Access to Justice & Technology

Access to Justice & Technology

Everyone, anytime, anywhere

“Eighty percent of low income people have trouble obtaining legal representation or otherwise accessing the civil court system to protect their property, family, and livelihood.” (Brennan Center for Justice, New York University Law School).

People with moderate incomes don’t do much better; a large majority represent themselves, get help from someone who isn’t a lawyer, or do nothing when faced with a legal problem. (American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services).

As Margaret Hagan put it, visually:

Image

So What?

On this question, we’re with English barrister Michael Mansfield:

“At the heart of any notion of a decent society is not only that we have rights and protections under the law but that we can enforce those rights and rely upon those protections if needed.”

And with the often-quoted lines of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, who said to the American Bar Association in 1976 when serving as its president:

“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building—it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists … it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

How Do We Fix It?

Delivering access to justice demands change and action on a very broad range of initiatives—pro bono work by the private bar, fair and adequate funding of legal aid, collaboration among all system participants (clients, lawyers, courts, agencies, NGO’s), legal education (and its financing), e-filing and case data standards, court forms, court interfaces to self-represented litigants, unbundled legal services, virtual law practice, multistate practice, law practice ownership and investment, limited practice licenses, unauthorized practice of law rules, lawyer advertising rules, and lawyer discipline. All of these are hard problems, and some of the most sensible solutions are very controversial.

Technology Does What?

Woven through most of these initiatives is a thread of technology questions.

Can technology improve the efficiency of traditional representation? Enable alternative forms of representation? Substitute for representation? Determine which of these paths is most useful or feasible for a particular person facing a particular problem?

Facilitate sharing of resources, and thereby leverage investments, among organizations? Demonstrate to funders that efficient processes are being applied? Enable exchange of data among disparate systems?

And, from a different perspective: Are clients’ expectations of convenience, responsiveness, ubiquity and cost set by technology in the consumer marketplace now the standard for every service industry, including law? Will the advances made possible by technology ultimately crush entrenched resistance to change, even regulatory resistance, as has happened in other industries, from classified advertising to taxi services?

Many big questions, some without near-term answers: we’ll need to wait and see.

Fortunately, however, some of the technology questions have clear, positive, immediate answers, and demonstrated successes.

At the White House

Recently, the administration convened the second (we hope annual) White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice, led by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Tony West, Associate Attorney General, Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation, and John Levi, Chairman of LSC.

As we have read the reports, there were two highlights of the Forum. First, the Department of Justice and the White House Domestic Policy Council released the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit, which is:

“an online resource guide containing useful information about civil legal services, and how those services can help advance a broad array of Federal objectives. The Toolkit will help further engage the legal services community, and will identify for both legal service providers and Federal agencies the program areas where legal service providers’ work can add the most value, including by listing examples from across the Federal Government of grants and activities that engage civil legal aid.”

Second, Glenn Rawdon, LSC’s Program Counsel for Technology, focused the audience on the specific, practical role that technology has in delivering access to justice. Mr. Rawdon’s talk, titled Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere, invoked Bill Gates’s 1999 forecastthat “the next step for technology is universal access” and his celebration of “convergence” in order to introduce the recently published report of the LSC Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice.

Legal Services Corporation Tech Summit

As the Legal Services Corporation said when announcing the report:

“More than 75 representatives of legal aid programs, courts, government, and business as well as technology experts, academics, and private practitioners convened at two sessions in 2012 and 2013 to explore the many ways technology can expand access to justice.
‘This report is important,’ said LSC President James J. Sandman. ‘It charts a path to a future where, through the smart and disciplined use of technology, the legal aid community can provide some form of assistance to everyone with a significant civil legal problem—and not have to turn people away with nothing.’
The strategy for achieving this goal has five main components:

  1. Creating in each state a unified legal portal which directs persons needing legal assistance to the most appropriate form of assistance and guides self-represented litigants through the entire legal process.
  2. Deploying sophisticated document assembly applications to support the creation of legal documents by service providers and by litigants themselves.
  3. Taking advantage of mobile technologies to reach more persons more effectively.
  4. Applying business process/analysis to all access-to-justice activities to make them as efficient as practicable.Developing expert systems to assist lawyers and other services providers access authoritative
  5. knowledge through a computer and apply it to particular factual situations.”

