I have been thinking about the barriers to meaningful access to legal services in South Africa for quite some time now. This issue was constantly on my mind while I was at my former employer because I could see how fees charged by large firms mean that smaller businesses and individuals who are not wealthy battle to afford the kinds of services you expect to receive at a large and prestigious firm (of course it is highly debatable whether the size of a firm is an accurate measure of the quality of services you receive) simply have to take what they can get.
To add to the costs barrier, our court procedures are complex and the law is involved and not easily ascertainable by lay persons. In many ways, lawyers remain gatekeepers to legal knowledge. It is, after all, the basis of our business and if you go with conventional wisdom, if that knowledge were to become more accessible then why would lawyers be needed? I don’t believe that making this knowledge available renders lawyers redundant. There will be a need for lawyers for the foreseeable future simply because lawyers are required the navigate these complex processes towards a hoped for outcome. What could only be beneficial would be to place you, our clients, in a position where you understand those processes and the law as it applies to your case so you can make informed decisions, rather than simply leaving it in our hands on faith that it will be dealt with in your best interests. Patients long ago seized control of their medical treatments by insisting on being given the information needed to make truly informed decisions. Why should legal services be any different.
My bottom line is that the current model of legal services doesn’t really work for the people they are intended for, in my opinion. I believe that the Web 2.0 movement has a lot to offer the legal profession and while we already publish information on this site about some of our processes and the law on a range of topics, I aim to do more to empower visitors to this site and my clients to make informed decisions about how their legal matters are to be handled. Contracts and litigation are more and more risk management exercises and it isn’t always that clear what the best option is.
So watch this space. Please feel free to let us know how you feel you could best be empowered by dropping us a mail or giving us a call.
(Image sourced from Tickn’T’s of Central Ohio)