At ILTACON 2014 and 2015, I had the privilege and pleasure of debating the future of legal technology with Joshua Lenon of Clio, Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems, Stuart Barr of HighQ, and Ryan McClead of Norton Rose.
Having been invited back again for 2016, we booted Stuart, recruited Nicole Bradick of Curo Legal, tagged Ryan to speak for HighQ, and in collaboration with our moderator Jay Hull of Davis Wright Tremaine decided that the title of our panel on August 30 would be Bigger and Shinier: Legal Technology Innovation & Its Effect on the Profession.
Here is what I said, speaking last after lively presentations by my four colleagues.
We started with big and shiny and then we added innovation because we wanted to talk about how to detect real innovation. Then we added the effect on the profession because we were worried about the profession.
The profession worries about itself. It’s difficult to get through a week or a month without an article asking whether some technology—usually an omniscient, omnipotent, or perhaps omnivorous, but certainly magical AI—is going to steal lawyers’ jobs, whether robots are going to replace lawyers, whether value-based fees and corporate legal operations wizards will crash partners’ profits. (Calm down: our robot overlords are not at the castle gate yet; and most partners are doing pretty well.)
I asked the indulgence of my fellow panelists, and ask it of the ILTACON audience, to join me in exploring technology’s effect on the profession from a different perspective, from the perspective of access to justice.
First, let’s have a look at the recently published report of the American Bar Association Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Then, let’s talk about how ILTA and its members might mobilize to contribute to solving the access to justice problem.
The ABA Commission
The ABA established two years ago a blue-ribbon commission to think seriously about the mismatch between people’s legal problems and the legal system’s capacity to solve those problems. The commission did research, received testimony, and organized a productive summit conference at Stanford Law School last year. Just a few weeks ago, the Commission released its report. It is provocative and challenging in many ways.
Please do read the full report. Here I need only report the key findings and recommendations.
- Most people living in poverty, and the majority of moderate-income individuals, do not receive the legal help they need.
- Funding of the Legal Services Corporation and other legal aid providers remains insufficient and will continue to be inadequate in the future.
- Pro bono alone cannot provide the poor with adequate legal services to address their unmet legal needs.
- Efforts targeting legal assistance for moderate-income individuals have not satisfied the need.
- The traditional law practice business model constrains innovations that would provide greater access to, and enhance the delivery of, legal services.
- The legal profession’s resistance to change hinders additional innovations.
- Advancements in technology and other innovations continue to change how legal services can be accessed and delivered.
- New providers of legal services are proliferating and creating additional choices for consumers and lawyers.
- Federal and state governments have not funded or supported the court system adequately, putting the rule of law at risk.
About the Findings
We all know that the poor do not receive legal help with the problems they face—child custody, domestic violence, housing, entitlement to benefits, and so on, but it is also true that most middle class people do not get advice about the legal problems they encounter.
The Legal Services Corporation is the national funder of legal aid organizations across the United States. LSC’s appropriation has been cut by Congress year by year and is now at the lowest inflation-adjusted level ever. That has resulted in legal aid organizations all across the country cutting their staffs by 10%, 15%, and 20%. Every legal aid organization in the country turns away every day people who have important and urgent legal problems.
Pro bono service—free legal services by lawyers who take time from their already long days and weeks—cannot solve the problem. The member firms of ILTA do a remarkable job in donating their time. This is a great act of professional responsibility and yet by itself cannot solve the problem. No feasible increase in pro bono work by the private bar can fill the access to justice gap.
Regulation of the profession is indeed an important and challenging question, but I will leave it for another forum so we can talk today about technology.
“Resistance to change hinders additional innovations.”
Surely not a surprise to us. In this room, on this panel, on other panels at this conference and other ILTACONS over many years—whether the topic is usability, adoption, finding the right technology, training, or encouraging lawyers to use the technology they have—it is a recurring, reluctant theme in our discourse that the profession is resistant to change. That is true in our microcosm, here in the corporate legal world, and true across the landscape from solo practitioners to giant law departments.
What did the ABA recommend after two years of wide-ranging consultation and analysis?
- The legal profession should support the goal of providing some form of effective assistance for essential civil legal needs to all persons otherwise unable to afford a lawyer.
- Courts should consider regulatory innovations in the area of legal services delivery.
- The legal profession should partner with other disciplines and the public for insights about innovating the delivery of legal services.
