The New Zealand Legal Services Mapping Project: Finding Free and Low-Cost Legal Services Pilot Report
Stewart, Kayla; Toy-Cronin, Bridgette
Most lawyers charge on an hourly basis and the average charge-out rate in 2016 was $292.70 (excluding GST and disbursements). This puts private lawyers out of reach for many New Zealanders whose median weekly earnings in 2017 were $959. If you found yourself involved in a civil legal dispute, but did not have enough to pay for a lawyer, could you get free or low-cost legal assistance? Piloting a method known as “mapping”, the report is an inventory of legal services in Auckland and Otago (the pilot regions), allowing identification of gaps in service provision. The report also discusses the results of an audit of registered civil legal aid providers to identify whether they were offering civil legal aid services, and if so, how much of their workload involved providing these services. The report discusses the legal aid eligibility criteria, currently set at $23,326.00 p.a. for an individual with no dependents. It also discusses the fact that only natural persons qualify for legal aid, so people running a small incorporated business will not be able to access legal aid for business disputes. For those eligible for legal aid, the report identifies further challenges to accessing legal aid: 1. Being deterred from taking up legal aid assistance because it is granted as a loan with the imposition of a user charge, interim repayments, interest, and sometimes a security taken over assets. 2. Finding a lawyer who will take their case. The number of registered civil legal aid lawyers is known to have decreased by 54 per cent between 2011 and 2016 and there are currently 150 registered providers in Auckland and 20 in Otago. The audit suggests that approximately one third of these registered lawyers are not currently providing services to civil legal aid clients. The number of available legal aid lawyers is therefore very limited. 3. Finding a local and/or specialist legal aid lawyer. Legal aid lawyers are not evenly distributed geographically, so people out of central city locations may find it difficult to access a lawyer. There is a very small pool of legal aid lawyers who can provide assistance in specialised civil areas, for example intellectual property, the example used in the report. For those who are ineligible for legal aid or cannot overcome the other barriers to accessing legal aid, there are a limited number of community organisations providing legal information, education, and advice. These organisations are constrained by limited resources and rarely provide representation. Some organisations set income-tested eligibility criteria. While these criteria are less restrictive than those of legal aid, there will be a significant group who earn above the threshold amounts but who still cannot afford ongoing representation by a lawyer. Due to the limited number of free or low costs services in New Zealand, a national database of services would most helpfully be combined with a user-friendly hub for self-help legal information resources. It would be helpful to have further detail about what private legal service providers are offering to low or middle-income clients who cannot afford full private fees, including: 1. Why some legal aid providers are no longer offering civil legal aid services or are only doing so on a very limited basis; 2. The scope, availability, and accessibility of pro bono legal services, which several lawyers mentioned as being a source of free or low-cost legal services; 3. The type of fee arrangements or discount arrangements that lawyers are offering and for which categories of clients. These questions will be explored in the next phase of this study.
Series: Civil Justice Insight Series
Research Type: Project Report