A2J Tech and the US: Part 2

The roundup of latest US developments in A2J tech continues this week with the second half of the Legal Services Corporation ITC conference. This is my selection of take aways from yesterday. These are to be added to last week’s and the sessions later today (to be written up next week). They are presented as a potential series of good ideas with links so that you can follow up anything you find interesting and are subject to the previous disclaimer as being the reflections of an opinionated outsider. 

Headless content management systems

No. I didn’t know about them either. But go the website of the People’s Law School (actually in British Columbia, not the US) to see their effect. Most visibly, they make loading a website incredibly fast (with the proven capacity to keep users better engaged). There are various explanations on the web – many suspiciously similar. They all begin by explaining that ‘a headless content management system … is a CMS in which the data (content) layer is separated from its presentation (frontend) layer’. Moving beyond that stretches my understanding of detail but the decoupling of content and presentation allows faster load times and permits the same data to be displayed in a variety of contexts and devices so that, for example, you can update legal information once and then export the amended text to a range of different contexts. But, never mind how it works, the time saving is valuable and the increase of speed significant. 

Machine language translation

Is not as good as humans and can make significant errors.

Texts can be handy

A number of organisations, among them Michigan Legal Help, Lone Star Legal Aid and Legal Services of Northern Viginia are using SMS for communication with users and to prepare intake. Northern Virginia can take a person through a whole set of pre-qualification questions to decide eligibility. Important takeaways: people value anonymity and they don’t like to be texted in the evening. 

Client preference for texting was confirmed in the work of TenantHelpNY.org, a multi-agency responses to housing problems in New York triggered by Covid. It found that clients were more responsive to text messages than phone calls. 

The digital divide

…. does exist. But was narrower than many projects feared at the beginning of the Covid shutdown. Many people have smart phones and were willing to use even to provide – with assistance – electronic signatures.

‘Repurposing Courts’

Some courts responded positively to self-represented litigants and court shutdowns

Salt Lake City has put a couple of booths for self represented litigants in its lobby. These have been so successful that people are using them not only to process their case but also to undertake any online education courses required by the court. Plans are now being considered to replace three out of the five physical court rooms into banks of booths.

Judges, like Vikings, can come by boat

Salt Lake seems pretty well in the vanguard of taking the court to the people if they couldn’t come to it. A couple of judges pressed their vans into service as mobile access points and a team of judges and volunteers took to the Jordan River to meet the occupants of homeless shelters that were established there in the summer. CNN explained, ‘Social workers paddle or bike ahead of the legal teams to identify individuals who would be open to legal counsel and resolving their cases. The case workers assess trauma and other mental health issues and decide if the person is a good candidate and ready for the service … Once the individual consents to legal help, the attorneys step in and discuss options and the cases against them. Usually, the defendants are facing violations such as public intoxication or public urination. The judges take up the case right on the river or bike path and usually resolve the problem that day. That means there’s no need for the person to be summoned back to court.’ 

The only problem with these ‘kayak courts’ seems to be the heat. The Ipads have a tendency to melt in the heat of the Utah summer.

There’s a podcast for that

TalkJustice, a podcast from the LSC, has – among a range of interesting coverage a specific programme on the impact of the digital divide and legal aid access. This is worth a listen. For all the advantages of digital provision, you cannot completely eliminate human assistance.

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