Access to legal services

Leave it to legal tech innovator and law professor, Bill Henderson to be part of a new nonprofit, the Institute for the Future of Law Practice, that will coordinate the entry level law school market around an updated and modernized curriculum.

Traditional legal service models are breaking down. Law students are graduating from law school unprepared for the demands of the consumers of legal services, assuming even law firms are.

Law schools, like many law firms, are debating the need for change without taking the action needed. They’re often paralyzed by traditional bureaucracy.

A core group of lawyers, legal educators, allied professionals and corporate legal leaders (Shell, Cisco, Archer Daniels Midland)  — many of whom I know well via common beliefs on innovation and tech —  believe that the best way forward is to create an independent organization that can coordinate the interests of law students, law schools, law firms, corporate legal departments, NewLaw service providers, and legal technology companies.

The Institute will provide both training programs for law students and a talent pipeline for the legal industry’s most advanced and sophisticated legal employers.

Through internships companies get the unique opportunity to access a pre-screened pool of specially trained candidates. Students get real-world experience, while learning from professionals in leading organizations.

The Institute has already made good progress in its pilot.

  • The Institute has worked with over 80 students. Students completed an academic program and worked at leading companies.
  • The Institute is working with 20 leading companies that offer students real-world experience.
  • For the 2018 application cycle, the Institute is partnering with the law schools at Colorado, Indiana, Northwestern, and Osgoode Hall (Toronto).

Boot Camps

Clients have for years been complaining about their lawyers’ inability to understand the business climate in which they operate, to manage processes, projects and risks, and to cost and price effectively and in a manner that equates price and value.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and it will certainly be on display in New Orleans this week at the Legal Aid Technology Conference.

The annual conference, sponsored by the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the nation’s largest gathering of professionals dedicated to using technology to address the civil legal needs of low-income Americans.

The conference, billed this year as Innovations in Tech, brings together technologists, legal aid advocates, court personnel, academics, and other professionals to showcase technology projects and tools being implemented across the country and internationally. I am glad I was able to get in as the conference, expecting record attendance, is sold out.

For me, I’m looking for inspiration from some of the most dedicated professionals in legal tech.

I last attended the conference fifteen years ago, I was starting a legal tech non-profit to help individuals and small business people. I was blown away by the energy, passion and ideas of the legal services technology professionals in attendance.

While there are other good conferences focused on consumer electronics, marketing and technology, it feels right to be headed to New Orleans – to learn, to be inspired and get focused on ways LexBlog and I can contribute to the legal services’ cause.

LSC President, Jim Sandman, who invited LexBlog’s editor-in-chief and publisher, Bob Ambrogi, to give the plenary address, knows how important technology is in the delivery of legal services.

Technology plays an important role in making legal information widely accessible. This conference stimulates collaboration, creativity, and communication. It promotes new initiatives that will help make justice more accessible for Americans who cannot afford to pay for legal assistance.

Ambrogi, in his plenary on Wednesday morning, will explore the impediments to the broader use of technology and what can be done to overcome them.

Few would dispute that technology is one of the keys to addressing the justice gap—the difference between the need for civil legal services among low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs. Yet at a time when technological innovation abounds, the justice gap seems to grow only wider. The problem is not technology—it is the failure to fully employ it.

Highlights of the three day conference, ending Friday, include:

  • Incubating Innovation in the Aloha and Midnight Sun States: Updates on the Justice Portal Initiative
  • Emerging Technologies: Harnessing the Exponential Power of Digital Technology to Transform Legal Systems
  • Rapid Fire Tech: A Show and Tell of Technology Projects and Ideas

Over 125 speakers from around the country are scheduled to present on all sorts of challenges, technology, solutions and the programs they’re spearheading to bring legal services to lower income Americans.

LexBlog is blessed to be able to cover the conference by curating the social media coverage from conference attendees, Facebook Live interviews, blog posts and my tweets from the conference. We’ll see what Isabelle Minasian, LexBlog’s social media and editorial coordinator can cook up.

Look me up if you’re going to be there. I’d welcome meeting, and maybe cover what you’re working on.

The conference Twitter hashtag is #LSCITCon.

A year ago today, marketer and author, Seth Godin shared that it’s never enough.

