Summer 2014

Innovating to Improve Access: Changing the Way Courts Regulate Legal Markets

Gillian K. Hadfield

Struggling to navigate a world that is increasingly shaped by legal rules and obligations, most ordinary Americans lack real access to courts. Often this means simply forgoing legal rights and entitlements or giving up in the face of claims of wrongdoing. Among those who cannot avoid courts—such as those facing eviction, collection, or foreclosure and those seeking child support, custodial access, or protection from violence or harassment—the vast majority (as many as 99 percent in some cases) find themselves in court without any legal assistance at all. There are many reasons for this lack of meaningful access, including the underfunding of courts and legal aid, but perhaps the most fundamental is the excessively restrictive American approach to regulating legal markets. This regulation, controlled by the American legal profession and judiciary, closes off the potential for significant reductions in the cost of, and hence increases in access to, courts. Unlike the problem of funding, that is a problem that state courts have the power, if they can find the judicial will, to change.

GILLIAN K. HADFIELD is the Richard L. and Antoinette Schamoi Kirtland Professor of Law and Professor of Economics at the University of Southern California. Her publications include recent articles in such journals as Law & Ethics of Human Rights, Journal of Legal Analysis, Journal of Law and Courts, and International Review of Law and Economics. Her latest book project is Law for a Flat World: Reinventing Legal Infrastructure for the New Economy(forthcoming, Oxford University Press).

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