Participants in the two sessions defined the summit’s mission this way:

“to explore the potential of technology to move the United States towardproviding some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons[emphasis added] otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”

We add emphasis to the phrase above because it captures a significant change from long-standing practice for allocation of the scarce resources of civil legal assistance, which has been pungently, if a bit cynically, described as “first in, first out, until the money runs out.” Traditional models of personal service cannot meet demand, but effective assistance can be provided nonetheless by smart use of technology (and some of the other means noted above, such as unbundled services, which may themselves be technology-enabled).

Mission and vision are necessary, and powerful. But are there examples of real stuff in the real world? Indeed there are, a great many of them funded by LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program, which, as Rawdon reminded the White House audience, is now in its 15th year—roughly coincident with the rise and revolution of the smartphone.

TIG grants from 2000 to 2013 are a tour of steadily evolving technology and steadily expanding capacity and ambition to use technology. TIG has funded more than 550 projects among 800 applications, a total investment of more than $43 million, beginning with state-wide web sites in 2000 and extending to online intake and triage systems in 2013.

To convey the impressive range and depth of projects enabled by TIG, we reproduce the 2013 grant list in full below.

On the For-Profit Side of the Aisle

Technology innovation in legal services for people of low and moderate income by no means comes only from projects propelled by the Legal Services Corporation and the other organizations listed below under the heading Resources.

Profits can be made, or at least foreseen, and innovators are doing just that. The best known are, of course, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, but there are many, many others. Have a look at the 470 legal startups on Angel List or the participants in LexReduxorganized by Joshua Kubicki and the Law Angel Network, or the companies aroundNexLaw Partners or David Perla, many of the participants in ReInventLaw, or in New York City alone the 22 companies flagged by Richard Granat. And not-so-start-uppy companies like Fastcase and DirectLaw.

Neota Logic

What’s our stake in access to justice? We’re working with Pro Bono Net and New Mexico Legal Aid on a statewide triage program. We’re working with North Penn Legal Servicesand Start Small Think Big. We build software that tackles head-on each of the five elements of the integrated service delivery system proposed in the LSC Summit Report. We support Georgetown University Law Center and other law schools in teaching their students to collaborate with access to justice organizations to build interactive, online expert systems that guide people through complex legal problems. And, we agree with Justice Powell.