There are more people, better off, with more freedom, more agency and more power than at any other time in our history.

That’s not enough.

As we use technology and culture to create more health, more access and more dignity for more people, we keep reminding ourselves how inadequate it is in the face of the injustice and pain that remains.

That’s how we get better.

Better not for us, but better so as to serve others.

We must focus on the less fortunate and the oppressed not because the world isn’t getting better but because it is.

It’s our attention to those on the fringes that causes the world to get better.

I relayed to a business colleague in D.C. today that I was feeling the enjoyment of the Christmas season while sensing thr anxiety of wanting to do more in the coming year. I explained that my goals need to be more admirable as I get on in age. I have less time to make a dent.

Legal services remain more inaccessible to middle and lower income Americans than ever. At the same time there are more lawyers than ever looking for legal work.

Not necessarily lawyers for which corporate or large law is the goal. But lawyers who would like to do work for consumers and small business people, if it was possible to get the work.

My LexBlog team has done incredible work over the last couple years to scale a design and publishing platform that offers more and costs less than ever before. It seems we’re on the verge of doing something quite disruptive.

But what will it mean if we don’t use our technology, in part, to improve access to legal services while at the same time help lawyers.

Almost twenty years, Will Hornsby, staff counsel for the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services, authored a piece (PDF) on “Improving the Delivery of Affordable Legal Services Through the Internet: A Blueprint for the Shift to a Digital Paradigm.” I ran across his work while doing research over the weekend.

With detailed analysis, including legal web sites and technology of the day, Hornsby showed us how the net could be harnessed to make legal services and meaningful legal information available to moderate income people.

Reading and outlining the 31 page piece (example sites and footnotes included), I became terribly inspired. One that action was necessary and two, that LexBlog’s technology could help make legal services more accessible.

Hornsby argued that the Internet had the potential to make client development more efficient (lower cost, less time comittment) for lawyers representing consumers and small business people. Maybe even client development founded on reputation, relationships and trust.

Efficient client development — as well as meaningful legal information for people — is where LexBlog can play.

As we head into next year, we’ll “keep reminding ourselves how inadequate [technology] is in the face of the injustice and pain that remains.”

Law schools have an obligation to introduce innovation and technology disciplines into their curriculum, not just to prepare graduates for the future, but to increase access to legal services.

This from Dan Linna, a professor of law at Michigan State and Director of LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation. Talking with Ed Sohn about Linna’s Law School Innovation Index:

Everyone needs to get behind solving the “access to legal services” problem. We have this stench, this terrible problem, where approximately 80% of people in the U.S. lack access to civil legal services, not to mention the myriad of problems with our criminal justice system and public defense.

A huge portion of our citizens are disconnected from the law. How is that sustainable for us as a society?

Acting is the right thing to do for all of us in the legal profession.

I’ve tried to answer [President of Legal Services Corporation] Jim Sandman’s call to accelerate legal-service delivery innovation and technology adoption across the legal industry. The overall mission is to increase access to legal services, because it’s the right thing to do, and because the current disenfranchisement of so many threatens the rule of law and democracy.

……

I believe that we need a shared mission and vision. Why are we part of this profession? How can we help people and contribute to something bigger than what’s right in front of us?

The Law School Innovation Index measures the extent to which law schools have incorporated true legal-service delivery innovation and technology disciplines into their curriculum.

Too many legal innovation discussions get stuck talking about efficiency. But we can improve quality and outcomes. We can prevent problems and improve the user experience. We can expand access at all levels and help preserve and expand the rule of law! We can contribute to multidisciplinary teams solving “wicked” problems. We must innovate and think big, especially in law school.

……

Schools have been called innovative for a wide range of activities. Some have built curricula around legal-service delivery innovation and technology disciplines. Others are called innovative because they offer classes about the law of technology, which is great, but it doesn’t address the need for improvements in the delivery of legal services.

Law and technology, a phrase I hear every day (and 55 times a day at conferences), is not enough, per Linna.

If you tell students to take engineering courses because they’ll be better patent lawyers, that’s great, but that sounds like it falls into the “law and” technology category.

Yes, lawyers should work with technologists to learn and shape the law of technology. That’s incredibly important. But we also need law students working with engineers, product managers, behavioral scientists, and other scientists to improve the delivery of legal services.

