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    Wisconsin Lawyer September 1997: The Maryland Experiment

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    Vol. 70, No. 9, September 1997

    The Maryland Experiment

    To date, one formal study of unbundling exists in the legal literature. Michael Millemann, director of the Clinical Law Program at the University of Maryland, and 34 of his law students conducted an experiment to find out if unbundling helped poor and moderate-income clients obtain better access to justice.

    "Unbundling is a complex issue," Millemann notes, "but I think our study documents that in many instances, depending on the qualities of the pro se litigants and the nature and complexity of the claims, the assisted pro se approach can be very successful."

    During the 17-month experiment, the students provided basic legal information and advice to about 4,400 people who were representing themselves in domestic cases. The students performed various functions: helping people identify their legal problems; analyzing their claims and defenses; explaining how to plead using a simplified checklist form; explaining service of process rules and rules of procedures; and referring people to a private attorney or, if appropriate, a pro bono attorney, or to a social service agency or mediator.

    Interestingly, before seeing the students, 60 percent of the clients already had sought help from an attorney, but had been dissatisfied. "The biggest obstacle to access to justice for a lot of these folks was not that they couldn't afford to pay something," Millemann explains, "but that the lawyer wasn't offering them a reduced service model. Maybe the client had $3,000 but not $10,000. In many cases, if the attorney had identified the core functions that had to be done to resolve the case, the client could have afforded to pay. And the attorney would have made a better living."

    Another key finding of the study highlighted the critical importance of the initial diagnostic interview. "One objection [to unbundling] is that you're going to miss issues, and you're not going to be able to identify the real issues in a case," Millemann says. "That is a danger. But the way to guard against it is to spend a fair amount of time in a careful diagnostic intake interview. That's the critical piece: the identification of the level of service that's necessary."

    Satisfaction with unbundled services ran high among the experiment's clients. They were sorted into groups according to the stage of their cases and asked to complete an evaluation. On a 10-point scale, clients' ratings ranged from 8.1 to 8.8.

    "Lawyers can provide high quality with reduced service," Millemann says. "This doesn't have to be schlock lawyering. I think the real problem is that it's a new idea that contradicts a lot of our legal history, and therefore it's going to take time for people to understand and accept it."

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