Using Technology to Enhance Access to Justice

Article excerpt

I. INTRODUCTION (JOHN GREACEN) (1)

The federal government has provided funding for the delivery of legal services to poor persons throughout the united states since 1964. (2) Those services, which have been administered by the Legal Services Corporation ("LSC") since 1974, are intended to increase the quantity and quality of legal services available to the poor. (3)

LSC estimates that no more than 20% of poor persons with civil legal needs are able to get assistance. (4) But new technology may enable the provision of more and better legal assistance. Technology has revolutionized the delivery of services throughout the public and private sectors of the United States and the world. Can the use of modern technology increase the capability of the civil legal services community to meet the legal needs of poor persons in this country, even if funding levels remain constant?

In 1998, LSC conducted the first summit on the use of technology to improve access to justice. The attendees represented courts as well as legal services organizations. over two days, the participants drew on a series of white papers prepared in advance of the summit to develop an ambitious plan that led to the creation of LSC's Technology Initiative Grant ("TIG") program in 2000. (5)

By 2012, TIG had provided over $40 million in grants to courts, legal services agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop and implement technologies to enhance access to justice in this country. (6) TIG funding has supported the development of websites to provide information about civil legal issues in every state. (7) It has also helped create document assembly applications that assist legal services staff in preparing legal documents for their clients quickly and effectively. (8) These document assembly applications are also used by selfrepresented litigants ("SRLs"). (9)

Technology has changed dramatically since LSC's 1998 summit, bringing about the development of web-based business processes, the widespread use of smartphones, and the rise of social media. In recognition of these changes, LSC began planning a second summit in 2011--the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice. An advisory committee consisting of representatives of legal services organizations, courts, the organized bar, and governmental entities decided to hold the Summit in two sessions. The first session focused on developing a new vision for the use of technology to enhance access to justice, and the upcoming second session will focus on developing a plan for implementing that vision.

The mission statement for the Summit states the advisory committee's vision for the events:

   The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice
   will explore the potential of technology to move the United States
   towards providing [assistance] to 100 percent of those persons with
   a legal need ... The Summit will bring together selected technology
   experts, academics, private practitioners, and representatives of
   legal services programs, courts, and governmental and business
   entities to develop a technology vision for the future and to
   develop strategies that will promote the development and widespread
   deployment of the identified components of the technology vision.
   (10)

The first session of the Summit took place in Silver Spring, Maryland on June 21-22, 2012. Roughly fifty lawyers, judges, and technology developers and providers attended. (11) The participants focused on developing a vision of how new technology can expand access to courts and legal services for poor persons. As of the publication of this Article, the Summit is in the process of analyzing the ideas developed during the first session. The second session of the Summit, scheduled for early 2013, will develop a plan for implementing some of the highest-priority ideas.

This Article comprises six papers prepared for the first session of the Summit. …