About the Recommendations
Everyone in ILTA will agree, I am sure, that cross-disciplinary partnership produces the most useful and exciting change. Despite the insidious persistence of the label “non-lawyer,” law firms now employ very sophisticated professionals in technology, business development, process improvement, pricing, knowledge management, electronic discovery, financial analysis, and other fields. Collaboration among those disciplines and with “mere lawyers” happens every day.
A Brief Tour of Innovation in Legal Services
Outside our corporate legal world, there has been significant innovation over many years. Here is an indicative but by no means comprehensive list, in random order:
- Illinois Legal Aid Online
- A2J Author (Chicago-Kent / CALI)
- Technology Initiative Grants – TIG (Legal Services Corporation)
- Statewide Websites (LSC)
- Law Help Interactive (Pro Bono Net & HotDocs)
- Legal Hackers
- Open Law Lab
- LSC Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice (2013)
- Microsoft / LSC / PBN Statewide Justice Portals
- Citizenship Works
- Center on Court Access to Justice for All (National Center for State Courts)
- Women in Law Hackathon
- Access to Justice Research Network – Canada
- Online Dispute Resolution – Modria, et al.
Describing just a few of these (please do have a look at all of them):
Illinois Legal Aid Online is one of the earliest of the state efforts to build a comprehensive set of legal resources for people who are self-represented. A2J Author was developed at Chicago-Kent Law School by Ron Staudt and John Mayer. It is a free tool for building simple interviews, and used by many legal aid organizations.
The Legal Services Corporation program of Technology Initiative Grants (TIG)—$3,000,000 to $4,000,000 each year—has enabled legal aid organizations to do some remarkable things. One early TIG project was the creation of state-wide websites in which all of the legal aid organizations and law firms engaged in pro bono work can share information to be effective and efficient. Law Help Interactive is the most-used document assembly system in the country, producing more than 500,000 documents a year thanks to a generous donation by HotDocs Corporation and long-term support by LSC TIG.
Why & What for ILTA?
It seems to me that ILTA could play a significant role in addressing the access to justice problem in the United States. We are collectively more than 20,000 of the most experienced, creative, informed, and well-funded technologists involved in legal services. Not only the law firm and law department participants, but also the commercial participants, represent an enormous engine of innovation and capability.
Let’s be specific.
ILTA could … recognize and inspire collaborations between ILTA members and:
- Lawyers in ILTA firms who do pro bono work
- Nonprofit organizations with which ILTA firms partner
- Industry members active in the field
- Legal hackathons and other innovators
ILTA could … recognize and inspire contributions by industry members, such as:
- Lexis, Westlaw, and other ILTA sponsor participants who donate services to law firms for their pro bono work
- Microsoft, which committed $1,000,000+ to the Legal Services Corporation / Pro Bono Net portal project
- HotDocs Corporation, which supports Law Help Interactive
- Neota Logic, which collaborates with nonprofit organizations and law schools
- Clio, which provides its software to law schools.
ILTA could …
- Create a mini-track at ILTACON 2017 on innovation in access to justice
- Organize a meeting of law departments and law firms to explore ways in which they could collaborate to support nonprofit legal services via technology
- Create opportunities for ILTA members to explore advanced technologies used in the nonprofit legal space that may prove useful to their firms
- Create a program, through the regional groups, to assist individual legal aid and other nonprofit legal organizations with technology reviews, upgrades, training, planning, and equipment acquisition
- Do some good
I have begun to speak to the leadership of ILTA about the ways in which ILTA could bring our collective capabilities to bear in useful ways. I invite you to join me.
ILTA is an organization that gets right down to work when there’s a problem to be solved, as it did when it created LegalSEC to guide firms through the thickets of information security. Within days after ILTACON 2016, senior ILTA participants met to plan ways in which ILTA can contribute—resources, webinars, discussion forums, a task force, and more. We at Neota Logic look forward to working with ILTA, and will urge other companies in the legal technology industry to do so as well.
To receive a free copy of Artificial Intelligence in Law – The State of Play 2016 by Michael Mills, click HERE.
Michael Mills is the co-founder and chief strategy officer of Neota Logic Inc., developers of the Neota Logic System—practical artificial intelligence for law and business, a no-code platform for automation of knowledge, processes, and documents.
He attended the University of Chicago Law School, then served as law clerk to a United States District Judge. Mr. Mills was partner in the law firm Mayer Brown.
At Davis Polk & Wardwell, he led technology strategy, business development, knowledge management, professional development, practice support, and electronic discovery. At Kraft & Kennedy, he served as a technology consultant to law firms and law departments.
He is a director of Pro Bono Net, which provides innovative technology for the nonprofit legal sector, and was a co-founder of the Central Park Conservancy.