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Need a lawyer? MSU wants to make it cheaper, easier to get one


If you've ever needed a lawyer, but couldn't hire one because it was too expensive, you're not alone.

Three out of four low- and middle-income people don’t get the legal services they need, Michigan State University claims.

And that’s part of the reason MSU is opening a new law school center, called Legal RnD, aimed at training law students to offer cheaper, faster services to more people.

“This is not just the indigent,” says law professor Daniel Linna, who’s directing the new center. “It includes lots of middle class folks who can't get legal help when they need it … so it really has reached a crisis point in the United States.”

Linna points to landlords and tenants who can’t afford to get their disputes resolved, to small businesses that struggle to come up with the money to get the legal documents they need, and families that spend chunks of their income in a divorce.

“We see that the individuals in a divorce can’t afford counsel, or they end up finding a way to pay for counsel but it ends up costing them way more than it should, which is really a shame when you look at a family that has limited assets going through divorce.”

But there’s also another motivation: online companies like Legal Zoom are taking away more and more business from traditional lawyers, says Linna.

And there’s a growing number of web sites that aim to take the lawyer out of the equation all together – places like Upstart Legal are designed to navigate a small business owner through setting up shop, and Law Depot is aimed at customers who want to DIY their wills or estate plans.

Which is why the center will teach business skills, data analysis, and something called “entrepreneurial lawyering.”

“We can do better,” says Linna. “We can do a better job of delivering legal services to these folks who need them.”  

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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