FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 9, 2023
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
NEW BRUNSWICK – In an effort to help ensure the doors of the state’s courthouses remain open to all, the New Jersey State Bar Association is seeking to expand the use of its Legal Edge reduced fee referral tool following a success in the Morris/Sussex County vicinage. There the software helped connect hundreds of unrepresented clients with attorneys willing to work at a reduced rate.
Since the Morris-Sussex Reduced Fee Referral Program became the first organization to integrate Legal Edge software last year, more than 300 people—who otherwise would have likely represented themselves in court—were matched with counsel, according to NJSBA Trustee and past president of the Morris County Bar Association, Jennifer K. McAndrew Vuotto, who co-chairs the referral program. Though the sample size is small, Legal Edge’s online portal has been a boon in the vicinage and could serve as a blueprint for other county and affinity bar associations to match people who cannot afford traditional rates for attorneys with lawyers willing to accept reduced fees, she said.
“In the time since it launched, 300 people have had their matters handled by an attorney; 300 people have appeared before a judge with an attorney by their side rather than being self-represented, and many attorneys have received a fee for their work as a result,” NJSBA President Jeralyn L. Lawrence said.
Lawrence has reached out to bar leaders around the state touting the program as a way to expand access to justice and urging other bar groups to learn more about the program.
The NJSBA developed the software as a free alternative to for-profit online legal service providers, which are not bound by ethics rules and do not always provide direct representation to clients. The goal was to help alleviate the pressure the courts face in handling an unprecedented number of pro se litigants who are just above the threshold to qualify for free legal services. The result has benefitted all parties in the Morris and Sussex justice system, including litigants, attorneys and the courts, McAndrew Vuotto said.
Many attorneys were initially wary of the idea for Legal Edge software, fearing it would interfere with established attorney referral programs, Lawrence said in her letter to her group. But the success in Morris County proved the software can complement and expand referral programs, generate revenue, address the access to justice gap, increase attorney caseloads and thwart the encroachment of online legal services in the profession.
“We can match litigants with attorneys, allow counsel the opportunity to earn a fee and give the court the benefit of having two attorneys on a case where one party would otherwise be unrepresented. This type of program can address all of those needs,” McAndrew Vuotto said.
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NJSBA eyes the expansion of Legal Edge reduced fee referral tool in more N.J. counties, affinity bars
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Email: [email protected]