The summer season is in full swing and many are traveling around the country. Unfortunately, legal issues crop up at any time, particularly with respect to traffic incidents, including accidents. As we know, the practice of law is state-by-state for most matters, which places true access to justice at odds with client needs as they move around either for pleasure or business. I would like to explore the notion of legal portability as part of access to justice in the United States.
While traveling, if we fall ill or have an accident, we can access medical services regardless of location. However, if clients receive a traffic ticket or have a car accident while driving across the country, they would be subject to the local state traffic laws. In other words, their hometown attorney, if they have one, likely cannot help with the ticket or worse, any claims to do with accidents. Our research shows that police issue more than 41 million traffic tickets a year so the likelihood of needing out of state help, just in that area is high. Most people vacation out-of-state a few weeks of the year but there are millions of snowbirds in the US that flock to the southern states to spend months away from home. Therefore, the need to access a wide variety of legal services in foreign states is a reality for a large number of Americans.
Legal portability is the ability to access legal help, regardless of location. To start, even within the home area, legal needs can be diverse: including immigration, tenant-landlord issues, family law, criminal (traffic), and civil matters. Again, like medical specialists for different ailments, clients need a network of lawyers that deal with these various matters and sometimes cannot afford a full-service law firm. However, most prepaid legal plans (PLP) provide affordable access to a full range of legal services but that might be limited to a client’s home state.
I have written previously about group or group PLPs here and the need for technology to support these offerings. Here, to provide geographic diversity or legal portability, there must also be an automatic connection between clients and the appropriate type of attorneys across the country. In other words, the PLPs need to do the matching of the client to the attorney or firm, rather than just provide a list of lawyers. The latter is necessary because first, clients do not always understand the precise type of attorney required to solve their legal issue. Second, clients are not well equipped to review attorney listings, particularly if it’s their first time hiring a lawyer. Finally, clients who are away from home, likely need an attorney in a hurry.
Most people never leave home without a phone and would not think of going on an extended trip without their device. Therefore, legal portability solutions must be mobile responsive at a minimum and should also offer a mobile application that is more than a long listing of lawyers with a variety of specialties. Clients need solutions that are simple and affordable, and ultimately accessible from anywhere, including abroad.