The point of a conference report can sometimes seem unclear. If you were there, you don’t need it. And, if you weren’t, the proceedings – however riveting for those present- can seem more than a little distant. This is mainly for those not in New Orleans for the second day of the Legal Services Corporation technical issues conference and who are now happily into their weekends back home. The day was, in the line of sessions that I chose at any rate, dominated by the heavy hitters of the LSC-influenced, technology-developing community. They are worth looking up if you want to keep in touch with US developments and think about their implications for us.
In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably say that I missed what was credibly reported as the hit of yesterday. I was trawling pharmacies for a grab bag of medication to deal with what certainly feels like a near fatal collision of jet lag and a monster cold. The star was Margaret Hagan, the doyenne of the legal design movement, who has really transformed much of the best process in digitalisation by courts and legal service providers. She is remarkable for her emphasis on the user and re-conceiving services from their perspective in a visual and collaborative way. Look at her work and see exactly how Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service is going astray in digitalising small claims.
Coming up next was Illinois Legal Aid Online, a reliable and regular contributor to these conferences. They presented on a new online triage and referral system which sought to match users and providers on the basis of geography, means, scope, type of problem etc. The importance of this is the need in all jurisdictions for a central point where people can get access both to the best available services and resources. Get this right and you have a pretty useful product which may be the one access to justice technology project to be internationally replicable in the manner of those addressing needs in the commercial market. From a domestic U.K. angle, the issue would be which organisation should host such provision and how could it relate to existing services like the information available on the Citizens Advice site. But, if we could overcome that, we could set up an infrastructure that begins to address the gaps between self help, referral to NGOs and to lawyers.
The conference included a discussion on unbundling led by the tireless Katherine Alteneder of the National .Self Represented Litigation Network. This introduced the first new catchphrase of the conference. Have you heard of ‘low bono’? No, neither had I. But, fascinatingly, the Chicago Bar Foundation, whose members must be considerably more liberal than many others in the world, have endorsed this concept and actually encouraged a small cohort of newly qualified lawyers to undercut their elders on elements of unbundled services.
No conference of this kind would be complete without a contribution from the California Courts. They have, perhaps illogically but certainly effectively, responded to a crisis of unrepresented litigants by establishing a network of self help centres. These operate technically within the court structure but are clearly pushing the boundaries toward legal help. This is a challenge to which our courts may have to rise if legal aid remains in its current decimated state. California’s latest venture is into the use of video to maximise services in remote areas. It surely has to be the way to go. A number of presentations explored the use of video connection. One of the most interesting covered was the use of cheap Echo Show connections to link between offices rather than through video and computers.
The final contribution that fits into the category of old-timer heavy hitting was John Maher’s presentation in the last plenary ‘rapid fire tech’ session of CALI’s A2J Author. You can catch this on the LSC’s Facebook page. (I have, of course, cancelled my Facebook identity but you can still get in). It is the last of the second set of presentations. Viewing it will take less than 7 Minutes. A2J Author really is the best combination of a teaching tool for law undergraduates and a DIY interactive/visual document self assembly programme. Someone should develop a UK franchise.
So, the sun rises once more. This time on the last day of the conference. Mercifully, it runs only to lunchtime. These Americans begin early and finish late. I should find someone to talk with to see if I have regained the power of speech.