During my Civil Procedure class yesterday, we discussed the U.S. Supreme Court case Hickman v. Taylor, an important case pertaining to the attorney work-product doctrine. However, I didn’t expect that the opinions delivered for the case would be relevant to my most recent blog post titled “What are legal services?”.

From my earlier blog post, you may remember that “legal services” in the U.S. is usually defined as work performed by a lawyer (see Cambridge dictionary definition). One question that arises out of that definition is “Whom does a lawyer serve?”.

In the majority opinion for Hickman v. Taylor, Justice Murphy writes “Historically, a lawyer is an officer of the court, and is bound to work for the advancement of justice while faithfully protecting the rightful interests of his clients.” Hickman v. Taylor, 329 U.S. 495, 510 (1947). In other words, lawyers serve two masters: the justice system and their clients.

Sometimes, serving those two masters may feel difficult to balance. What if a lawyer finds information that will be damaging to her client’s case but that should be disclosed to ensure that the whole truth is presented? How does disclosing such information in the interest of advancing justice affect a lawyer’s ability to gain the trust and continued business of her clients? Does a lawyer owe a higher duty to the justice system or her client?

At just over a month into my law school career, I’ve only begun my formal exploration of these types of questions. As a lawyer in training, I suspect that honesty is the best policy, but I anticipate that some situations will present ethical dilemmas. Nonetheless, as lawyers work hard to advocate for their clients, our principles must include at least equally fighting for a fair justice system.

But what if someone doesn’t seek a lawyer to resolve their legal issue?

In his concurring opinion in Hickman v. Taylor, Justice Jackson states “But it too often is overlooked that the lawyer and the law office are indispensable parts of our administration of justice. Law-abiding people can go nowhere else to learn the ever changing and constantly multiplying rules by which they must behave and to obtain redress for their wrongs.” Id. at 514-515 (Jackson, J., concurring). Even if lawyers are “indispensable” to the justice system, would Justice Jackson feel that there is there room for nonlawyers to provide legal services in today’s world?

The opinion for Hickman v. Taylor was written in 1947, well before people started using “google” as a verb meaning “a search for information”. I’m curious what Justice Jackson might say to self-helpers who seek to answer their legal questions using the collective “wisdom” of the Internet. How would he feel about alternative legal services providers, such as LegalZoom and DoNotPay (see this recent announcement about DoNotPay’s new services), that help people represent themselves in legal issues? Websites like Wikipedia have provided greater access to knowledge. Is it acceptable for others on the Internet to provide useful legal knowledge and aid?

We’ll never know how Justice Jackson would answer these questions. But perhaps they’re questions we should answer as we try to address the growing access to justice gap between clients and the justice system. Perhaps lawyers, in their unique role as servants of both clients and the justice system, should take the lead in bridging the gap.

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