Resources

Legal Services Corporation, Technology Initiative Grants, 2013

State Organization Purpose Description
AR Center for Arkansas Legal Services Online Intake This project will develop a statewide online intake system to expand services to low-income Arkansans and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of staff. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake system will be integrated into each of the case management systems of the two LSC-funded Arkansas programs. This saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves.
AR Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc. Medical Legal Partnership Funding will support the development of an online legal assistance system for use in medical legal partnerships (MLPs) across the state. The system will direct patients in need of legal assistance to the most appropriate available resources to address their needs. Components of the system will include a legal needs assessment tool, a personalized online self-help packet based on the users’ responses to questions, and tools to pre-screen users for potential representation. The system will be used statewide to assist five established MLPs, as well as with additional MLPs that will be launched over the next year.
CT Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut (SLS) will produce a library of training videos to help pro bono attorneys deliver services to clients more effectively. Videos will cover the basics of divorce law, consumer debt collection issues, and other common legal problems. This project will complement the newly launched Call4Law initiative, a statewide program that matches prescreened clients with pro bono attorneys for one-hour legal consultations by telephone.
FL Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. Online Intake This project will allow Legal Services of Greater Miami to develop an online intake system to expand services to clients. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, whether from home or at a library or community center. The online intake system will also be integrated into Legal Services of Greater Miami’s case management system, which saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. The system will be in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole in order to serve the predominant populations in the Miami area.
FL Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc. Library Initiatives This project will increase access to online legal information and self-help resources in Florida through a statewide outreach and partnership initiative targeting Florida public libraries. The project will include a webinar series for library staff on free legal information and resources available to library patrons, development of customized legal information satellite sites for up to four public library partners, and enhanced technical capacities that allow librarians and other partners to keep up-to-date on new resources available through Florida’s statewide legal information website,FloridaLawHelp.org.
GA Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. National Projects Atlanta Legal Aid will create the NationalOlmstead Website.Olmstead is the Supreme Court decision that requires states to provide supports to individuals with disabilities in their homes rather than in an institutional setting. The National Olmstead Website will raise awareness to three essential populations that legal services traditionally work with: 1) young adults with disabilities aging out of schools and aging out of children’s Medicaid; 2) adults who are diagnosed with a disability as adults; and 3) seniors who are diagnosed with a disability late in life. The site will provide legal resources for individuals with disabilities and for their attorneys. These resources include web videos, legal advocacy toolkits and trainings, self-help tools, and guides for creating accessible website content.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Funding will continue to enhance A2J Author, a highly successful software application used nationally for delivering web based services to low income people. This grant will build document assembly capabilities directly into the A2J software, simplifying the process of creating high-quality automated court forms and other legal documents. The project will also grow the pool of A2J developers by continuing to expand law school cyber clinics where tech-savvy students create document assembly tools for low income people.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Website Grants with National Impact This project will supportWriteClearly Everywhere, a national initiative focused on ensuring that online tools created by legal services organizations utilize plain language to effectively communicate information to users. The project will make widely accessible an application that analyzes text from legal services websites and document assembly applications for readability and suggests better language options. Additionally, a plain language expert will help the legal services community expand its collection of plain language legal resources, including a glossary of replacement words that enhance readability.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Mobile Technologies This project will develop an enhanced version of the Drupal for Legal Aid Websites (DLAW) template. The DLAW template powers over 20 legal services websites across the country and is also made available as a free open source product to any legal aid nonprofit. The upgrade will focus on improving site architecture, layout, and internal reporting capacities. Additional trainings and support opportunities will be available for legal services organizations that have not yet developed a robust web presence.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Document Assembly This project will integrate Idaho’s statewide case management system with LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a national document assembly service. The integration will allow Idaho advocates and pro bono attorneys to send existing client information from the case system to a secure web application that returns properly formatted drafts of court forms and other legal documents. The automated process will substantially reduce the amount of time attorneys spend inputting data and drafting routine documents for clients, allowing them to serve more individuals in need of assistance.
IL Legal Assistance Foundation Infrastructure Focused Grants Funding will support the development of a secure, enterprise-level information management system using Microsoft SharePoint. Critical features include document management, robust search, and integration with the program’s case management system. The system will allow Legal Assistance Foundation to better build and maintain institutional knowledge throughout the organization, resulting in more extended representation for clients and expanded community outreach to client groups.
