Mich. High Court Mulls New Rule That Helps Indigent Clients

By Aaron West | March 23, 2023, 8:29 PM EDT ·

The Michigan Supreme Court is eyeing a change to the state's rules of professional conduct that would allow attorneys to help certain clients out with transportation and other amenities during court proceedings, potentially furthering the court's recent focus on increasing access to justice in the state.

The proposed rule change to the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct, which was published in an order on Wednesday, would give lawyers practicing in Michigan the go-ahead to help pro bono, "indigent" clients with transportation to and from court, food and lodging during multi-day court proceedings, as well as help to provide such clients with courtroom-appropriate clothing. The rule change would provide an exception to the rule barring lawyers from giving financially to their clients as long as the client is represented at no cost and the lawyer does not seek reimbursement for the services.

"The lawyer can assist the client with needs that frustrate the client's access to the justice system in the specific matter for which the representation was undertaken, while still preserving the nature of the attorney-client relationship," the proposed language for the rule change states. "For purposes of this rule, indigent is defined as people who are unable, without substantial financial hardship to themselves and their dependents, to obtain competent, qualified legal representation on their own."

According to the order, the court is currently considering the amendment of Rule 1.8, which will be considered at a public hearing in the fall. Interested parties can submit comments to the proposed rule change by July 1, 2023, the order states. When the justices hear the proposed amendment at the meeting next fall, they'll typically either make a decision that day or perhaps ask for more information and research so they can come to a decision at a later date, a representative from the Michigan Supreme Court told Law360 Pulse on Thursday.

The proposed rule change comes at a time when access to justice issues are a big focus for the court. After Justice Elizabeth T. Clement became chief justice in January, she said that one of the court's priorities would be making access to the state justice system more welcoming and easier to navigate for minors.

"We have the opportunity in 2023 to make Michigan a national leader in positive outcomes for every child who is engaged with the justice system," Clement said in a statement on Jan. 4.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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