Get Me Some Help Here, Stat!

In a busy hospital emergency room, a triage nurse can literally mean the difference between life and death, as he or she makes the call on who needs to be seen right away, and who can wait for help.

Within the Legal Futures Initiative’s consultation, some tell us that the legal system similarly needs a good triage system “to move parties to the resources they need and to facilitate more efficient use of resources.”

Most lawyers, and law firms, likely have their own forms of triage – a system by which the firm decides who gets what file, who contributes help in the course of the file, and what issue within the file gets looked after first.

So, imagine triage as being not so much within firms, as within a bigger idea of giving the public appropriate help when needed.

Legal futures expert Richard Susskind asks a pertinent question: is court a place or a service to which people deserve equal access? Extrapolate the sense of that question to other areas, for example: is divorce necessarily a legal matter, or is it something that could be handled to better effect by alternative dispute resolution?

Where would you put this legal gatekeeper? Who decides which cases need a lawyer – and theoretically, the degree of legal knowledge required – and which could be better served by another type of professional? Or is the issue a regulatory one, with regulators deciding who is best equipped to handle certain kinds of cases – and which specialisations in law result in appropriate services to clients?

At first blush, triaging legal issues would seem to be more suited to public legal services than to corporate law – the concept of a gatekeeper is a better fit there, as is the idea of streaming clients away from lawyers to services better suited to the causes of their legal problems, where possible.

Another contributor to the Legal Futures Initiative’s consultation suggests creating a mandatory Legal Aid-type program “where students graduating from law school were trained specifically to provide legal services and could use that as their articling year – with supervision from a principal.”

In this kind of environment, students could get some bona fide legal experience under their belt in that first year, and could also get an up-close look at the way proper case triage benefits clients as well as the lawyers dealing with them.

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