The Legal Services Corporation Announces Pilot States for Innovative Program to Increase Access to Justice

WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Microsoft Corporation, and Pro Bono Net have named Alaska and Hawaii as state partners in a pilot program to develop online, statewide legal portals to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance.

These portals will use cutting-edge, user-centered technology to help ensure that all people with civil legal needs can navigate their options and more easily access solutions and services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar, and community partners.

LSC President James J. Sandman, Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith, and Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien will make the formal announcement and discuss the project April 25 at an LSC forum on increasing access to justice at Georgetown University Law Center.

“Many people find it difficult to access legal services,” said LSC President James J. Sandman. “The goal of the portals is to simplify that process by providing a single, statewide point of access to effective help for people needing civil legal assistance. Each user will be guided to available resources based on the nature of the matter and the user’s personal circumstances.”     

Alaska’s proposal was submitted by the Alaska Access to Justice Commission and Hawaii’s proposal was submitted by Legal Aid Society of Hawaii with support from the Hawaii state judiciary and other justice community partners.

Alaska and Hawaii were selected because of their demonstrated track records in establishing new and collaborative resources for meeting civil legal needs; their embrace of technology’s potential to expand access to legal assistance; and their vision of partnering with allied non-legal networks such as social services, public libraries, and health care institutions to help people identify and resolve their legal issues and related social needs.

This broad-based view of how and where the law intersects with people’s lives is central to the portal project’s vision. Alaska and Hawaii, like many other states, also face geographic challenges that can present barriers to accessing and delivering legal services through traditional methods. This creates a rich environment for fostering new, technology-enabled solutions that can be adapted to other states in the future. 

“We are delighted to have found legal aid, court, and community partners in Alaska and Hawaii who are committed to innovation designed to help individuals find the appropriate level of assistance to meet their legal needs, and that will allow state justice communities to deliver services more efficiently and effectively,” said Pro Bono Net Executive Director Mark O’Brien.

Christine Johnson, Administrative Director of the Alaska Court System, said they “are excited to work with Microsoft, the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net and our statewide partners to build an electronic gateway for Alaskans to access the range of critical information and services necessary to creating just, healthy and safe communities. Being able to use a portal to access legal and non-legal resources, regardless of your location, is a great solution to meet Alaska’s diverse needs." 

"For an island state, the statewide justice portal will play an important role in helping people navigate the court system and find solutions to their legal problems despite distances over the ocean,” said M. Nalani Fujimori Kaina, Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. “We are very excited for this opportunity to work closely with Microsoft, LSC, and Pro Bono Net and our local partners--the Hawaii State Judiciary, the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, the Hawaii State Bar Association, and legal service organizations--to create a modern, efficient and innovative approach towards expanding meaningful access to justice for all."

There is no right to counsel in civil disputes in the United States, and each year as many as 80% of low-income people who face civil legal problems that threaten their homes, family stability, and livelihoods are unable to obtain legal assistance. Many other individuals living on moderate incomes are unable to afford an attorney, or aren’t sure where to start their search for help. The portals are intended to help the legal aid community, courts, the private bar, and other state justice partners collaborate in new and creative ways to provide some form of effective assistance to everyone with a civil legal problem.

“If you can’t afford a lawyer, then you can’t solve crippling housing, child custody, or civil litigation disputes,” said Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith.  “Technology can help bridge this justice gap by empowering people with the advice and services they need to lead fruitful lives.”

Microsoft is contributing technical and staff resources and additional funding to this project. Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice through innovative technology solutions and expertise in building and mobilizing justice networks, will help convene local partners and provide service design expertise to execute the pilot.

The announcement of the pilot portals will be made at the beginning of the Forum on Increasing Access to Justice at Georgetown University Law Center, 600 New Jersey Avenue NW, on April 25. The Forum runs from 1:30-4:30 p.m. EDT. Members of the press are invited to attend.

The forum will also be live-streamed via Facebook Live. To view the forum, visit LSC’s Facebook page.

Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974. For 50 years, LSC has provided financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 131 independent nonprofit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.