Technology and Access to Justice: how to cut the cake

Let’s return to an issue raised at the turn of last year. Professor Gabriel Teninbaum of Suffolk University’s Law School asked on twitter for a ‘taxonomy of legal tech’. He got a number of replies. My favourite was ‘I started one … , then I realised it was a never-ending task and gave up’.  After a period of relative silence, the discussion has taken a new step forward with a list produced by Quinten Steenhuis of the same law school and also promoted on twitter. This is an important issue and, though it can degenerate into counting angels on a pinhead, there is serious merit in seeking to understand the various ways in which technology is impacting on access to justice.

We do have to be clear about the point in classifying the use of technology. Why do we want to do this? It might be intellectually satisfying to provide a global classification into which all innovation might be fitted but fundamentally, the value will come from inspiration. We want to be able to survey the field in order to be stimulated by what others have done or to think of innovative ways in which what they have done might be developed. This should be an active, not a passive process. And, there will be different ways of approaching classification. So, no claims for uniqueness: just look at this one and see if it is useful. This is a cake which can undoubtedly be cut in different ways.

The approach below seeks to avoid a separation between technology and its use. This may not be entirely satisfactory but we want to look at technology as a tool – not a list. So, one technology – for example video communication – will be categorisable, on this approach, under its multiple uses – for example, internal office management, external communication with users, possible vehicle for community engagement and education.

Part of the value of this approach should be the cross-jurisdictional comparisons that it facilitates. Indeed, to seek to do this simply on the basis of one country’s experience is evidently limited. But, there are dangers in opening up to global experience. Each jurisdiction has a unique history and experience of the provision of access to justice which makes comparison fruitful but not exact. This just needs to be acknowledged before we move on. But, we might observe, for example, that the US is way ahead of the UK in terms of self-assembly documentation and England and Wales has the best example of the use of data relating to advice calls.

I have had various goes at this but I assert that access to justice can reasonably be examined under the following six high level headings. In organisational terms, the needs of providers of services, say in welfare benefits advice, are just the same as those of any legal provider. They need basic digital organisational tools. But there is one big difference. Much access to justice provision is neither business to business  (B2B) nor business to consumer (B2C) but might be categorisable as business for consumer (what we might call B4C). Organisations are providing tools for users to resolve their own problems – either because they cannot afford to do more or because they believe in legal empowerment or both. That means that there is overlap with mainstream legal services (likely to be able to attract much more in investment) but also some unique requirements. It is these where we are just beginning to examine the possibilities and where sharing experience will be most valuable.

So, what might be a viable division of roles for technology-based tools in the service of access to justice? Let’s try the following:

Technology-based tools for:

  • the management of organisations engaged in improving access to justice;
  • empowering users to identify and solve legal problems;
  • assisting users to obtain the most appropriate services;
  • assisting organisations actively to reach out to users;
  • reporting on and measuring impact.
  • Resolving conflicts

And, now, let’s expand with some sub-headings. 

  1. the management of organisations engaged in improving access to justice;
    1. General organisational tools

a.standard office suites such as Microsoft Office.

b. video communication tools eg Zoom

c. collaboration software like Google Docs

d. tools that support remote working

    1. Legal practice management tools

a. comprehensive practice and case management software like commercially orientated Clio, not for profit oriented AdvicePro and LegalServer, or shareable management software like CitizenshipWorks

c. legal research eg LexisNexis or EC casebank in Hong Kong (winner of Georgetwon’s IronTech awards)

d. tools that assist online intake

                 3.  Tools that ‘blend’ physical/digital and selfhelp/assisted services eg FLOW

4.  Online legal advice provision eg the ABA’s or commercial document creation services eg rocketlawyer and other providers of assistance with online unbundled legal services.

             5. Online support services for providers eg rightsnet, litigants in person network, self-represented litigants network. Or, CPAG’s subscription access digital services platform.

  1. empowering users to identify and solve legal problems;
    1. Information

       a. ‘conventional’ informational websites eg

       b. ‘guided pathway’ websites eg MyLawBC

       c. chatbot interactive information eg DoNotPay

    1. Document assembly eg various PIP forms developed in England and Wales, much work in US by LawHelpInteractive, CourtNav in England and Wales.
    1. Process assistance eg NextStepsAdvisor
    1. Self-help resolution eg Rechtwijzer, Resolver
    1. Online user communities eg reddit.
  1. assisting users to obtain the most appropriate services;
    1. Marketplace tools eg Avvo
    1. Online Triage and legal navigation eg US state portals, JusticeConnect online intake tool.
    1. Online Referral tools eg JusticeConnect Referral tool
  1. assisting organisations actively to reach out to users;
    1. Community and public information tools  open online seminars as run eg by People’s Law School in BC.
    1. Tools that encourage reporting eg Project Callisto
  1. reporting on and measuring impact.

CitizensAdvice’s case tracker

  1. Resolving conflicts
    1. through ODR 


    1. through the court system eg electronic filing


What do you think? 

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