I recall dinner with Linna in East Lansing a couple years ago in which he presented me a draft of the mission statement for a soon to be LegalRnD. Focused on a the delivery of legal services and the 80% of people who didn’t have access to legal services, I liked it.

Truth be told, I wondered how great an impact he and the Center could have.

But with the Law School Innovation Index and earlier, the Legal Services Innovation Index measuring law firms’ use of tech and innovation, Linna and the Center are having an impact. An impact measured in talk, dialogue and pressure on law firms and law schools to act. But it’s a big start.

Like many legal tech entrepreneurs, I left the practice to help others through innovation and the effective use of technology. But when you get your face up against it in everyday business, it’s easy to lose sight of the end game.

Linna’s work is pulling me back in and motivating me to think big in my use of innovation and technology to bring access to legal services. Asking, “Why are we part of this profession? How can we help people and contribute to something bigger than what’s right in front of us?”

Maybe I’m naive, but I’ve always thought the legal profession as a whole, some lawyers more than others, stood up for the little guy, the consumers if you will.

In that bar associatons are run by lawyers and talk about pro bono work and access to legal services, it would seem to be a natural that they would champion consumer causes — such as access to legal services.

But amongst the good work of bar associations stands the effort of many bar associations to snuff out the use of technology and innovation to bring consumers access to legal services.

The latest comes from the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) in their advisory opinion of a couple weeks ago finding that Avvo’s Legal Services program violates ethics rules.

As reported by the ABA Journal, consumers using Avvo’s Legal Services purchase specific services, such as an uncontested divorce, for a flat fee. For example, when a client receives services from a lawyer through Avvo for $149, Avvo collets a $40 marketing fee.

All of this done on a website, and most probably on Avvo’s mobile site. Makes sense in that consumers purchasing legal services on Avvo would want to do so just the way they purchase everything today. A whopping 70% of Amazon consumers purchase on mobile.

What does the NYSBA offer for access to legal services?

A dated website with limited legal information, much taking consumers to pdf’s on government sites, resulting in a disjointed and confusing experience.

The bar association does have an 800 number call-in lawyer referral service and $35 service for talking to a lawyer. I question how the NYSBA numbers compare to New York consumer traffic on Avvo.

Avvo is a technology company with financial partners whom backed the likes of Zillow, a household name. With a fleet of developers, Avvo brings regular upgrades and feature enhancements. A non-profit voluntary bar association, understandably, could never bring the consumer experience and service Avvo does.

What does the NYSBA find so wrong with Avvo’s access to legal services program?

Avvo benefits finacially from the service. Seriously.

From the ABA Journal, quoting the NYSBA opinion:

Because Avvo lawyers are assigned a rating on a scale of 1 to 10, and “the Avvo website also extols the benefits of being able to work with highly rated lawyers,” While this opinion doesn’t forbid lawyers from using ratings generated by third parties in its advertising, “Avvo Legal Services is different. It is not a third party, but rather the very party that will benefit financially if potential clients hire the lawyers rated by Avvo.”

Rather than looking to leverage technology to improve service, like every other industry, the NYSBA heads in the opposite direction.

I agree with Avvo’s Chief Legal Officer, Josh King in his response to the opinion.

[The NYSBA Opinion] …actively discourages lawyers from using technology to reach out to clients who see an increasing gap between them and meaningful access to the legal system. And if there is one opinion, one voice, in this discussion that should be amplified, it is not that of the New York State Bar Association or of Avvo, but that of the consumer.

Rather than jumping on the NYSBA for limiting access to legal services, all I saw from lawyers and law firms was joy that Avvo took in it the shorts.

There’s plenty I don’t agree with about Avvo, but I’m not going to say good for limiting consumers access to legal services because I don’t like that Avvo salespeople called the lawyers in my firm or that Avvo rates lawyers, the same as Martindale-Hubbell did for 100 years.

I also wouldn’t cheerlead the prevention of lawyers willing to do so from offering fast, simple and cost effective flat fee legal services. It didn’t work for cities looking to prevent drivers from Uber lifts and it shouldn’t work for a trade association looking to prevent lawyers from helping consumers.

