public with access to justice,'' the ABA Commission on Nonlawyer Practice concluded in its study made public during the ABA's annual meeting.

The group suggested that each state should decide whether and how to regulate nonlawyer activity. Nonlawyers include paralegals who help clients under the supervision of a lawyer and legal technicians who give advice or do legal work without such supervision.

The report has not been presented to the ABA's policy making body and so it does not reflect the view of the world's largest legal group.

Four of the 15 commissioners also released two minority reports supporting the commission's conclusions but stating they would have placed greater emphasis on the importance of protecting the public from harm that may be caused by nonlawyer activity.

The findings came after the commission heard testimony from about 400 people in 10 hearings and reviewed more than 2,000 documents.

The study found that large numbers of low and moderate income people -- some studies show as many as 70 percent -- do not hire lawyers to meet their law-related needs. Instead they go without help, represent themselves, or turn to nonprfit agencies or non-lawyers.

The commission also found that enforcement of unauthorized practice of law statutes has declined in recent decades in all but a few states.

''There are huge, astronomical needs that are not being met,'' Zona Hostetler, a Washington lawyer on the commission, told reporters.

She said there are two main reasons why people do not hire attorneys: cost and ''the fear of entanglement with lawyers.''

Hostetler said new technology has also made it easier for people to handle their own legal problems. For example in Phoenix, where courts have computerized programs to help individuals, parties in 50 percent of divorces do not hire lawyers, she said.

The commission also recommended that the bar explore new ways of providing their own services to better meet the needs of moderate income consumers.

Among suggestions were that lawyers offer limited help at reduced cost to those who want to handle their own problems and permit paralegals in their offices to provide expanded services. It also recommended that lawyers participate in more prepaid legal insurance plans.

SOURCE: Mercury Center (Keyword MERCURY)

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