The end of lawyers? Rethinking the nature of legal services

Access to Justice

In this influential book Richard Susskind (2008) argues that in a just society, access to justice should be extended to include legal guidance and legal health promotion - legal insight should be at everyone's fingertips.

Susskind argues that access to justice is as much about dispute avoidance as it about dispute resolution. Just as lawyers are themselves able, because of their training and experience, to recognize and avoid legal pitfalls, in a just society - one in which legal insight is an evenly distributed resource - non-lawyers would be similarly forewarned.

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Susskind starts with a model he developed in 2000 - the 'Client Service Chain'. The model proposes that the activity of obtaining legal guidance can be represented along a simple life cycle, made up of three processes. - recognition, selection and service.

Recognition is characterised by what he calls a 'blatant trigger' - an event that patently calls for formal legal input. However, he observes that clients are often by told by lawyers that they should have consulted them earlier. He uses this to illustrate how clients are often disadvantaged either because they look for legal guidance too late or because they miss altogether an opportunity to assert their entitlements.

Solving legal problems and resolving disputes is affordable, in practice only to the very rich or those who are eligible for some sort of state support. Susskind asks how society can extend the availability of legal services to those not at these poles of the financial spectrum. He suggests a combination of six building blocks. The first of these is to empower citizens, so that they can take care of some legal affairs on their own and work more productively with those who advise them.

In seeking to redefine access to justice, Susskind compares the law to health using the analogy - prevention is better than cure arguing that people would prefer a fence at the top of the cliff rather than an ambulance at the bottom.

Excerpts from the Chapter on Access to Legal Service have been reproduced in News and Views on Civil Justice Reform published by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice in the spring of 2009.

Copies of previous publications by Richard Susskind can be found on Richard Susskind's website. These include 'The Future of Law' OUP (1996) and 'Transforming the Law' OUP (2003).