I thought about this question as I read an advance copy of Law Professor Ben Barton’s new book Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession. The book describes how technology can help make law more accessible to middle class consumers:
Modern technology can now handle routine legal tasks like drafting incorporation papers and wills, reducing the need to hire lawyers; tort reform and other regulations on litigation have had the same effect. As in all areas of today’s economy, there are some big winners; the rest struggle to find work, or decide to leave the field altogether, which leaves fewer options for consumers who cannot afford to pay for Big Law.
It would be easy to look at these enormous challenges and see only a bleak future, but Ben Barton instead sees cause for optimism. Taking the long view, from the legal Wild West of the mid-nineteenth century to the post-lawyer bubble society of the future, he offers a close analysis of the legal market to predict how lawyerly creativity and entrepreneurialism can save the profession. In every seemingly negative development, there is an upside. The trend towards depressed wages and computerized legal work is good for middle class consumers who have not been able to afford a lawyer for years.
The book discusses how sites like Legal Zoom make law more accessible to people. At Legal Zoom, they even handle divorce, though the site mainly seems to handle those divorces that are uncontested for the low fee of $299.00 but if you have more complex questions and needs, you can get help from a lawyer for “an affordable price.” Barton noted in the book that it is not that easy for low income people to get help from Legal Aid in a divorce unless there are domestic violence issues. But face it, how many men are going to be referred to legal aid for a pro bono lawyer due to domestic violence? Very few, is the way to bet.
I wonder if technology and entrepreneurialism will help men to gain equal footing in divorce and custody proceedings as law becomes more accessible through these legal sites? Right now, men with little income have no where to turn whereas the VAWA, and legal aid through the government are more likely to help women with free legal help. Technology and some creativity may just level the playing field for men who need legal help and don’t have the means to pay a lot for it. I hope these sites continue to grow and hire the excess of lawyers who may do well serving the under-served population of men who do not have equal access under the law.