Glenn Rawdon's Speech, Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere, on How Technology Transforms Civil Legal Aid

Glenn Rawdon, LSC Technology Program Counsel, at the White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice, April 8, 2014

Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere

In October of 1999 Bill Gates published an article for Forbes titled: Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere, The next step for technology is universal access. He spoke of a time in the future when the computer, consumer electronics, and telecommunications industries would come together on the PC, TV, and telephone. The different parties would come together, the hardware platforms would meld, and the result would be universal access. He called this coming together Convergence.

I believe that the Access to Justice Community is now at our point of convergence. The partnerships of the players have never been stronger. Just look around this room. We are holding a forum on improving Access to Justice at the White House attended by senior government officials, Judges, Bar Presidents, Law School Deans, law firm leaders, corporate general counsel, and a host of others all striving for the same goal, access to justice for everyone.

And the technology? About the same time Bill Gates article came out, LSC found out we were getting special funding from Congress to make grants to our programs to use technology to better serve clients and to provide resources to those clients whom we could not serve so that they might better serve themselves. We called this the Technology Initiative Grant program, or TIG for short.

This year marks the 15th  anniversary of TIG. Since the program started, we have funded over 525 projects that have made many improvements to the system: more sophisticated case management systems; websites in every state with a wealth of legal information in multiple languages; instructional videos; an infrastructure to develop and support automated forms; and improved systems for intake, such as hotlines and online intake.

What about the convergence?

This past December, LSC released the report of the LSC Summit on the Use of Technology to Improve Access to Justice. This was a process involving 75 leaders in legal services, the private bar, courts, libraries, IT development, legal academia, and other communities involved in providing access to justice; two one-­‐and-­‐a-­‐half day working sessions; and preparation of numerous papers and analysis.

The result of the Summit was a vision for how technology can serve as a tool for access to justice. This vision focuses on five main areas:

Creating automated forms and other documents to support self-­‐help and limited scope legal representation.

Taking advantage of mobile technologies to reach more persons more effectively.

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.

of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.

I want to home in on the phrase “some form of effective assistance.” This doesn’t mean a lawyer for everyone for every matter; that’s just not realistic. What it does mean is not turning anyone away with no assistance at all, which is what happens all too often today. 

How do we achieve this? By providing three different levels of assistance:

Information – for those whose problem lends itself to self-­‐help and who have the ability to do it themselves if they have the right tools and information

Advice – for those who can still help themselves but need guidance and advice to get there

Representation – for those who, because of the nature of the case, the stakes, and their circumstances, need a lawyer

The technology tools we need to deliver these different levels are already under way through projects of LSC’s grantees; projects to further vision of the Summit.

Triage pilots in New Mexico, Montana, and Maine. These systems will ask questions of the users and use the answers to direct them to the most appropriate resource, be that information, advice, or representation.

The LawHelp Interactive document assembly project, with over 3000 documents from more than 40 states that produced over 450,000 documents last year.

Mobile-­‐friendly website redesigns in Louisiana, text messaging reminders in Virginia, and redesign of the A2J Author tool for mobile devices. If you are not familiar with it, A2J Author is a tool developed with funding from the State Justice Institute and LSC that is used by many legal aid programs and courts to do the interviews needed for automated forms, online intake, and triage.

Our challenge is to be sure that, when these tools are built, the pieces that technology cannot provide are there.  It would be futile to build a system to direct users to the appropriate resource when that resource is missing. This means that, in addition to our traditional resources, we have in place robust websites, instructional videos, actual court forms to be automated, attorneys who do unbundled advice, and court self-­‐help systems.

We make this happen by convergence; Legal aid, the bench, the bar, law schools, libraries, and anyone else who cares about justice, coming together so all the pieces are there. No more each building our own systems, but a cooperative approach to provide the information, advice, and representation needed so that access to justice is there for Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere.


More on the White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice April 2014

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