In 2009, the United Nations established a program for accelerating access to justice and the development of effective, responsive, economically accessible and fair justice systems. As well as promoting the rule of law with due consideration to the rights of the poor, women and vulnerable groups. Even though in the last decade, the provision of legal aid has expanded and the awareness of rights holders has been enhanced, there is still much to do. Legal innovation is needed to overcome enormous implementation gaps prevailing between and existing laws and their application in practice, weak institutional reforms that fail to address the, e.g. economical and political, barriers in the justice system and to improve public awareness of legal rights and the mechanisms to claim them. If we summarize various UN reports and other sources, there are circa four billion people without access to justice worldwide.
Access to justice is needed to develop a middle class and a sustainable economy. In practice however the costs of legal services are too often too high for the majority of the people. While in many cases laws and judiciary are often in place and functioning, the right of the strongest often prevails. As subsidizing legal aid leads to a bottomless pit, access to justice for all should be
facilitated in a sustainable way. Therefore we should look into creating viable for-profit legal tech models with clear incentives for all participants. But can legal tech start-ups prevail in an environment that is still lacking and unpredictable in terms of internet access, as is the case is some developing countries?
Well, although poor internet access is still a relevant issue, mobile telephones, on the other hand, are quickly becoming omnipresent and may in the short term provide the best immediate technological alternative. As these mobile phones are usually run with prepaid cards which can be purchased from various mobile network operators, these operators seek incentives to drive traffic to their products, in particular, value-adding services. This need of companies, together with the worldwide political pressure on the affordable facilitation of legal empowerment for the poor, creates an environment where various opportunities for legal technologies may lie.
As for example in Kenya, there are less than 2.000 lawyers who are for the most part based in the capital of big cities. Comparing this to a population around 40 million people, of which a significant amount live below the poverty line, securing access to justice has been a complex societal challenge for a long time. But with the rise of technologies like mobile phones, legal technological solutions got room for advancement. The result were legal helpdesks based on SMS where people could send requests for information about their legal issues to.
The opportunities for legal tech are ever growing with the continuous development of technologies and legal technologies have big potential in thriving in competitive corporate sectors in areas where there is also influential political pressure for legal empowerment. Step by step, and by making use of the technologies available, we might come closer to, as the Kenyians refer to as wakili mkononi , or a mobile lawyer in your pocket.