Technology changes the way we do things, and sometimes it’s really hard to let go of the way things have always been done. Add lawyers to the conversation–who have been trained that precedent is pretty much everything–and we have the next best thing since oil met water.
I want to introduce you to a term that you most likely have heard of, have an idea of what it is, and are most likely wrong. I know I was.
Access to Justice.
What pops into my mind are state appointed criminal defense attorneys. What I have discovered is that my concept of “access to justice” was really limited to the narrow definition.
I like this definition:
Access to Justice means different things to different people. In its narrowest sense, it represents only the formal ability to appear in court. Broadly speaking, it engages the wider social context of our court system, and the systemic barriers faced by different members of the community.
The barriers to the legal system are immense. It can impact access to immigration assistance, landlord tenant disputes, divorces, child custody, wills and trusts, adoptions, elder care, transgender services, and a multitude of other civil matters, not to mention criminal defense.
And this is where things are getting interesting because “Justice is about just resolution, not legal services”:
The access-to-justice crisis is bigger than law and lawyers. It is a crisis of exclusion and inequality. Today, access to justice is restricted: only some people, and only some kinds of justice problems, receive lawful resolution. Access is also systematically unequal: some groups–wealthy people and white people, for example–get more access than other groups, like poor people and racial minorities. Traditionally, lawyers and judges call this a “crisis of unmet legal need.” It is not. Justice is about just resolution, not legal services. Resolving justice problems lawfully does not always require lawyers’ assistance, as a growing body of evidence shows. Because the problem is unresolved justice issues, there is a wider range of options. Solutions to the access-to-justice crisis require a new understanding of the problem. It must guide a quest for just resolutions shaped by lawyers working with problem-solvers in other disciplines and with other members of the American public whom the justice system is meant to serve.
The above excerpt and quote comes from Rebecca L. Sandefur‘s dissertation, Access to What? She was recently interviewed by the New York Times, Everyone Needs Legal Help. That Doesn’t Mean Everyone Needs a Lawyer. Marc Cohen wrote a great piece on this that I circulated last week, Clients Need Legal Services But Not Necessarily Lawyers.
Grab some coffee and read these three pieces. It’s important to understanding the conversation, where we are at, and what’s about to come.
Technology and AI
Technologists have entered the picture. They’ve been in the picture for quite a while, but they are now ready to come out of the shadows. They are meeting the problem where the problem exists, and that is not necessarily at the shingled door of a licensed attorney. So how do we ensure that their solutions are sound and protect the most vulnerable?
The average American is spending less that $250 a year on legal services (see chart below and Bill Henderson’s report to the California State Bar). That’s less than an hour of a lawyer’s time. Herein lies the problem, and technology is providing us a solution.
Four Truth Bombs
Truth Bomb #1: Just because you need legal services doesn’t necessarily mean you need a lawyer.
Truth Bomb #2: The cost of legal services isn’t just impacting the least able to afford it. It’s impacting nearly every individual in the United States.
Truth Bomb #3: Yes. Technology and AI will replace some (not all) of the work that lawyers do, meaning we will need fewer lawyers.
Truth Bomb #4: Yes. Technology and AI will creep into corporate law firms cutting into the billable hour.
Pro Bono Hours Won’t Cut It
- The ABA aspires that each lawyer 50 hours per year in pro bono activities.
- There are an estimated 1.35 million lawyers in the United States.
- The US population is currently above 328 million people.
- The average individual spends less than $250 per year.
- The average Fortune 500 company spends $10.7 million.
You do the math. But here’s a chart to help you, which I used in my post, Is the “game changer” for the legal industry finally here?:
The overall legal industry is designed and priced for corporate law, not for individual.
Access Through Innovation of Legal Services or #ATILS
I am a member of the California State Bar’s Task Force charged with looking at this issue in our state. Other states are starting to look into this as well.
The Task Force on Access Through Innovation of Legal Services is charged with identifying possible regulatory changes to enhance the delivery of, and access to, legal services through the use of technology, including artificial intelligence and online legal service delivery models.
Since we are a public agency, all of our work is available. You can watch our committee live, view the videos of the sessions, read our work and papers. We will, by the end of the year, make recommendations to the California Supreme Court.
I sit on the UPL/AI sub-committee. Right now, we’re looking at how we can bring these legal technology solutions into the fold to ensure that they are quality solutions. Our sub-committee met in full session, so you can view our conversation from the February 28, 2019, meeting here (this is the link to the full video The UPL/AI Sub-committee discussion begins around the 50 minute mark).
The conversation is happening now.
The future is here.
No. Things will not be the same.
Yes. The delivery of legal services will change.
The only question remaining is what it will look like in the end.