Of course we can split hairs as to “If only Avvo just did this or that, the NYSBA would have said all’s good.” I don’t buy it. I see bars, with some exceptions, jumping on Avvo, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer as if it were sport.

Lawyers, if they truly care about access to legal services, are going to need to come to grips that the solutions to do so are likely to come through the private sector. It’s the private sector which has driven change and consumer services across the Internet.

The delivery of legal services will look different than in the past. Companies, and their investors, will make money in the process.

But that’ll be okay for those of us standing up for the little guy — consumers.

Spending four days this week at AALL (American Association of Law Libraries) I was blown away by the amount of legal tech driving the law. I was also struck again by legal tech companies failure to use Internet engagement to learn, to collaborate with other legal tech companies and to get known.

Legal tech entrepreneurs don’t seem to use the net to share their thoughts on what they are following in tech, to engage other legal tech folks, to share what they are working on so as to learn and get feedback or to get known.

It’s a little odd since much of the technology driving legal technology is open source. A lot of legal tech is driven and supported by the collaboration of open source tech communities regularly sharing, networking and learning online.

It’s also odd in that a lot of legal tech companies are starved for attention. They’ve got cool stuff of value to companies and law firms. They just don’t get heard among all the noise and wrongly think it’s going to take money for ads, booths, PR and marketing.

I have followed numerous people share openly online what they were learning and what they were working on. The result was their getting known, being trusted as an industry leader and getting business.

I was one of them. I didn’t have a clue what blogs were nor the technology they ran on – software, machines for hosting – and a lot more. I followed smart people online and shared what they said and wrote along with my take on my blog, Twitter and other social media.

I learned by what I read and from the network that I grew. The network in turned talked about me and what I shared. My company and I got known, trusted and we got business. I also got smarter from just formulating my ideas by what I read and blogged — “you don’t know what you know until you blog it.”

I talked to one legal tech entrepreneur at AALL about the idea of a legal tech network of blogs, kind of like the Law School Blog Network we started early this year. Everyone gets their own blog and the benefit of LexBlog’s WordPress platform for the law (seven turnkey elements), including coaching, visibility and a network site of curated legal tech posts.

I mentioned it to another legal tech entrepreneur online today. Both seemed interested. Rather than free, as with schools, we’d probably charge something around $50 per month to keep it affordable.

Legal tech is critically important. As Ed Walters, the CEO of Fastcase, said at AALL, “software is going to drive access to justice and access to legal services.” It’s not going to be people alone.

We need to help legal tech companies get better at what they do, collaborate with each other (for learning and integrating solutions where it makes sense), to get known so they have customers make use of good legal technology, to make legal services more accessible and to make money so as to fuel more development and growth.

I think publishing/blogging can help.

Could state supreme courts and state bar associations be trying to limit the public’s access to legal services?

It sure seems that way when looking at how some of them prevent the use of innovation and technology to make lawyers relevant to the 85% of Americans who don’t think of using a lawyer when a legal need arises. Let alone providing access to justice to the poor in this country.

The latest comes from the New Jersey Supreme Court, the governing body for lawyer licensure in the state, which last week blacklisted services from Avvo, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer that match consumers with attorneys because of concerns over fee-sharing and referral fees.

Avvo allegedly facilitated improper fee-splitting, while LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer operated legal service plans that aren’t registered with the judiciary.

Being part of the solution that such services offer is now unethical for a New Jersey Lawyer.

New Jersey is not alone. The services from these and other companies have met resistance from any number of other states.

When these companies leveraged technology, innovation and efficiencies to bring access to legal services, something that bar associations, courts and law firms couldn’t dream of getting done themselves, states cut them off at the knee.

New Jersey State Bar President, Robert Hille, who represents health care institutions and insurance companies, seems a million miles away from the reality of average consumers in his comments about the court’s opinion.

The New Jersey State Bar Association has in recent years frequently expressed concern about the growing number of organizations that have sought to open the door to fee sharing, which could interfere with a lawyer’s independent professional judgment. The opinion provides clarity and practical guidance for New Jersey attorneys about whether and to what extent they can practice in such programs.

Through Avvo Advisers and Avvo Legal Services, Avvo enables a consumer to call a lawyer for forty dollars or to procure legal services at set fees, with Avvo being paid a marketing fee.

