Legal technology to enable access to justice is one of the main topics at ABA / NLADA Equal Justice Conference 2013, being held 8-11 May 2013 in St. Louis, Missouri, USA.
The Twitter hashtag for the conference appears to be #ejcstl
Professor Dr. Julie Macfarlane of the University of Windsor has published The National Self-Represented Litigants Project: Identifying and Meeting the Needs of Self-Represented Litigants: Final Report (2013).
The report states the findings of an empirical study of the needs of pro se litigants in courts in Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario.
Findings are based on one-on-one or focus-group interviews with “259 self-represented litigants” (SRLs) and 107 legal service providers.
Although the sample is not a probability sample, “the characteristics of the SRL sample are broadly representative of the general Canadian population.”
The principal findings regarding information are as follows (I’ve added bulleted lists for ease of reading):
Regarding court forms:
The most common complaints include:
- difficulty knowing which form(s) to use;
- apparently inconsistent information from court staff/judges;
- difficulty with the language used on forms; and
- the consequences of mistakes including adjournments and more wasted time and stress.
Regarding online legal resources:
[SRLs] identified the following weaknesses:
- an emphasis on substantive legal information and an absence of information on practical tasks like:
- filing or serving,
- advice on negotiation or a strategy for talking to the other side,
- presentation techniques, or [...]
- legal procedure;
- [online legal resources] often directed them to other sites (sometimes with broken links) with inconsistent information; and
- multiplicity of sites with no means of differentiating which is the most “legitimate”.
Cynthia Eagan [a member of the research team] found many of the same problems when she audited a selection of on-line Court Guides [... as well as problems concerning:]
- the reading levels of some of this material (as high as 13.5), and
- the heavy use of jargon and unexplained legal terms.
Regarding legal information for SRLs:
- SRL’s in the study frequently described themselves as seeking “guidance” rather than “direction”.
- The most common source of legal information for SRL’s are court staff [...]
- [SRLs] complained about the restrictions on the time and scope of information that these staff can offer, because of:
- the limitation on their providing “legal advice”[...] or [...]
- the sheer volume of people they are dealing with.
- The distinction between legal information/legal advice which lies at the heart of the job descriptions of staff working on the court counters and in information services is consistently complained about by both SRL’s and staff, as at best unclear and at worst practically unworkable [...]
Regarding access to legal services:
[...] many SRL’s sought some type of “unbundled” legal services from legal counsel; for example:
- assistance with document review,
- writing a letter, or
- appearing in court [...]
Please see the comments to this post for events and other information related to the report.
This lengthy and interesting post covers a very large number of topics regarding how technological innovation is likely to influence legal aid services. Professor Dr. Daniel Martin Katz’s work on quantitative legal prediction is cited.
Merran Lawler, LLB, JD, Professor Dr. Jeff Giddings, and Michael Robertson, all of Griffith University Law School, have published Opportunities and Limitations in the Provision of Self-Help Legal Resources to Citizens in Need, Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2012.
Here is the abstract:
This article considers the utility of resources designed to assist people undertaking their own legal work. Four in-depth case studies are used to explore the tensions inherent in providing coherent and user-oriented resources to legal self-helpers in environments where service providers attempt to convey complex legal information, knowledge and skills to people at the point of legal exigency. The needs of the consumer for basic process oriented and solutions focused resources do not always coincide with the objectives of providers to impart sufficient legal knowledge, information and skills to allow the consumer to work through those processes as an informed citizen.
James E. McMillan of the National Center for State Courts has posted E-Filing Must Support the Self-Represented, Court Technology Bulletin, 8 September 2011.
This is the latest post in Mr. McMillan’s series, Eight Rules of E-Filing.
In this post, Mr. McMillan argues that e-filing systems implemented by courts in which large numbers of self-represented litigants appear must be designed for use by those litigants. Mr. McMillan then describes a number of court technologies that that enable self-represented litigants to file litigation papers online.
For more information, please see the complete post.
Monica Goyal, J.D., M.Sc., of MyLegalBriefcase gave a presentation on technology, access to justice, and MyLegalBriefcase at the “Startups in the Law” panel at NELIC 2011: The New and Emerging Legal Infrastructures Conference, held 15 April 2011 at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall, in Berkeley, California, USA.
In her presentation, Ms. Goyal discusses MyLegalBriefcase, an innovative interactive online service that provides customized forms and procedural instructions for self-represented litigants in Small Claims Court Ontario.
In the discussion following the presentation, Ms. Goyal discusses several topics, including legal education reform, ways to improve access to justice, and issues facing legal technology entrepreneurs.
Judge Dory Reiling, mag. iur., Ph.D., Vice President of the Amsterdam District Court, has posted IT and the Access to Justice Crisis, on the VoxPopuLII Blog, published by the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School.
In her post — which is based on a chapter in her recent book entitled Technology for Justice: How Information Technology Can Support Judicial Reform — Judge Reiling discusses what we currently know about citizens’ information needs and behavior respecting access to civil justice. Judge Reiling describes the information that citizens need to resolve disputes outside of the legal system — whether without a third party or via alternative dispute resolution (ADR) — as well as the information they need in order to proceed pro se via the civil justice system. Judge Reiling then discusses how technology can be used to encourage dispute resolution outside of formal legal proceedings, as well as to improve outcomes for self-represented litigants in the civil justice system.
Judge Reiling’s post should be of particular interest to the access to justice / pro bono community, court administrators, alternative dispute resolution professionals, developers of judicial and access-to-justice information systems, and to those who provide or seek to improve legal information services to the public.
Deborah K. Hackerson, J.D., M.S.L.I.S., of the University of St. Thomas Law Library, has published Access to Justice Starts in the Library: The Importance of Competent Research Skills and Free/Low-Cost Research Resources, 62 Maine Law Review 473-486 (2010) (Issue No. 2). Here is a summary:
The first part of this Article examines the need to support lawyers and law students in the development of competent and cost-effective legal research skills so that they enter the legal profession ready to represent all types of clients. This includes having the skills necessary to perform pro bono and public service work. It is imperative that law schools continue to develop a curriculum to increase these practical skills for lawyers of today. The second part of the Article discusses the importance of the continued development of free and low-cost resources that will support law students, lawyers, and the general public in performing cost-effective legal research. Access to justice includes access to information. It is an important mission for the legal profession to ensure that everyone has access to justice
through continued access to information.