Technology-enabled pro bono initiatives are challenging the status quo in the public sector

Posted: 16 September 2019
By: Neota Logic

Neota Logic’s recent legal design thinking events held in conjunction with the University of Melbourne and Melbourne’s visiting fellow, Margaret Hagan, have been a great opportunity for us to reflect on the state of the legal sector and the challenges that it faces.

In particular, we are seeing that, that for many legal professionals, the reality of fundamental change is beginning to hit home. The use of technology, and specifically, automation through AI, is forcing cultural changes for the whole legal profession.

First, automation and app development has become a rich source of innovation and has inspired greater pro-bono activities by for-profit law firms and non-profit organisations. The need for all businesses to develop greater social responsibility activity is pressing, and access to law is a major issue that established law firms can support.

The development of apps that can provide legal access at scale, but with controlled costs, makes such endeavours appealing to law firms. These apps can help law firms meet their social responsibilities, while also providing engaging work for law firm employees, which can increase retention and improve staff morale.

Second, the flourishing of tech-based pro bono legal initiatives has an impact on the public sector and the justice system. There are now increasing numbers of law firms globally that want to actively work to close the justice gap by providing safeguards for traditionally excluded groups in society.

This new drive for collaboration between the public, private, and non-profit sectors should be heralded. However, it is causing a clash of cultural attitudes as civil servants grapple with how to respond.

The big issue is risk and how the public sector manages it. Overall, the public sector tends to have a very cautious approach out of fear of crossing the public/private sector boundary — and hesitancy to spend money on innovative app development. The result is a legal system that falls short on access to justice.

Instead of driving toward a cost-effective legal system, excessive caution by the public sector is now leading to greater inefficiencies and poorer service for people in need of legal help. The cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action.

Making changes in this realm can be like turning the course of an oil tanker. It can’t happen overnight, but it needs to be done. The intersection of public, private, and non-profit cooperation in the development of pro bono services is pivotal for access to justice.

Neota Logic has great role in helping make this collaboration possible with our app-building education programs used in law schools around the world. Law students are the lawyers of tomorrow, and the more we can instil in them the idea of collaboration and the power of technology, the more we can improve legal services for everyone.

Changing how we all work together is difficult, but we believe that change will accelerate in the next 18 months resulting in great improvements in access to justice around the world.

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