In addition to legal service products, LegalZoom offers a network of vetted lawyers as part of a service that receives a Net Promoter Score from its customers which rivals that of Amazon, Apple, and Southwest Airlines.

What does the New Jersey Supreme Court offer? An outdated Self-Help Resource Center web site with limited information. For further questions you call your “Local Ombudsman.” Get real.

People today expect to be able to do a quick Google search, find an app or a service and get what they need – even if it means paying a few hundred dollars. The court, by splitting hairs in their decision making to stop services they and other lawyers dislike, is ignoring reality.

Do they really think someone is going to call a law office, get vetted, be told they’ll get a call back later that day or tomorrow and then drive ten miles to sit in a waiting room before meeting a lawyer?

All this to pay many times more than they’d pay to get better service from innovative companies which have lawyers in their network (in states where they wouldnt be disbarred for participating) who actually “get it.”

Rather than dismiss services like Avvo, D.C. Attorney and long time champion for solo’s, Carolyn Elefant says:

…[Y]ou’d think that solos — who are often interrupted multiple times a day with clients who want a quick answer, and not a $175/hr consult would cheer for Avvo Advisor as well – because instead of having to act rudely or unresponsively towards these callers, lawyers can direct them to a place where they can have their question answered. Likewise, solos can also accept Avvo calls during downtime to earn lunch money and gain access to a new contact – without the hassle of performing intake, opening up a client file and then sending an invoice — because Avvo’s done all of the work for them.

The regulators’ decisions are so illogical Elefant says it’s hard to believe that they are are actually lawyers.

The percentage that Avvo retains from these transactions is no different from the service fees charged by credit card companies. Just as credit card companies collect a charge from each transaction to cover the cost of the service, Avvo’s percentage reflects the service that it provides to users – not just marketing, but also the convenience to lawyers of not having to perform intake or send out an invoice.

Lawyers, courts and bar associations talk a good game when it comes to public service and making legal services more accessible. But it’s not happening.

When businesses everywhere are seizing technology to reduce prices and improve services, bar associations and courts governing lawyers are sticking their heads in the sand and digging in their heels.

This is a real shame — for the public who don’t have access to the law and for lawyers who are increasingly becoming irrelevant to the average person in this country.

Just a week after I read that the Florida Bar Association wants to place greater restrictions on the use of Avvo, I’m sitting in a class at Indiana University Law School where the use of Avvo is being taught to first year law students.

Maybe the law student who said she’d eliminate “old white guys” in looking for a lawyer on Avvo said it all. It’s a new world, damn those clinging to the past.

Professor Bill Henderson’s Avvo exercise was more about teaching students how consumers select lawyers than teaching law students how they should be prepared to use Avvo as a lawyer. As Henderson told his class, you, personally, may not use Avvo to find a lawyer, but Avvo can guide you in the way you present yourself as a lawyer – online, offline, on Avvo or not.

The Avvo assignment?

[O]ne of your team members has a serious legal problem. For the purposes of this assignment, they are a close friend who you care about, not your fellow LP team member. Also for the purposes of this assignment, you never went to a four-year college, much less law school. But you did graduate from high school. Not surprisingly, you are living paycheck to paycheck. You are not well read and your personal networks (unlike now) are not filled with well-educated, sophisticated people who can guide you to safety.

Your job is to assist your hapless team member find the best lawyer to solve his or her legal problem. Because you are an ordinary working class person (as opposed to the type of person who enrolls in a fancy law school), you head to the website Avvo (www.avvo.com) to help your friend find a high-quality lawyer. To make this exercise more interesting, limit your search to your hometown or somewhere nearby (alternately, you can use your hapless team member’s hometown). We will assume that all of your collective hometowns are adjacent to your team member’s hometown and that your friend is willing to travel the additional 30-minute drive for the right attorney.

Based on the information available to you on Avvo, locate and recommend a lawyer that your hapless friend should call. Areas of practice are likely to be useful, and Avvo can help you with that. Exclude attorneys you personally know unless they are under 35 and you have known them since childhood.

The legal problems students faced ranged from deportation, being arrested as a meth dealer, having their house foreclosed on, needing to file bankruptcy as a cancer survivor and more. Henderson’s good.

