Our Legal System Is Broken. How Do We Fix It?

The notion that the legal system in the United States is broken is not a new one. We’ve known that it’s been in shambles for a while. An easy way to observe this is to Google “our legal system is” and see the first suggestion (hint: it ends with “broken”). Countless articles have been written about how our legal system fails, especially for those who need it the most. Despite society’s best intentions, it is obvious that the legal system is virtually inaccessible to large swaths of the population.

The court, a “pillar of democracy” that is in theory supposedly fair and just to all, is in practice truly limited to those with a net worth in excess of $1M. In terms of both time and monetary cost, going to court is expensive regardless of whether lawyers even get involved. As a result, many people who have legitimate and justified disputes drop them once confronted with the cost, complexity and stress associated with the process.

The legal system is archaic, proving to be one of the slowest establishments to have embraced the technological revolution. However, the surrounding market is ripe for innovation. We have seen several new and innovative legal technology companies pop up over the past several years, including the advent of E-Filing and other online court services. While companies like LegalZoom and RocketLawyer focus on legal documents, such as wills, incorporation or intellectual property, few focus on more fluid areas like litigation, court-room drama and all.

In fact, litigation is a huge industry in the US and a critical piece of enforcing one’s own rights. People who, for one reason or another, cannot be represented in court effectively waive those rights. A consequence of this is that certain vulnerable groups (i.e. lower-income, non-English speaking, immigrants, minorities) tend to be taken advantage of in the courts. This tendency manifests in many ways: landlords treating their tenants unfairly without fear of recourse, predatory companies winning small claims by default because the defendant couldn’t take time off to show up, unscrupulous folk reneging on contracts they make with these vulnerable groups because they know they can get away with it.

So, with all that being said, what do we do? How can we possibly make a system that is impartial to wealth, power, race, background and so on? I believe the solution lies within the current trend of pro se (self represented) litigation in our court system. Over the past several years, self representation has been on the rise in all levels of the court system. In 1991, it was found that 88% of domestic relations cases involved at least one self-represented party. In the vein of helping more people represent themselves in court effectively, I believe the use of technology and automated systems can have a major, positive impact on access to justice within our court system. We should be providing the most reliable, most available, and most comprehensive self-help resources to everyone, especially those who need it the most. This approach not only helps people enforce their rights by creating solid legal cases, it also helps those people engage in the legal process directly, helping them understand a system that has appeared so dreadfully complex and burdensome for the past 100 years.

Once we have a legal and court system understood by a majority of people and not just a handful of wealthy, powerful people, we can finally start considering it as an actual pillar of democracy.

LegalWin is working towards a goal of making our legal system accessible to 100% of the population, I hope you’re interested in joining us for the journey. Feel free to reach out to me at spencer.simonsen@legalwin.org!

 

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