Overview of the LSC National Technology Summit

On June 21-22nd the Legal Services Corporation held the first part of their technology summit at the National Labor College in Silver Spring, Maryland.  The meeting, entitled “Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice,” brought together technology theorists and practitioners from across the national scene. The first meeting was focused on developing a technology vision while the second part, scheduled for mid-fall, will identify strategies to develop and deploy the technologies. A general overview of the conference and speakers has been posted to the LSC website.

Before the tech summit itself, several white papers were prepared to help identify the current state of technology in certain areas and to help shape the discussion.  Among the subjects examined in these papers were:  mobile strategies, unbundling, the current technology baseline of LSC-affiliates, web-based legal services, integration with court technology, an analysis of the barriers to technology adoption and several other topics.

The daily work at the summit was a cycle of small group discussions followed by plenary gatherings to consolidate ideas. Areas of discussion in the morning session dwelt on these areas where technology might be brought to bear:  preventing legal problems through  better education, providing easy access to legal services, performing triage on those seeking services, enhancing resources for self-represented litigants, engaging the private bar to lower the costs of legal help (particularly through unbundling), improving the internal work flow and client services workflow of LSC-affiliates, supporting complex litigation and meeting special needs of clients. In the afternoon session small groups looked at various tech tools to see what they might contribute to the larger goals considering text messaging, the mobile web, bar and QR codes, mapping and geographic information systems (GIS), data visualization, predictive analysis and expert systems, social media listening, game creation and data mining.

In the closing plenary the summit attendees heard remarks from the United States Chief Technology Officer Todd Park who indicated that there were strong parallels between the types of “big data” that both the health services and legal services communities own. The current difference is that health’s big data has been used to deliver services through technology more efficiently while the legal services data is just beginning to be handled in this fashion. Todd Park drew a pathway that the legal services community could follow to achieve similar efficiencies.

Evolving technology will have implications for the delivery of pro bono. LSC affiliates cannot assist every potential client whose income qualifies them for service–there are always substantial numbers of turn-aways. Technology will provide LSC affiliates and pro bono organizations more tools to provide legal information, automated forms and other resources to those who will represent themselves. Technology will also make it easier for pro bono organizations to mesh more tightly with LSC affiliates in the process of reviewing/accepting referrals. Web-based virtual services, whether hosted by LSC or by other organizations, will create platforms where volunteers, supported by online tools and resources, can connect to their clients and do full or unbundled services. The trend in technology is to reduce barriers that stand between volunteer attorneys and clients — time, distance, travel expense, communication difficulties and insufficient information and resources – creating an attractive space that allows attorneys to deliver the maximum effort in the shortest effective time.

What are your thoughts on technology and pro bono? Please share in the Comments section.

~ Bill Jones

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