Students each presented in front of the class the lawyer they selected and why — based on a review of relevant Avvo lawyers.

IMG_0897

Totally ignored in the students’ selections of lawyers on Avvo were law school attendance, grades and law review. All the stuff law students focus on as important when in school. Henderson told them that’s not a surprise, many fine lawyers and legal tech entrepreneurs were very average students.

What did the students look at on Avvo? Here’s Henderson’s chalkboard with the checks indicating the most cited.

IMG_0923

  • Reviews of the lawyers by previous clients topped the list. People trust people similarly situated, even if they have never met them.
  • Looks like a good and caring person. Pictures were important and needed to be professional, lacking any semblance of scales of justice and court houses.
  • Experience in the area.
  • Ratings were considered as important and dismissed by an equal number of students. Stars were no way to select a lawyer, per a number of students.
  • Endorsements by lawyers.
  • Good “about section,” personalizing the lawyer as caring and knowledgeable.
  • Pricing, including free consultations were important for some students, while others wouldn’t select a lawyer because of low prices – they needed someone who’d been around the corner.

Two or three of students went “off track” and volunteered that they would not select any of the lawyers on Avvo. They would turn to someone they trust for the name of a lawyer.

A former real estate professional, now law student, indicated relationships and word of mouth within the industry would guide him in selecting a lawyer for a commercial real estate project.

Henderson’s class was not a scientific sample of how people select lawyers and use Avvo. I am sure Avvo has done some good work of their own on that front.

But Henderson’s Avvo exercise is a wake up call for students as to how lawyers are  perceived by consumers of legal services.

Law students also came to appreciate that innovate legal startups such as Avvo are doing more to make legal information and legal services available than traditional channels are.

As I sat back in Henderson’s class, I couldn’t help but think it was less than a decade ago that Avvo CEO and Founder, Mark Britton (@Mark_Britton) said nothing would come between Avvo and consumers. Now I am sitting in a law school studying the use of Avvo. And in the Midwest, where all the down to earth thinking and good stuff comes from.

I don’t know how you feel about Avvo being taught in law schools. I feel great about it. While law professors and career services professionals down the hall may be appalled. Henderson’s students were being prepared for their future — and as a 1 L’s. They’ll graduate more enlightened than those clinging to the past.

Sitting here at Skadden in Chicago at the Chicago Legal Innovation and Technology Meetup listening to speakers talk of access to legal services.

The point being that 85% plus of people never think of using a lawyer. Lawyers rank six on who people turn to for legal advice. Number one is friends and family members.

The reason, per Fred Headon (@fredheadon), the general counsel of Air Canada, is that lawyers have made themselves irrelevant by not communicating like everyone else.

The public engages each other on the Internet – Facebook, Twitter, blogs (real ones engaging bloggers, reporters, business people and consumers and not content marketing for attention) and more.

Yet it seems lawyers look for ways to not be real and authentic. Who would trust creatures that do not communicate like real people?

Heck, most people don’t even know a lawyer. Lawyers aren’t out listening, mingling and engaging people online.

If people knew of a lawyer, liked them and trusted them, they may call them and the lawyer would get work. But this is not going to happen if lawyers don’t use the Internet like everyone else. ‪

* Sorry about the cryptic nature of this post, just some quick notes at the end of the program.

Two weeks ago I wrote in a post here that I was struck that none of the 28 professionals on the Commission Roster of the ABA’s Commission on Future of Legal Services were technology entrepreneurs who had founded, guided or participated in legal technology companies or startups focused on the delivery of legal services. I went on to query why in the main thirteen recommendations of the Commission, the word technology was only mentioned once, that being that “All members of the legal profession should keep abreast of relevant technologies.”

David Lat (@davidlat), managing editor of Above the Law, and I then heard from Renee Knake (@reneeknake), Professor of Law at University of Houston Law Center and the Commission’s reporter, that the Comission felt there were inaccuracies in my post, particularly that there were Liaisons, Special Advisors and people who gave testimony before the Commission who had experience with legal tech startups. Though I still believe what I wrote is accurate, I thought it only fair to allow the Commission to respond. You can then draw your own conclusions. So for the remainder of this column, I turn it over to Rene Knake.

