Tuesday, April 26, 2011

What About the Middle Class and Access to Justice?

     This is McKinley Law Online's (MLO) first blog, so I wanted to give you a brief history of how I got here and why McKinley Law Online was formed. Future posts will be more informative regarding specific legal services provided by MLO and why those services are important to you.
     I remember reviewing bills at my old law firm and asking myself “How in the world can an average person afford to pay this much in legal fees?” I realized that if it were me, I couldn’t afford myself. After some research and discussing the matter with colleagues, family and friends, I came to the conclusion that the group with the most difficult hurdles to overcome when needing to access our judicial system is the middle class.

     For example, the low income have access to legal aid programs and indigent criminal defense via court appointed attorneys and public defenders. I don't want to imply these services give those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy a level playing field in our judicial system. These programs are many times understaffed and underfunded. The wealthy and big corporations are able to repeatedly engage the legal system, can afford the best law firms and, most importantly, can afford to lose.

     The middle class, unfortunately, is between the perpetual “rock and a hard place”. The average person cannot afford to hire an attorney at hundreds of dollars per hour or pay exorbitant legal fees for services without making significant sacrifices. More importantly, they can’t afford the downside risk of losing a protracted legal fight. The  L.A. Times has reported "An estimated 60% of Americans find themselves in the gap between those poor enough to qualify for publicly funded Legal Aid and those wealthy enough to afford an uptown lawyer."

     As a direct result, “Legal Self Help” and “Document Preparation” services are popping up online and in the community.  However they are not providers of legal advice. If people cannot find a person to turn to for counsel, then they are alone with their problems. In the end, the individual is responsible for his or her own actions and choices.

     I believe providing cost-effective, quality, and efficient legal services by using the latest online technology will make attorneys more affordable to more people resulting in greater access to legal services. This is what a new breed of lawyers and law firms like McKinley Law Online are doing. It is a logical extension of the continuing trend of consumers using the Internet to shop, bank, pay credit cards and taxes, and transact other business. The purpose of MLO is to provide professional, prompt, and courteous legal counsel to the client at an economical and reasonable price. Quality legal services should be available to all citizens regardless of their income levels.


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