How to Close the Access to Justice Gap?

Do most people in this country believe the words of the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance?  Does our republic truly stand for “liberty and justice for all”?

The gap between the words of our Pledge of Allegiance and the experience of most low and moderate-income Americans is a stubborn and embarrassing reality that will be discussed at the May 2nd conference, The Future is Now: Legal Services 2.018.

Technology and Creativity May Help Narrow the Access to Justice Gap

Many members of the public are not aware that Americans’ right to counsel is restricted to criminal cases.  Legal aid for civil cases—from domestic violence to housing to health to debt to immigration matters—is provided by a patchwork of public interest law firms and community and charitable clinics, many of which are funded by the Legal Services Corporation.

The Legal Services Corporation, established by Congress in 1974 to promote equal access to justice, is an independent 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation that is the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. More than 93% of LSC’s total funding is currently distributed to 133 independent non-profit legal aid programs with more than 800 offices across America.

John LeviSpeaker John Levi, Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation, will unpack the data from LSC’s 2017 reportThe Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-Income Americans. He will also talk about how LSC has been at the forefront of using technology to promote access to justice in civil legal aid and why, after 17 years of sponsoring the Technology Initiative Grants, this year LSC changed the conference name to Innovations in Technology Conference.

John spoke to me in advance of the conference and explained that he disagrees with the thinking that because we’re talking about the legal system, we should leave it up to the lawyers to fix the access to justice gap.  He advocates bringing together technologists and business people and many others to help build a sustainable model. The volume of need is so great, he explained, that there never can be enough lawyers to fill the gap.  John energetically embraces a plethora of creative solutions including hackathons, opening law school clinics up to business and engineering schools and making the law accessible to people where they are, for example, through public libraries.

Diverse Entrepreneurship May Help Narrow the Access to Justice Gap

Kristen SondaySpeaker Kristen Sonday, founder and Chief Operating officer of Paladin, devotes her professional life to reducing the access to justice gap.  Paladin uses technology to help lawyers and law school students identify cases to connect with pro bono legal help that they are passionate about.

Only about 20% of attorneys at firms and corporations have pro bono departments because building out programs can be expensive and time-consuming.  Yet 80% of people who need free legal help in America don’t get it.  Paladin is using technology to bridge that gap.

And Kristen agrees that pro bono by itself will not eliminate the access to justice gap.  Kristen comes to The Future is Now stage to talk about the importance of leveraging diversity in the entrepreneurship space.

Leveraging Diversity May Help Narrow The Access to Justice Gap

Kristen points out that within tech, only 3% of venture capital is invested in female founders, and less than 1% in Black/Latinx entrepreneurs.  Kristen told me that her research shows within legal tech, those without a J.D. (like herself) outnumber lawyer entrepreneurs by two to one.

Where does this leave us? The legal profession struggles from a lack of diversity and inclusion within itself. And yet our society is becoming more diverse.  By 2020, more than half of the nation’s children are expected to be part of a minority race or ethnic group.  The overall population is expected to follow suit some twenty years later.

Kristen will explain where and how diverse entrepreneurs can be engaged and supported to make a difference in the access to justice gap.  We need to focus on this engagement, she says, and avoid building shiny new toys that may not resonate with our future clients and potential customers.

Join the Conversation

John Levi and Kristen Sonday are two of ten speakers who will be at The Future is Now: Legal Services 2.018 conference on May 2 in Chicago.  Those in attendance will receive 5 hours of professional responsibility CLE credit and gain insight into the tools today’s lawyers need to thrive in our legal marketplace. The speakers and town hall discussions will be inspiring, challenging and downright fascinating.

If you haven’t already registered, do so today.

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