Access to Justice Only Starts with Technology

Last month, I attended ABA TECHSHOW and participated in many discussions on access to justice, both formally and informally. Several lawyers put forth the idea that we need to redefine the access to justice, or “A2J,” term before we can move forward. Others debated the need for more or less regulation, deregulation, and re-regulation. The EXPO Hall included many attorney replacements or “do-it-yourself’ companies, which still seemed to make some attendees nervous. While people talked about the impact of technology on attorneys, I did not hear as much about clients’ needs. I believe we need to embed technology and client-centric service into the mission of the firms and companies to improve access to legal services.

During LegalShield’s presentation, Keri C. Norris, senior vice president for regulatory affairs and chief legal officer, provided an excellent definition of the problems that must be solved, regardless of the labels. The needs not only include the civil justice issues for those below the poverty level but all Americans, personally and for their small businesses. Also, identity theft has remained a top consumer complaint for almost two decades.

The following can be a roadmap for all attorneys in their practice and their use of technology:

Access to justice: Lawyers must be accessible.

Consumers do not obtain effective assistance with legal problems, either because of insufficient financial resources or a lack of knowledge about when legal problems exist that require resolution through legal representation. The latter is an education gap, and attorneys and other legal service providers must work to provide information and access to all citizens.

Advancements in technology: Lawyers must meet the clients where they are.

Courts, bar associations, law schools, and lawyers are experimenting with innovative methods to assist with meeting the public’s needs for legal services. However, we must use whatever means possible, whether in person, over text, email, Skype and so on to connect with clients.

Public trust and confidence: Lawyers must be regular people.

The complexity of the justice system and the public’s lack of understanding about how it functions undermines the public’s trust and confidence. Again, meeting clients in their comfort zone and providing education and a wide range of service alternatives will help bridge the access gap.

Technology will only help if we keep the three points above in mind when designing solutions.

Client-Centric Mobile Applications are the Key to Access to Justice

We all live on our phones, using multiple applications each day. At the presentation, every lawyer in the room had a smartphone, and that is representative of the population in general, particularly Millennials and Generation X. Providing legal services on a mobile application will be the key to solving our access to justice problem.

Keri presented some interesting data from an independent survey on mobile app use by ORC International and Caravan Omnibus Surveys. The survey was done on a sample of 2,015 US adults in February 2018.

  • Most Americans (91%) own a smartphone and/or a tablet, with over half (54%) owning both.
  • Awareness of shopping (94%) and news (91%) applications (apps) are highest, while awareness of ID theft protection (58%) and legal services (46%) apps are lowest.
  • Two out of three (66%) of smartphone and tablet owners are interested in a mobile app that provides essential legal services.
  • Interest in a legal services app is highest among Millennials (73%) and those with children in the household (76%).
  • Most of Generation X (67%) and Baby Boomers (54%) are also interested in a mobile app for legal.

Most importantly, the survey reported that only 1% use a legal services application now, so there is a massive opportunity for companies and firms who can provide a mobile application.

LegalShield launched its mobile application in 2014 to connect members to the provider law firms. Now, anyone can download a free version of the mobile app to use forms and ask legal questions. The member’s app has matured to include emergency access to the firm; a will questionnaire, and traffic ticket scanning. LegalShield focuses on the member experience and accessible, affordable legal services, all supported by technology.

Finally, a client-centric approach to technology helps both the member and attorney. All lawyers can benefit from technology that reduces administrative work, specifically marketing and client education. Also, a mobile app that facilitates information gathering, not only improves access but also attorney efficiency. If you are interested in learning more, please reach out to me on Twitter @maryjuetten.

About the Author

Mary Juetten is the founder and CEO of Traklight, a cloud-based platform for tracking and protecting intellectual property, and is the co-founder and managing director of Evolve Law, a membership organization of legal entrepreneurs focused on innovation and the future of law. Contact Mary on Twitter @maryjuetten.

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