Access to Justice Tech: Towards a Taxonomy

Gabriel Teninbaum is a professor. He is director of Suffolk University Law School’s Institute on Legal Innovation and Technology. I have never met him. But, he posted an interesting tweet on 12 December: ‘Can anyone point me to an existing taxonomy of legal tech?  I’m not as interested in specific products as categories of tools, the various disciplines within legal tech, etc.  Any advice? If nothing, would others be interested in crowdsourcing one?’ This is an important question, with which a small group of us in London has recently wrestled, with reference to how we might divide up legal tech developments aimed in particular at access to justice.

Professor Teninbaum got a number of replies, one theme of which was as expressed by Alex G Smith, a prolific tweeter and product lead for RAVN, ‘I started one … , then I realised it was a never-ending task and gave up’.

Clio’s Joshua Lenon suggested as a starting point the nine categories into which CodeX Stanford Tech Index is divided. This is a list of tech start ups that Stanford tries to keep comprehensive. It uses the categories of: Marketplace;  Document Automation; Practice Management; Legal Research; Legal Education; Online Dispute Resolution; E-Discovery; Analytics; Compliance.

And you begin to get an idea of the complexity of the topic if you compare this with another suggestion – the headings of the ABA’s Buyers Guide Directory. These are listed as an appendix because, although helpful as a wider list, it is probably too long for general use and, at times, a bit uncertain between technology and its particular application. A number of the other suggestions – including leads to various legal tech maps around the world – are really focused on specific products rather than the more general approach for which Professor Teninbaum called.

And all were focused on legal tech rather than its specific application in access to justice, including a number that were directed even more specifically at in-house lawyers. Categorisation of access to justice tech requires dealing with technology aimed not only at providers but also directly by users.

One general categorisation, more manageable than that of the ABA, came from research company CB. It identified nine areas of development:

Online Legal Services –  This section includes startups that provide a range of online legal services to consumers and businesses. This was the largest category in our map … E-discovery – This refers to any process in which electronic data is searched and obtained for use as evidence in a civil or criminal case … Practice Management Software – Companies here provide billing, time, and contract-management tools to law firms …Intellectual Property/Trademark Software Services – … Artificial Intelligence Legal Tech – Companies here use artificial intelligence to summarize legal documents … Litigation Finance – …Lawyer Search – Startups here include Lexoo which helps consumers search and find the right lawyer. Lexoo has raised $1.7M in disclosed funding to date. Legal Research – This section includes a variety of online research companies catered to the legal industry … Notarization Tools –  This was the smallest section in our market map and includes Notarize, which provides consumers with a digital notarization service …’

In the discussions that we held in London, we made the problem even more difficult by recognising the there are a number of ways in which you might want to categorise developments beyond the focus of the technology and ranging from the level of assistance provided, the intended outcome and the breadth (geographical or otherwise) of coverage.

But let’s go back to Professor Teninbaum’s original challenge, rephrased for access to justice. 

Can we develop a taxonomy of legal tech in the access to justice filed which relates not so much to specific products but more to categories of tools, the various disciplines within legal tech. 

The dual point of such an exercise would be, on the one hand, to aid understanding and, on the other, to encourage innovation. We need a working tool so we really do not want more than, say, 10 divisions and, ideally, we would develop something which dovetailed with other existing approaches so that international comparison was encouraged. And, frankly, part of the value of the exercise is in the process itself – thinking through how products might be grouped. And, as a practical matter, any list would be more useful if it could be international and dovetail with others developed elsewhere.

So, if we began with Stanford’s list, we might explore something like the categories below which seek to expand its categories to cover various user-oriented developments:

  1. Marketplace or matching [to include various ways of brining together potential users and providers]
  2. Document Automation [a big area for both legal and access to justice tech]
  3. Practice Management [to include various ways of remote delivery as well as the organisation of cases and clients]
  4. Legal Research [with which I would be tempted to bundle Analytics, thus accepting that artificial intelligence was a tool for a tool and not to be regarded as something in and of itself in this list]
  5. Legal Education [including materials aimed both at the public and various forms of training and assistance for providers]
  6. Online Dispute Resolution
  7. Online user guidance on information, advice and assistance through the problem-solving process short of ODR (covering eg guided pathways, AI, chatbots and natural language processing); and 
  8. Referral and Triage.

This list will undoubtedly need revision but it might serve as a first response to Professor Teninbaum from the field of access to justice. And it is open to any amendment and suggestion anyone might care to make. 

Appendix

ABA Buyers Guide Directory

Accountacy/Finance

Artificial Intelligence

Automated Forms

Case Management and Budgeting

Client Development

Cloud Based Software

Cloud Computing

Cloud Services

Computer/Tables/Phones

Court Reporting

Credit Card Processing

Cyber Security

Data Replication/Business Continuity

Database

Disaster Recovery

Document Assembly

Document Management

E-Discovery

E-mail Management Security

Education/CLE

Email encryption

Governance/Risk Management

Imagining/Scanning

Information Management

Legal Research

Legal Technology Consultants

Litigation Support

Litigation Tools

Marketing/Law Firms Business Development

Mass Tort Software

Mobile Apps

Paperless Office

Payroll Processing

Personal Injury Software

Plaintiff Software

Practice Management

Project Management

Public Defenders

Security

Servers

Time Entry/Tracking

Timekeeping/Billing

Trial Presentation

Trial Support

Trust and Estates

Video Conferencing

Virtual Law Practice

Web Site Development

Webinars

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