LA Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) will develop online interactive training resources for new staff, law student workers and pro bono attorneys in the state. Users will progress through an interactive training program that utilizes a blend of technologies — including online video and document assembly — to provide a robust training experience and identify areas that may require further assistance. These resources will be available to all LSC-funded programs in Louisiana.
LA Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation Online Intake This project will develop a statewide online intake system to expand services to clients across Louisiana. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake system will be integrated into each of the case management systems of the LSC-funded Louisiana programs. This saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. The system will also refer users to online resources that can help them meet their legal needs.
ME Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc. Online Triage TIG funding will support development of an online legal triage tool for Pine Tree Legal Assistance (PTLA) in Maine. The tool will help users quickly find the most appropriate resources to address their needs from PTLA’s collection of over 700 legal information articles and its statewide network of legal aid providers. The tool will also route appropriate users to PTLA’s online application so that they can quickly and efficiently receive assistance directly from the program. PTLA will also partner with Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut (SLS) so that both organizations can develop versions of the tool for their client communities.
MI Legal Services of South Central Michigan Document Assembly This grant will strengthenMichiganLegalHelp.org, a statewide legal information website for self-represented individuals. The project team will expand the number of automated document assembly interviews available to users. These web-based interviews present users with a series of questions about a document or form, allowing them to input the required information in a logical and organized manner. Answers are then used to assemble a customized document or court form for the user. These additional online resources will enable more self-represented people to access the justice system, and will improve the ability of the courts to efficiently and effectively serve these litigants.
MI Legal Services of South Central Michigan Use of Data to Analyze Service Delivery and Develop Advocacy Strategies Funding will support the production and expansion of outcomes data related to the new statewide legal information website,MichiganLegalHelp.org, and affiliated self-help centers. The project team will conduct an in-depth evaluation to assess how effectively available resources helped these users meet their legal needs. This evaluation involves both connecting with users of online legal resources after they have completed their court process and analyzing data from the public court files. The project will be promoted to the national community so that the lessons learned will inform self-help legal initiatives across the country.
MP Micronesian Legal Services, Inc. Videoconferencing Micronesian Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) serves its remote island communities from eight client services offices in four different time zones. This project will improve service to these remote communities using technology. It will build MLSC’s internal capacity to communicate between its eight offices by implementing program-wide videoconferencing than will be utilized to enhance staff training and supervision. This project will also enhance the overall technology infrastructure of MLSC.
MT Montana Legal Services Association Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement This project will allow Montana Legal Services Association to develop an online Montana child support calculator. This web-based application will guide parents through an online interview to collect the financial and other information needed to complete a child support calculation in accordance with the Montana Child Support Guidelines. The resulting calculation and underlying worksheets can be printed or e-mailed to the parent for use when filing or modifying a parenting action. This project enjoys strong support from the Montana Child Support Enforcement Division and the Montana Supreme Court Administrator’s office.
MT Montana Legal Services Association Expert Systems and Triage The Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) will develop a triage and expert systems tool for use by intake staff. The tool will allow staff to more effectively route cases and determine the most suitable legal information or advice for prospective clients. MLSA will also adapt portions of the triage tool into packaged online guides for use by people seeking legal information and resources on the internet. The project will explore the usefulness of these client focused expert guides as a means of providing legal information and resources for those in need.
NC Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. Videoconferencing This project will expand Legal Aid of North Carolina’s (LANC’s) videoconferencing capacity throughout the state. LANC will adopt a cloud-based videoconferencing system that will connect all of its twenty-two offices into one integrated system. The system will allow LANC to deliver more legal clinics in rural areas via videoconference, as well as connect staff and pro bono attorneys throughout the state.
NM New Mexico Legal Aid Online Triage New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) will develop a statewide online triage program for the major civil legal issues faced by low income individuals and other vulnerable populations. The system will include both advocate and public-facing online interviews to help identify and recommend the best source of assistance for a litigant’s circumstances based on variables such as location, income, language, and other factors. The triage system will encompass services provided by New Mexico Legal Aid and five other legal aid agencies in the state, in addition to court, self-help and pro bono resources. This ensures that low-income people are connected to the resources that will most likely help them meet their legal need, in the most cost-effective manner possible.
NM New Mexico Legal Aid Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement This project will create a virtual pro bono portal that will enable clients, pro bono lawyers and legal aid advocates, even when located in different parts of the state, to work collaboratively and directly exchange legal documents and information in a secure online space. This project will leverage several innovative components — including a robust practice management platform, video conferencing, and built-in document assembly – to more effectively serve rural clients throughout the state and provide volunteer lawyers with a more convenient opportunity to assist New Mexicans in need.
