Back in my lawyer days, I often asked clients, “How much justice can you afford?”
Many thought it was a joke.
The American legal system is brutally divided into the classes of those who can get legal services and those who cannot afford lawyers. Those who can afford lawyers are the wealthy, large corporations, those who have insurance to cover lawsuits, those unfortunate enough to have horrible injuries that are profitable for a plaintiff’s firm, those who have a claim that is profitable for a plaintiff’s firm and the poor who get some type of government subsidized lawyer.
The rest of America is pretty much out of luck.
The average American makes $48,000 a year. In plain English, if the average American had to hire a lawyer to protect them against a lawsuit, if they could give the lawyer their entire yearly salary, they could only afford between 75 and 200 hours of the lawyer’s time. Most Americans have trouble paying their regular bills, and lawyers spend several hundred hours on any significant lawsuit.
Earlier this year, the Federal Reserve reported that 39% of Americans could not survive an unexpected expense of $400. They may even get an hour of a lawyer’s time, if they cannot afford $400.
In American courts, you have the right to a lawyer. But you can act as your own attorney. Perhaps a few generations ago, that was a reasonable idea. But part of the problem that makes the legal system both unaffordable and unworkable for the average American, is the complexity of the legal system. The United States Code has approximately 23,000 pages in it. The Code of Federal Regulations has approximately 170,000 pages. In addition, there are thick volumes on the rules of procedure and evidence. Individual courts have “local rules” and appellate courts have their own sets of rules as well. That does not take into account state and local laws. Even top lawyers have to have their law clerks spend hours researching which laws apply to a particular case.
Every year, the number of laws, regulations and rules grows. Even lawyers can’t keep up and high powered lawyer frequently have to get their law clerks to research the rules they will have to operate under.
A pro-se litigant (one who represents himself) is a lost ball in tall weeds. Against anyone with legal training, it is suicide.
In economic terms, a license is a barrier to entry into the market. Licensing lawyers is another reason why the average American cannot afford a lawyer.
For the average American or even the average small business, a lawsuit is a bankruptcy level event. Many small businesses live in fear of the professional plaintiff who comes along and demands an extorted settlement under the threat of litigation that could bankrupt the business.
The American legal system is broken and broken beyond redemption. Burn it down and start over. The system no longer serves the average American.
It’s time to start it all over.