retiring iowa chief justice praised for access efforts

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Chief Justice Louis Lavorato of the Iowa Supreme Court retired last week, amidst praise for his accomplishments improving the administration of justice (which won him the 2006 Herbert Harley Award of the American Judicature Society).   An editorial Saturday in the Des Moines Register stated “Most important, though, Lavorato has been a strong advocate for equal access to justice, independent courts and high ethical standards. Lavorato’s successors should never waver on those principles despite ongoing financial stresses and new tests that are sure to arise.” (“Passion for Justice: Honor Lavorato’s legacy by upholding his commitment to equal access under law,” Sept. 30, 2006)

 The Des Moines Business Record quotes Justice Lavorato, who had to retire Friday on his 72nd birthday, (“To uphold the rule of law . . ,” Oct. 1, 2006), linking the pro se litigation issue with unbundling: 

Another issue that Iowa’s courts face is an “explosion” of pro se litigation – people choosing to represent themselves in court without a lawyer — in many instances because they can’t afford an attorney, Lavorato said.“This isn’t unique to Iowa,” [Lavorato] said. “It’s a challenge in every state of the Union, and I think states are trying to do their best to facilitate this.” One way in which Iowa is addressing it has been to institute a rule allowing “unbundled” legal services, which permits lawyers to represent clients on selected aspects of a case. Before that rule, lawyers were ethically bound to represent a client throughout the entire legal process.“As an example, in a divorce case, an attorney may now prepare a petition for divorce and file it, and the client can represent themselves from that point on,” Lavorato said. “That’s a big change, a big change.”  

ScalesRichPoor At a time when many lawyers are still unreasonably reluctant to engage openly in discrete-task lawyering (see ethicalEsq‘s posting No Need for Unbundlephobia), it’s great to see a respected jurist praise unbundling.  There is still much to be done to get out the message that unbundling holds advantages for both lawyer and client, and can be practiced without running afoul of ethics rules or malpractice liability.  But, the tide is turning (e.g., the recent Arizona Bar ethics opinion on limited scope representation [#06-03, July 2006], which approved a lawyer, in appropriate situations, limiting services to ghostwriting a pleading, coaching the client, or appearing at a deposition — so long as the lawyer “direct[s] the client to be truthful and candid in the client’s activities”).  

Praise for Justice Lavorato’s efforts at improving access to justice, made me curious about direct Self-Help efforts in Iowa.   However, despite the Iowa Judicial  Branch being chosen as a Justice Served Top 10 Judicial Website for 2006, I’m sorry to say that the Self-Help section of the court’s site is very thin.   For example, the divorce page discourages self-representation and states that Iowa has no “do-it-yourself” divorce forms.  Let’s hope that Iowa’s new Chief Justice Marsha K. Ternuswho has been serving as the judicial branch representative on the IOWAccess Advisory Council, embraces self-help assistance as an important responsibility of the state judiciary.   That would be a great way to honor Justice Lavorato’s legacy.

p.s.  Thanks to Stephen at Patent Baristas for including shlep today in Blawg Review #77, and to Rick Georges of Future Lawyer for welcoming our new weblog, and noting that he applauds the trend toward unbundling, explaining:

“Many of the smaller legal problems I am asked to handle nowadays would benefit from unbundling some legal functions. I often handle small problems pro bono, because the use of the Internet and computers makes me more productive, and less time need be taken; however, sharing the burden with a motivated client would enable me and others to do more. Many small problems filter down to solo practitioners, for many reasons, not the least of which is the lower overhead of the small firm.”

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