How Technology Can Help Legal Aid Services Run More Efficiently: a technologist’s view

Tony Joseph volunteers some general thoughts on how technology might improve legal services for people on low incomes – some of which are at odds with those expressed elsewhere in this blog but all of which give an interesting insight from someone outside of legal services.

Using technology to serve legal aid is nothing new. A huge corpus of legal material and resources are available online. Emerging technologies enable legal aid services to become more efficient than ever before. 

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The following are some of the ways technology that this might be done.

  1. AI Chatbots for intake and customer support.

For law firms and attorneys, chatbots help to increase intake and offer customer support. Artificial intelligence and predictive technology powered chatbots engage with potential litigants, to get relevant information, and offer information on the legal issues connected with the case, and related matters. Clients get the required information immediately, and the information is much more precise, comprehensive, and even objective compared to what a human aid provides. 

If the odds of success, as deciphered by a truly objective analytical engine, are low, the costly litigation may be avoided altogether. When a case is initiated, AI-powered chatbots help intake of data pertaining to the case, and also offer valuable customer support. Chatbots attached to websites of law firms run round the clock, without sleep, tea breaks, or being bothered by some other tasks.

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Consider the case of domestic violence or intimate partner violence, affecting more than 38 million women and about one in every four men during their lifetimes. The legal remedies to such violence are restraining orders, financial support, and child custody orders. However, attaining such remedies requires filing several documents, and each document presented may either benefit or harm the case. Intelligent chatbots which ask layperson-friendly questions based on the legal requirements, and fills out the legal forms automatically, greatly improves access to justice and the odds of success.

Chatbots are cost effective as well. A Bain & Company study pertaining to mobile banking estimates each mobile interaction incurring a variable cost of just 10 cents, compared to the $4 cost speaking to a call-centre agent costs. Law firms and attorneys can expect to reap similar gains. 

2. Smart OCR Application for Digitizing Documents.

Material objects and paper-based evidence is indispensable for the conduct of court cases, even in today’s age of technology. Such paper-based material objects act as silos, impeding digital processing. The application of OCR technology, to scan documents, offers an effective solution. When all documents are available in a digital avatar, all stakeholders can get the required information easily, speeding up the judicial decision-making process. It also allows for the easy application of analytics and more accurate insights.

3. System for those who need representatives.

Emerging technologies enable the application of technology to the core judicial process, and offer valuable support to those who need representatives. 

Consider the case of a person being issued a parking ticket. While technology 1.0 allowed a user to take a photo of a parking ticket and send it across to a lawyer, the latest technology co-opts natural language-based questionnaire, which initiates the legal process. People could likewise have their last will, testament, divorce claims and much more initiated and prepared seamlessly, with the help of user-friendly apps. Technology vets the information and starts the process automatically, without the lawyer charging the client by the hour.

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Maturing technology makes it viable for law firms to offer highly customized mobile app solutions for their clients, to access all relevant services pertaining to their case, easily and effortlessly. The app could send push notifications on the date of the next hearing, reminders for submission of the document, and much more. It enables access to relevant legal questions and other issues connected with their case in an easy-to-use DIY way.

4. Divergence in the legal profession.

Technology helps to maintain the integrity of the legal process. Hitherto, a case was only as good as the inherent skills of an advocate arguing the case. If the advocate, for any reason, did not raise a valid point or submit a relevant evidence, the case becomes weak. A clever lawyer could also harp on a specific point and divert the case to some specific point.

Technology levels the playing field, offering comprehensive, in-depth information and tools to anyone, regardless of their background or financial cloud. The only skill requires is the ability to access the technology on offer.

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5. Expanding the reach of Legal Analytics.

Big Data analytics has caused big disruptions in almost all sectors, and the legal sector is no different.

Deep analytics of legal data offers greater insights, which help to convince the judges regarding the facts of a matter. A powerful personal assistant could scour through the sum corpus of decided cases, to search for precedents. The assistant could also filter through the sum corpus of legislation and rule, to identify related provisions of the law.

Analytics also enables getting into the crux of the matter, during evidence collection and trial. The application of sentiment analysis when giving testimony and several other interventions help in improving the accuracy of the justice delivered. 

 6. Increasing popularity of A2J.

Technology acts as a great facilitator for access-to-justice (A2J). Technology especially helps to remove the inherent power disparity, and enable disadvantageous groups to access justice. 

The difficulties in proving a case, the backlog encountered by the court, and a whole lot of other factors invariably cause delays. Side-by-side, the lack of solid legal information, unawareness of how to use the legal system, and the high costs of retaining counsel and related expenses obstruct the course of justice.  An LSC report indicates 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans receiving inadequate or no legal help.

Technology creates a level playing field, where even disadvantaged groups may be able to put up a convincing and reliable defense or plaint, without the recourse of expensive lawyers who charge hefty fees by the hour. 

Several top companies have already invested heavily in the sector. Microsoft’s Legal Services Corporation and Pro Bono Net, which create a pilot state legal access portal, are early initiatives in this regard. 

7. IoT for legal practice groups.

IoT integrates everything, from soap dispensers to navigation systems. IoT for legal practice groups offers a seamless and interconnected network, helping law firm, attorneys, and other stakeholders improve efficiency manifold. Data from IoT sensors make the collection of evidence easy, and dispensing justice fast. For instance, challenging an over-speeding ticket could be as easy as accessing the speed sensor at the highway, connected to the court, through a deeply integrated IoT network.

While technology offers yeoman’s help, a key consideration is a realization that technology is just a facilitator and not a panacea. Technology can only aid to speed up and improve access to justice. Effective implementation of technology to further legal aid requires the services of professionals who work with legal professionals as a team and make sure the information fed into the tech resources are accurate.

Tony specializes in custom software development, especially in analyzing processes, refining it and then building technology around it at US developer FingentYou can reach him at tony.joseph@fingent.com , Skype : tony_fingent. Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/tony.joseph.148553?fref=nf Linked in: https://www.linkedin.com/in/tony-joseph-technology-partner/

                                                      

Reference:

  1. http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/improving_access_to_justice_via_technology
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/02/22/the-future-of-legal-services-putting-a-law-firm-in-the-palm-of-your-hand/2/#7e4f50cd7a87
  3. https://medium.com/join-paladin/how-legaltech-can-increase-access-to-justice-68b9ec1eddf6
  4. https://abovethelaw.com/2017/12/access-to-justice-through-technology-for-2018/?rf=1
  5. https://www.law.com/legaltechnews/sites/legaltechnews/2018/02/05/why-tech-needs-to-play-prominent-role-in-access-to-justice/
  6. https://www.idealware.org/technology-run-more-efficiently/

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