Access to justice: technology and the role of legal education – a grand convergence? (PM)

by Paul Maharg on 20/06/2015

Third and final keynote, this time given by Ron Staudt, of Chicago-Kent College of Law.  Ron is one of my legal ed tech heroes — he’s been involved since 1978, and in most of the major US tech projects since then.  I always go back to his work, and often find myself learning more about the future than I reckoned I would (in fact a recent article cites his work with Mead Data, the precursor to Lexis/Nexis, published way back in the mid-1980s).  He’s director, Center for Access to Justice and Technology, teaches on justice and technology and much else, and has worked closely with tech companies, seeking applications of technology to legal education.

He began by welcoming the conference’s focus on education — in the US, student jobs are still the primary concern, affecting much of law school activity.  He cited the clinical revolution brought about by CLEPR in US legal education.  There is however a limit to the number of credits that can be obtained by clinic — currently 12, out of around 87.  Ron thinks the limit pointless (and I agree entirely, and would say that the same applies to many of the ABA rules re technology and legal ed).  In fact he commented that there should be a limit on doctrinal course credit.   Neat turnaround.

There is a real need for legal services in the US.  Legal Services Corp funded agencies complete 1M cases each year, but still, 50% of those seeking legal help at these agencies are tutrned away; and 80% of the poor and working poor in the US face their legal problems without the help of a lawyer.  He calls it a national disgrace, and rightly so, and not just in the US either.  Parallel with that is a steady rise in self-representation in US courts.  A NY survey in 2003 found that ‘… most litigants (Family, approx 75%, Housing approx 90%) appear without a lawyer for critical types of cases: evictions; domestic violence; child custody; guardianship; visitation; support; and paternity…’.  In addition to low income people, many self-represented justice customers are the latent market that Susskind and Kimbro and others have discussed.  This is the focus issue for Ron, and around which the A2J initiatives are centred.

LSC Technology Initiative grants between 2000-15 have had successes.  There are statewide innovative web sites in every state, originally information platforms; but Ron points out, why not be the platform for innovative delivery of legal services?  eg Law Help Interactive

  • National server for automated documents
  • a small but active tech community of legal aid developers have built 3000 hot docs templates, 1000 A2J Guided Interviews, used 610865 times in 2014 alone.

Eg A2J Author

  • This is the joint project between John Mayer and CALI and Ron, and the focus of this keynote
  • a surprising success in public access to legal self help – 2.6M LHI uses in the period 2008-14.
  • Assessed on a pass-fail model
  • Learning model is a practicum

(See eg Illinois Legal Aid as a comparison.)

Ron took us through the simple interface of A2J:



The numbers of interactions with the A2J site are huge:


There were problems, not least because the software was coded originally in Flash:


It also needs HotDocs to configure the document assembly (the next version has its own doc assembly engine).  A question was raised: how to accommodate differences in court documentation?  Ron explained how the software does that.  The next A2J problem, though, is how to code for the future.  Who will do that?  The answer: students, who to do it need to be educated in —

  • field observation/ help desk
  • scoping document research memo
  • storyboarding
  • A2J Guided Interveiw and HotDocs template

Legal Aid –

  • New A2J Guided Interviews, eg
  • Guardianship petition
  • Expungement complaint

Benefits of A2J clinics for students and law schools?

  • they are a deep dive into law, procedure and heuristics
  • they are an exposure to policy/ethical issues raised by legal services delivery and technology
  • they contain key competencies for emerging law practice (elawyering, software driven law practice, unbundling, web 2.0 and cloud practice — see Carnegie, etc)
  • they embody key competencies for all lawyers (teamwork, project management and empathy)

Ron showed us a fascinating task/skills map:


CALI has been involved in developing the A2J Clinic Project.  Links to A2J Course Resources:


At question time —

  1. what about serving illiterate people?  Answer: Develop tools to help others to interact between illiterate people and software.
  2. Updating the client records, eg wills?  Answer: The maintenance task is a good project for students to take on board.
  3. How to get students coding? Depends on what students are being asked to do or want to do or law schools or clinics or other employers ask students to do.
  4. Lots of other questions, clearly people are fascinated by the project.  Ron’s answer was often a variant of ‘we’re working on it’, or ‘can’t do everything’, and he’s absolutely right.  There are, for example, issues to do with the hardware and software compatibility, cost of access to online services, etc.  It’s a measure of the sophistication of his model that people are asking sophisticated questions.  And even suggesting parallel models and solutions, such as online dispute resolution, ODR.

Great keynote: hugely knowledgeable in every aspect of legal education and technology, a history lesson of legal ed tech and a strong pointer to one of the futures of legal education.  And a first-rate legal ed tech project, one of the best I’ve seen.

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