We all had our reasons for choosing to go to law school. Many choose the legal field for the notion that such a profession fits within their ideas of nobility and prestige, or it may be keeping with a family tradition or there is the presumption and expectation of financial gain and security. I initially chose to go to law school because I wanted to be the next Jerry Maguire! I had big dreams of being a super agent. Of course that did not come to fruition as my idealistic future of representing famous athletes never materialized. Notwithstanding some of my initial reasons for choosing law school and those of all the rest; I would like to believe one of those reasons, for all lawyers (including myself), includes the underlying notion of defending people’s legal rights and fighting for those who can’t fight for themselves.
Currently around the world, there are approximately 4 billion people with little or no access to justice (i.e. the inability to defend their legal rights). There are many reasons for this. Most commonly, a person’s financial situation is a significant barrier to obtaining proper representation; if any at all. Location and proximity to towns or areas containing a high density of professionals also plays a role in the ability to access a lawyer. Socio economic status is a determining factor whether individuals have proper access to legal services. Communities with low income, low education and higher unemployment are such communities that have little or zero access to adequate legal representation. And sadly, the lack of consumer confidence in the legal profession also serves as a major obstacle to many needing legal care.
In this day and age of technology, this number of people with little or no access to legal services is unacceptable. Technology is not a discriminator of such socioeconomic status and is the very method of overcoming the same. Access to technological advances is ever increasing. Why can’t the same be said about legal services? According to Google, over 55% of the world’s population has access to the Internet. That is an amazing number of people. Almost more astounding, almost 3 billion people are wholly dependent of accessing the Internet via a smartphone device. What that means is more and more people are, or will be, seeking and accessing services (medical, legal, insurance, ect.) via a mobile platform. Thus, the legal profession has to adapt and implement new ways to deliver legal services to more consumers.
Speaking with lawyers and advocates around the world, the language of access to justice is universal. Access to justice is not an American, European, Asian or wherever issue; people around the world have little or no access to the legal system. As mentioned before, a lack of confidence in the legal system and financial restrictions are major barriers to using a lawyer and/or accessing legal services.
As a way of addressing these barriers, courts around the globe are attempting to automate more processes with the intended purpose of enabling consumers easier access points of obtaining legal relief. These efforts include automated family law pleadings, consumer debt collection pleadings, landlord/tenant pleadings and many other civil pleadings designed and intended for consumers to have low cost access to the judicial system.
Notwithstanding said efforts, most automated forms and processes ultimately lead to disastrous results for the consumers and; ironically, the courts. Unfortunately, the unintended consequences of such processes are the clogging of court dockets with thousands of stagnant cases. Due to their lack of familiarity with seemingly simple legal jargon, the pro se litigant inevitably files erroneously prepared documents or makes other simple mistakes that could have been avoided with proper legal representation.
What is more, even if the documents are prepared correctly, often times notices are not properly served on the opposing party and hearings are canceled and rescheduled. This scenario is played out on a daily bases in courts around the United States. In fact, of the 100 million civil cases filed in the US in 2017, in over 80% of those cases, at least one party was unrepresented.
Although there are many people who successfully obtain the legal relief they seek, too many are left with unanswered questions and find themselves in worse positions than when they started. Increased legal fees to fix the problems created, significant delays in obtaining the relief sought and the continual distrust in the legal system are just a few of the problems caused by inadequate access to justice for a vast majority of people. Please don’t get me wrong, I think online court forms are a great start and do a lot of good. However, as a legal tech community, we must do more to create solutions to empower lawyers to provide their services and expertise to a greater number of clients; and to enable clients to have more convenient and affordable access to lawyers and the legal system.
In addition to the efforts by the courts, there are many other options to reduce or eliminate the barriers to access legal services. There are online legal directories, which list thousands of lawyers and practice areas and ways to connect with the same. There are legal ads on tv, online, social media, billboards, and many other mediums offering legal services. However, with consumer confidence in the legal system at an all time low and these lawyers still needing to charge significant legal fees for the advertised services, many advertisements go ignored and consumers are left with unresolved legal problems. Pro bono clinics and many government funded legal websites offer automated legal forms and legal question forums where people can, at the very least, get some legal guidance to a legal question. However, although these do help to a certain degree, they are still inadequate.
With advances in legal technology, more solutions are being created to combine these various services; thus bridging the justice gap by enabling lawyers to efficiently provide the services they’ve been trained to provide and enabling consumer’s greater access to lawyers and legal services. Such solutions include mobile applications combining legal form automation, legal directories and on-demand video and chat capabilities with lawyers as the forms are being prepared and legal questions are formulated.
Technology is being leveraged across many platforms to make our daily lives easier and easier. As lawyers, we should be doing all we can to implement technology to provide better care and services to our clients. Although we come from a tradition-laden practice, change can be a good thing. Once lawyers embrace all technology has to offer, access to justice will be more than a cool buzz term and people around the world will hopefully start to cross the bridge to legal relief and justice for all.
About the Author
Tyler Todd. Attorney and legal tech entrepreneur working with others to augment legal services and to make inefficiencies more efficient through technology. Developing legal technology to alleviate pain points of accessing the legal system; thus, enabling greater access to legal resources and greater access to justice. Trying to change the world by protecting ones legal rights and providing the platform in which to use their voice! I am a lawyer skilled in civil litigation, strategic planning, negotiation, public speaking and legal writing. Educated at Brigham Young University - Hawaii and later obtaining a JD from California Western School of Law. I am the COO of 1LAW Legal Technologies, Managing Partner of 1LAW-Utah Regional Offices and Managing Partner of The Cochran Firm-Utah.