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October 15, 2015 Dialogue

Tapping into the Latent Legal Market: Guest of the Chair Q&A with Will Hornsby

With Will Hornsby

At the ABA LRIS National Workshop in New Orleans, Will Hornsby, Staff Counsel at the American Bar Association presented about the personal legal needs marketplace and, specifically, about the “latent” legal needs market. Research conducted by the American Bar Foundation has shown that people with problems that have legal solutions most often think of them outside of the legal arena. For example, a person may complain of a respiratory illness to their doctor, who learns the patient’s apartment has toxic mold that is causing the illness—a condition a lawyer can resolve with the landlord. I had the opportunity to speak with Hornsby about the latent legal market and recommended approaches for LRS programs to broaden their market:


Can you describe the latent legal market and the reasons for it?

Of course millions of people turn to the legal system each year to address their problems. But there are millions more who have a justiciable issue that can be addressed through the legal system, but choose not to. The recent American Bar Foundation research indicates that for every person who turns to the justice system for their legal matter, more than six do not. Some of these people may have come to the conclusion it is just not worth going through the process, but many others simply do not think of the issues as being “legal.” This is what Richard Susskind, author of the The End of Lawyers?, coined the latent legal market—those with a justiciable problem who do not take it to the legal system. So, we need to build into our delivery system ways in which we can partner with those who are able to help people recognize when they have a problem that has a legal solution and what they can do about that.

What stops people in the latent market, who then recognize they have a legal problem, from finding a lawyer?

The ABF research tells us that people often believe their problems are just the way things are. Some say it is God’s plan, which is a perspective that’s hard to argue with! But, it suggests that we need to partner with the faith-based community to help people understand when they should be reaching out to lawyers for help. The media tends to advance the notion that personal legal services are unaffordable, and certainly we can find examples of people confronted with high cost legal needs. The research tends to go in both directions on affordability. Nevertheless, we have to shift this narrative from cost to value. What is the value of the legal service? When people recognize there is value to a legal solution, it seems reasonable to believe they are more likely to pursue a legal remedy.

What do you see as a way to better engage the public who needs legal services in the LRIS context?

So, lawyer referral is a delivery method that is designed for those who believe they have a problem that has a legal solution, and the question becomes how we drive those in the latent legal market to the understanding that their problem is legal. As I mentioned, we need to partner with those who can drive customers to lawyer referral. There are logical partners, such as law libraries and self-help centers. Other partners may not be so obvious, such as the United Way 211 service or that faith-based community. We should also reach out to government entities that have online legal forms. We recently surveyed the websites of the state secretaries of state. All of them provide online forms to create corporations, but none of them provide direction on how to get help from a lawyer. This seems like a natural nexus with the LRS community. Legal checkups provide another opportunity to extend engagement. Like a medical checkup, people should take a legal checkup at least annually to determine if they can benefit from addressing any legal matters that have been unaddressed or unidentified. The LRS community can work with its base of lawyers to create checklists that can be used both by the program and by the individual lawyers. Taking the idea of a checkup to its extreme, what if we had a National Legal Checkup Day each year?

That’s a great idea!  What would such a checklist look like for an LRS program?

We should probably be talking about multiple checklists, or diagnostic tools, for various areas of practice, e.g. family law, estate planning, housing, entitlements. Those in various situations could go through the checkups more relevant for them. The checkups should be designed to maximize the value of possible legal services for the client. They must be client-centric, easy to distribute, and easy to use. They may be on paper or more sophisticated models may be online. The LRS community can play an important role in the diagnostic function here. While most people who have worked with a lawyer trust that lawyer, most people who have not distrust lawyers in general. The image of a referral service as a trusted resource is one that should result in people having a greater trust in a legal checkup administered by a referral service.

For third party referrals, what are your recommendations for how to educate those third parties about the LRS program in the community?

There is a small non-profit organization in Minnesota called, “Call for Justice” that works with intermediaries such as the United Way 211 call center and social workers in the area to train them to recognize when a person has a problem with a legal solution. They use seminars and online videos for their outreach. Unfortunately, it is labor intensive and probably varies somewhat from one intermediary to another. Nevertheless, the payoff in terms of generating clients can be substantial. What seems important to me is the unique position of the lawyer referral services. Intermediaries need to understand, to the extent they don’t already do, that lawyer referral services are public services. They are for the most part non-profit. They are client-centric and they are the best positioned resource to help people once they understand they have a problem with a legal solution.

Will Hornsby

Staff Counsel, American Bar Association

Will Hornsby has served as Staff Counsel at the American Bar Association for more than 25 years and supports the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, the Legal Access Job Corps Task Force, and the Commission on the Future of Legal Services. He was a guest speaker at the LRIS National Workshop this year in New Orleans.