The high costs of legal services often means they are not a viable option for people at the bottom of the socio-economic scale.
Unlike the predictions of commentators such as Richard Susskind, who envisioned that the market would no longer continue to tolerate exorbitant legal fees, the past decades have shown that legal services have not become cheaper. Apparently, it has been difficult for such services to reach economies of scale and scope. There are hardly any legal services firms which serve tens of thousands of clients per year, as most NGO’s and law firms are small and local. Consequently, legal costs remain high and this continues to effectively deny lower income people access to these services.
Subsidies and Legal Assistance: a step in the right direction
As these high costs are a barrier for lower income households in many countries, governments and NGO’s often try to offer assistance. Some governments, for instance, offer subsidies and NGO’s may also provide free legal assistance. However, these programs, almost inevitably, have gaps in coverage, meaning that while a small group of people may benefit, the core problem still remains.
As it has been difficult to reach economies of scale and scope, there have been attempts to scale up legal services. For instance, legal services insurance companies in some European countries now serve hundreds of thousands of clients. Another effective way of serving large numbers of people, at the same time, is by way of class actions law suits. Such initiatives could contribute to diminishing costs, thereby providing affordable and sustainable legal services to all income groups.