NY Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Website Grants for Programs This project will expand the legal information resources available to low income users in the Legal Services of Hudson Valley service area by adding plain language legal guides to the program’s website as well as the New York statewide legal information website,LawHelpNY.org. Materials will be available in both English and Spanish and will be promoted to the community through a webinar series targeted to libraries and nonprofits throughout the region.
OH Ohio State Legal Services Document Assembly This project will continue the maintenance and support of LawHelp Interactive, a very successful national resource that provides high quality document assembly forms to both legal aid advocates and low-income people representing themselves. LawHelp Interactive delivers web-based interviews that present users with a series of questions about a document or form, allowing them to input the required information in a logical and organized manner. These answers are then used to assemble a customized, properly-formatted document or court form. Funding will also support a range of expanded document assembly capacities, including integrations with case management systems and court e-filing. During 2012, LawHelp Interactive was used to complete nearly 400,000 documents.
OK Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma will develop a technology-facilitated pro bono model to increase the involvement of volunteer lawyers in expungement cases. Clients in need of expungement assistance will utilize online guides and an automated interview to create court forms that are then submitted to pro bono attorneys for review. This automated process will enable Oklahoma lawyers to provide limited scope legal services over the internet. It offers a convenient volunteer opportunity for attorneys who do not currently accept pro bono cases for full representation and allows attorneys to more easily connect with rural clients in need.
PA North Penn Legal Services, Inc. Expert Systems and Checklists Funding will support the development of an automated “Divorce Tracker” tool that will guide self represented litigants and pro bono attorneys through simple divorce cases. The tracker will analyze what tasks need to be done to ensure successful completion of the divorce process, as well as generate sets of documents for filing and service. Regular workshops based on the Divorce Tracker and associated resources will enable North Penn Legal Services to offer legal assistance to more individuals in need.
PA North Penn Legal Services, Inc. Online Intake This project will develop an online intake system to expand services to clients of North Penn Legal Services. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake system will be integrated into North Penn’s case management system, which saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. North Penn will also pilot an analytical tool that further assists staff in eligibility determinations.
TN Legal Aid of East Tennessee Client Education Videos and LEP Resources Legal Aid of East Tennessee will improve access to legal information by creating a series of videos that provide low income people with on demand guidance on matters such as orders of protection, foreclosure, and other common legal issues. Videos will be produced in both English and Spanish, will be captioned for the hearing impaired, and will be accessible from both standard computers and mobile devices.
TN Legal Aid of East Tennessee Remote Service Delivery This project will utilize Microsoft Lync Server to improve communications with clients and enhance internal communications among staff. Lync will allow staff across the organization to easily conduct web meetings, exchange instant messages, and utilize Microsoft’s other telepresence features. Additionally, Legal Aid of East Tennessee clients will be able to videoconference with their attorneys either though home computers or mobile devices or at conveniently-located community access points.
UT Utah Legal Services, Inc. Mobile Technologies This project will allow Utah Legal Services (ULS) to implement the technology necessary to allow advocates serving clients remotely to securely access all of a client’s internal case management information, pleadings and other documents as well as external court records and files. In addition, ULS will create an automated process to obtain electronic signatures from clients for use with ULS’ client information sheet – making full and compliant intake screening possible at any location.
VT Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, Inc. Online Intake and Triage This project will develop an online intake system to expand services to clients in Vermont. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The system will direct online contacts to the appropriate component of the legal services delivery system throughVTLawHelp.org, whether it is forms, information, referral, or intake with one of the state’s providers. The online intake system will also be integrated into the organization’s case management system, which saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves.
WA Northwest Justice Project Mobile Technologies and Program IT Infrastructure Northwest Justice Project (NJP) will create a “Texting for Outcomes” system, which will gather information on the outcomes of limited-assistance legal hotline cases and use that information to improve delivery of services to clients. Technology developed through this project will automatically text outcome questions to client who have received limited assistance and have represented themselves in a legal action. The client’s texted reply will automatically populate a field in NJP’s case management record so that the program can easily collect and analyze outcomes data. In order to create this capacity and to promote sustainability and efficiency in client service, NJP will implement an upgraded call center as part of this project.
WA Northwest Justice Project National Technology Support Funding This project will allow the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) to continue its successfulLegal Services National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP). The NTAP has three objectives: (1) to support and maintain a core collection of technology services and resources that play an essential role in the legal services community; (2) to provide one-on-one support and guidance to LSC-funded programs on a broad range of legal technologies; and (3) to help programs effectively replicate successful TIG initiatives.
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