By Renee Knake

I write to correct inaccuracies in the post by Kevin O’Keefe on August 10, 2016, “No Legal Tech Entrepreneurs On ABA Commission On the Future Of Legal Services.”

The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services not only included members involved in legal technology, but we also actively sought input from legal tech entrepreneurs and innovators.

The Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States, released by the Commission on August 6, 2016, may be viewed by some readers as controversial or not sufficiently bold by others (which we readily acknowledge in the Report’s introduction) but the Report cannot be critiqued for lacking input from the legal tech world.

The Report is a consensus document, and it represents the expertise and input of the entire Commission, as informed by written comments supplied by the public and the profession, testimony at public hearings and meetings, grassroots events across the country, a national summit on innovation in legal services, webinars, and dozens of presentations on the Commission’s work at which the public’s and profession’s feedback was sought.

Many members of the Commission have long been involved in legal technology and innovation, including:

  • Ruth Hill Bro (former chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and author of the ABA Cybersecurity Handbook)
  • Chad Burton (founder of one of the first virtual law firms and CEO of CuroLegal, a next-generation legal technology consulting and software development firm)
  • Lisa Colpoys (executive director of Illinois Legal Aid Online)
  • Margaret Hagan (founder of Open Law Lab using technology and design to increase access to justice, and lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design)
  • Stephanie Kimbro (author of the books Virtual Law Practice: How to Deliver Legal Services Online and Consumer Law Revolution: The Lawyers’ Guide to the Online Legal Marketplace and founder of Virtual Law Offices Technology, acquired by Total Attorneys)
  • Andrew Perlman (dean of Suffolk Law School and founder of Suffolk’s Institute on Law Practice Technology)
  • Marty Smith (founder of MetaJure, the smart document management system)
  • Ron Staudt (professor at Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law and director of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology)

In addition, the Commission received input from numerous leaders in the legal tech community, including the very companies O’Keefe identifies as good sources like Avvo and LegalZoom. The CEOs of both companies—Mark Britton and John Suh, respectively—spoke at the Commission’s National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, along with other technology innovators such as Richard Barton (founder of Expedia, Glassdoor, and Zillow), Colin Rule (founder of online dispute resolution company Modria), and Richard Susskind (author of The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services and the UK Civil Justice Council’s report Online Dispute Resolution for Low-Value Civil Claims). Many others testified at public hearings and submitted written comments in response to the Commission’s issues papers, again including experts identified by O’Keefe like Richard Granat, CEO of SmartLegalForms. All comments and testimony were carefully considered by the Commission. The Commission’s website documents this information.

Finally, the Commission culled expertise from leaders in legal technology and innovation by hosting webinars and compiling a special issue of whitepapers for the South Carolina Law Review. Webinar contributors included Michael Mills, founder and CSO of Neota Logic as well as John Mayer, executive director of Computer Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). Whitepaper topics include Legal Startups by Dan Linna, founder of LegalRnD at Michigan State University College of Law; Watson, Esq. by Paul Lippe, CEO of LegalOnRamp; Online Dispute Resolution by Ethan Katsh, director of the National Center for Technology and Dispute Resolution at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and Colin Rule; Gamification and Online Engagement by Stephanie Kimbro; and Disruptive Innovation by Raymond Brescia, professor at Albany Law School and founder of the blog The Future of Change.

The contributions of this collective body of knowledge led the Commission to make several significant recommendations related to technology and innovation:

  1. All members of the legal profession, including lawyers, should keep abreast of relevant technologies.
  2. The recommendations contained in the Legal Services Corporation’s Report of the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice should be implemented.
  3. Online legal checkups should be made available to the public.
  4. Virtual (online) access to courts should be expanded.
  5. Court-annexed online dispute resolution should be piloted and expanded, as appropriate.
  6. The legal profession should partner with other disciplines for insights about innovating the delivery of legal services.
  7. The ABA should create a Center for Innovation.

Three of these recommendations are already underway. The Commission received ABA Enterprise Grants to advance online legal checkups and to pilot a court-annexed online dispute resolution program, and the ABA Board of Governors approved the creation of the ABA Center for Innovation.

Technology innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders—from within the legal profession and beyond—actively contributed to the Commission’s Report. The newly-approved ABA Center on Innovation will continue to work with these and other experts to further the Commission’s recommendations.