Unbundled Legal Services in New York State Litigated Matters: A Proposal to Test the Efficacy through Law School Clinics

Introduction

The lack of legal representation for New York’s poor in civil matters has reached reaching epidemic proportions. A 2004 study by the New York State Bar Association reported that each of New York’s poor households experienced an annual average of 2.37 unmet civil legal needs, which, statewide, totaled approximately 2.5 million legal problems for which no lawyer is available. For many New Yorkers, timely legal assistance could help them save, among other things, their marriages, their children, their homes, and their jobs. Sadly, this urgent need for representation is simply not being met either by our legal services, through State programs, or by the private bar. To solve this dilemma, civil justice leaders frequently call for more free legal aid and for more full pro bono representation by lawyers. However, it is unrealistic to expect any substantial changes in the abilities of our already overburdened legal service programs and lawyer volunteers to provide fullservice legal representation to the many New Yorkers who cannot afford the typical fees lawyers charge for a full-service representation. Indeed, the government will not likely increase its budget to meet the ever-increasing demand for legal services. Faced with this reality, many advocates agree that examining nontraditional models of legal representation might make the justice system available to those who cannot effectively use it now. One such alternative model to which advocates point is known as “unbundled legal services.” This article examines the use of unbundled legal services as a means to alleviate the unmet legal needs of poor New Yorkers and, specifically, its value and application in a law school clinical setting. In part I, I provide a brief overview of unbundling initiatives around the country, and I analyze the controversy surrounding the implementation-primarily in litigated matters-of unbundling in New York. In part II, I examine the value and potential of unbundling in a law school clinical setting as a means to test the efficacy of this alternative representation; and to suggest the viability of two projects in the areas of family and landlord-tenant law.

Suggested Reading