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Spotlight on Access to Justice

Bill Thrush: Providing Access to Justice for the Middle Class

By Mary Juetten
william thrush a2j Q&A

William Thrush

LegalShield attorneys are a wealth of knowledge on access to justice issues. Since LegalShield is one of the oldest and largest legal plan providers in the U.S., there is great bench strength. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing William Thrush, who is managing principal of Friedman, Framme & Thrush, P.A. With offices in Maryland, Virginia, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island, it is one of the largest LegalShield provider firms in the nation.

Bill, an experienced trial attorney who focuses on complex civil litigation, is a member of the Group Legal Services Association, sitting on the Membership Committee. He is involved in numerous community organizations such as Hopewell Cancer Support, The Maryland Zoo and the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland. In his spare time, Bill enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, scuba diving, learning guitar and spending time with his wife and two daughters.

In addition to the Q&A, Bill and I discussed the growing access to justice problem for the middle class and, at the end of this post, he provides some eye-opening statistics on the importance of legal representation.

Here’s the interview.

Quick Answers

  • When I was a kid I wanted to be: A lawyer.
  • My greatest accomplishment is: Learning to maintain a positive attitude.
  • Never forget to: Appreciate every day as a gift.
  • I work best: in the morning.
  • My best ideas come from: My team.
  • The toughest lesson I’ve learned is: Patience is truly a virtue.
  • My pick-me-up is: Music.
  • My attitude towards life is: Life is color. Embrace the different colors.
  • Best advice I’ve ever received is: Do not forget to take care of yourself, too.

Productivity Habits

Where do you like to work? 
I like to work at my desk in the office. It acts as my nerve center.

What’s your email strategy? 
If I can reply in less than 60 seconds, I do it. Otherwise, I flag it and do it at a scheduled time later. Also, I try to keep my inbox email count under 30.

What’s your best productivity habit? 
Every Monday I go through my email inbox, and clear out the deadwood and then re-prioritize my to-do list.

What’s your favorite productivity tool? 
The cloud. I am so much more productive with the ability to access my system from literally anywhere at any time.

What’s the one habit you wish you could kick? 
Taking on too much.

What do you let slide? 
Too frequently I let it slide when I miss my workout times or cannot exercise.

A Deeper Dive into Friedman, Framme & Thrush P.A.

How do you define access to justice (A2J)?
Traditionally that phrase has been used to describe providing access to the legal system for the very poor. However, the very poor now have a number of resources available to them in that regard, such as pro bono organizations and Legal Aid. And, of course, the wealthy have access to practically whatever they want. But the growing population in the middle who are not impoverished, but not wealthy either, and live paycheck to paycheck, cannot afford legal counsel in the event of a legal problem. Those are the people who have the most critical need for access to our legal system.

Tell us about your connection to access to justice.
The overwhelming majority of my career has been spent servicing clients who are members of group legal service plans, with most of that being with LegalShield.

How are you solving access to justice for your clients?
With a regional presence, our firm provides clients with access to more than 40 attorneys throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions.

What role does technology play in access to justice?
Technology is a critical aspect to solving the access to justice issue because it allows law firms to operate cost-effectively, decreasing the overall expense of providing legal services, which savings can be passed on to the client. It also allows clients unprecedented access to lawyers through a number of means.

Do you see the “digital divide” (access to technology) as an issue?
Access to technology is part of the access to justice discussion, but access to technology is a much larger and prolific issue because it affects more than access to justice. It also impacts access to a great many resources, such as health care, employment and education, to name a few.

Do you see client knowledge of legal issues, or the education gap, as an issue?
Absolutely, the education gap is an issue. Much of the access to justice solution centers around providing knowledge to people who otherwise cannot afford to get that knowledge. Knowledge is power, particularly in the legal world. When two parties to a legal transaction do not have the same level of knowledge, the playing field is not even. Access to justice helps level that playing field.

What have you had to change based on feedback?
We have had to work to change the mindset of attorneys from seeing themselves as silk-stocking aristocrats to recognizing that they are in a service profession. Lawyers should go about their jobs not from a position of elevation but rather a position of service to others.

How are you growing the firm?
We recently merged with another firm to provide us with a truly regional presence in the Mid-Atlantic and New England areas. With a wider reach, we can provide access to justice to more people.

Where does funding come from?
Economies of scale.

What is your best tip for supporting access to justice?
Embrace the changing landscape of how legal services are being and should be provided.

Where is the A2J movement going?
The legal profession, in general, is starting to recognize the greater and wider need for access to justice, and starting to adjust to it. There are and will continue to be changes to the ethics rules to modernize them in terms of the A2J movement — allowing things like limited scope engagements and providing for relaxed and adapted rules to handle the injection of technology into the profession.

Where are you going?
I like to think I am helping, at least in some small part, to blaze the trail and provide a roadmap for those that come behind me to help in providing access to justice for the growing middle class having difficulty getting that access.

Access to Justice and the Middle Class, By the Numbers

We all know about the 80 percent civil justice gap that applies to lower-income Americans as reported in almost every national and state survey. But what about the middle class — people who make, on average, about $25 per hour (in 2015) when the average lawyer bills $255 per hour, as discussed here? These people cannot access pro bono or legal aid because they make “too much,” yet they would have to work 10 hours to pay for just one hour of attorney time.

I’m grateful to Bill for pointing out the following statistics on the importance of legal services. As you can see by the statistics presented in a 2017 report from the Maryland Access to Justice Commission, client outcomes improved dramatically when there was attorney representation:

  • Rate of reversal for unrepresented on appeals outcomes in denial of public benefits — 40 to 45%
  • Rate of reversal for represented on appeals outcomes in denial of public benefits — 70 to 80%
  • Dismissal or judgment for unrepresented defendant consumers sued by debt buyers — 23%
  • Dismissal or judgment for represented defendant consumers sued by debt buyers — 71%
  • Rate of acquiring domestic violence protective order without counsel — 32%
  • Rate of acquiring domestic violence protective order with counsel — 83%

As lawyers, we must be more accessible, whether in the traditional manner or the way of the future — the legal plan.


Elevate by LegalShield 2019

The call to access to justice is not possible without attorneys like David. We can all play a part in improving legal services in this country. Come join us at the Elevate by LegalShield conference June 20-22 in Denver to learn more.

Find out more about Friedman, Framme & Thrush, P.A. here and about William Thrush here.

Read additional A2J interviews by Mary Juetten here.

Illustration ©

Categories: Access to Justice, Interview, News and Trends
Originally published June 1, 2019
Last updated December 17, 2019
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Mary Juetten Mary Juetten

Mary Juetten is founder and CEO of Traklight and has dedicated her more-than-30-year career to helping businesses achieve and protect their success. Mary is also a practicing attorney, licensed in Washington state, and Of Counsel with Nimbus Legal.  In 2015, Mary co-founded Evolve Law, which she sold to Above the Law in 2018.  She was named to the ABA’s Legal Technology Resource Center 2016 Women in Legal Tech list and the Fastcase 50 Class of 2016. She is a LegalShield advocate and served on the Group Legal Services Association Board. Follow her @maryjuetten and find her books, “The Business of Legal: The Data-Driven Law Practice” and ”Small Law KPIs: How to Measure Your Way to Greater Profits,” on Amazon.

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