“The vast majority of those who qualify for legal aid, don’t get legal services because there aren’t enough legal aid lawyers to go around,” it says below the video. Well, it’s unlikely that any would argue that there are enough legal aid lawyers to go around, though there are certainly more than enough lawyers without much to do. But to make them into legal aid lawyers, it takes money to pay them. So where’s the money?
There is a perception that low-income people have ways through legal aid channels to get the legal services they need. But John Mayer learned that, “Eighty percent of people eligible for legal aid are unable to get in the door. There aren’t enough legal aid lawyers in the world.”
So he and his Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction have developed A2J Author, a software program that helps lawyers, not programmers, help indigent litigants get started on their cases pro se.
Huh? Where does this 80% come from? Someone “learned that”? Is this another snake oil salesman hoping to toss out nonsensical unsourced numbers in the hope that no lawyer with half a brain will notice? Not quite. This is another flag bearer of the ABA Journal, John Mayer, Legal Rebel.
According to the video, produced on the dime of no more (or less) a credible source than Thomson Reuters, Mayer has “pioneered a new way to make up for the lack of legal aid lawyers.” What’s the solution? Forms.
Taking a crazy leap here, he’s not talking about representation of criminal defendants, but about civil legal aid. The only problem is that there is no universal right to a free lawyer in civil proceedings, no civil Gideon. It might have been helpful, honest, had Mayer mentioned what he was talking about, so we can be sure this is what he means. If he’s talking about indigent representation in criminal prosecutions, then it’s a whole ‘nother level of wrong. But let’s assume he’s not that insane.
Forms. That’s lawyering? Did someone suggest to Mayer that the primary function of lawyers is to fill out forms, and if we fill out the correct form the right way, that’s all there is to it?
There are, of course, forms involved in lawyering. By forms, I assume he means ministerial work, applications and pro forma forms, like the one to apply for an index number or a general release. But then, he says there are many forms, thousands, tens of thousands, of forms, which gives rise to the assumption that either he knows about forms with which the legal world is entirely unfamiliar, or he’s not talking about forms at all.
Does he mean motions? Does he mean affidavits in support of motions, or memoranda of law? Those aren’t forms. Whoever told Mayer they were should be shot. Sure, they’re in writing, but not all writings are forms. Forms are the fill in the blank things that any reasonably sentient person can complete. The other writings are argument, analysis, support, put on paper with the use of letters and a whole lot of thought. Is that what he’s talking about?
Back to the 80%, who Mayer asserts are “eligible for legal aid” though there is no such thing since there is no universal civil legal aid and therefore no “eligibility” for something that doesn’t exist. While the forms are supposedly meant for legal aid lawyers, Mayer leaps the gap and says these forms will end the frustration of pro se litigants by giving them “turbo tax” that will apply to “hundreds of different legal situations,” and half a million people last year used his forms to “solve a legal problem.”
Yes, solve. Fill out forms and legal problems solved. That’s all there is to it, legal aid lawyers. You fill out forms and legal problems are solved. Bet you didn’t know that. And if only there were enough of you for the 80%, all their problems would be solved by your filling out forms.
But even though Mayer has now come up with the solution to the inability of 80% of the people eligible for legal aid lawyers to obtain representation, he still needs tens of thousand of forms automated. But don’t fear, as he’s come up with a solution to that as well. Law school! Get all those bored 3Ls who have nothing to do anyway and train them to automate forms!
Not only will law students provide free labor for Mayer’s form automation, but they will learn in the process how to be the Clarence Darrows of forms, which (after all) is the way to solve legal problems. On the flip side, certainly anything produced by law students will solve the legal problems of the poor, because they’re law students and as everyone knows, anything prepared by law students has to be good.
In his favor, John Mayer lacks the panache of our last Legal Rebel, Renee Knake, but he more than makes up for it with his having personally overcome the monumental gap between the legal needs of the rich and poor by law student created forms.
And he looks pretty cool in his Legal Rebel jump suit, too, though I preferred him doing Queen of California. If I were the ABA Journal, that’s the video I would have used.