Last month, our General Counsel, Emily Porter, was a featured speaker on “Using Technology to Enhance Access to Justice” at a break-out session of the Access to Justice conference hosted by the University of Hawaii’s law school. The conference was attended by over 200 lawyers, judges, Hawaii legislators and other interested parties, and included as speakers the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Hawai’i, other Hawaii judges, Hawaii non-profit legal services providers, and James Sandman who is the President of Legal Services Corporation (the largest funder of non-profit legal service providers in the country). Mr. Sandman remarked that he was impressed with how coordinated and generous were the efforts of Hawaii’s legal community in working to improve access to justice. He also shared that, nationwide, there is a lot more to do to realize the nation’s promise of equal access to justice. Ms. Porter’s break-out session entitled “Using Technology to Enhance Access to Justice” attracted approximately 50 attendees.
In the Technology break-out session, Ms. Porter, along with her co-presenter, suggested that the nation’s promise of equal access to justice should encompass not only of the legal needs of low-income individuals but also the gap group and anyone for whom services for important needs are currently unavailable or unaffordable. Of course, legal aid service providers and pro bono lawyers must continue to make their services available to low-income individuals, embracing technology where possible to make this more efficient and abundant. However, to truly achieve access to justice for the gap group and others in need of affordable legal services, legal professionals serving individual and family needs must also find ways to deliver legal services at much lower costs; such services for individual and family needs cannot remain a luxury item.
Ms. Porter suggested that accomplishing equal access to justice in this broader sense is likely to require fundamental changes to the framework of our legal services marketplace. She pointed to other industries that have reinvented themselves, using advancements in technology, for taxi-like services with companies such as Uber, Sidecar and Lyft, and travel accommodations platforms such as AirBnB and VRBO. She also shared some of the innovations occurring in the online legal services space, including the work of JustAnswer, other for-profit legal services providers, and some non-profit providers. Ms. Porter pointed out that the innovations in all of these industries have made the goods and services that people seek more plentiful, accessible and affordable.
Ms. Porter addressed some of the barriers to fully embracing the benefits of technology in improving access to justice. Among them are the legal ethics rules and regulations promulgated by the legal profession itself. Ms. Porter remarked that while originally created to protect the public from unscrupulous attorneys and others, many of these rules and regulations now act as hurdles and barriers to permitting lawyers and others to provide the legal information and legal services necessary to serve the public. She suggested a reexamination of these rules and regulations with a focus on how best to serve the public.
Ms. Porter noted that lawyers should not think of embracing technology and loosening legal ethics rules as threatening to their existence or dangerous to the public; rather, she suggested that these changes could make lawyers’ legal services more efficient and accessible and therefore increase the opportunities for lawyers to deliver more legal services to individuals and families in need, at prices that individuals and families can afford, with similar or more take-home pay available for the lawyers.
Our mission at JustAnswer is To Help People. We strive to do this, in part, by making affordable legal services available to all in need. Thank you for your support!