On June 23rd 2016, the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice, in partnership with NYSTech, held the New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference. Pro Bono Net’s summer legal intern was in attendance and offers her perspective on the conference below. Darlene Mottley is a 2L student at Brooklyn Law School in New York.
As a first time attendee of the 2016 New York Statewide Civil Legal Aid Technology Conference, I was inspired by the heartfelt commitment displayed by members of the civil legal aid community towards the goal of making justice available to all.
My day began by attending a panel composed of various key players in the tech and legal world currently developing innovative technology that would soon be available to the civil legal services community to help serve their clients. I assumed the panel would specifically discuss how to use the technologies and where to gain access to them. Instead, surprisingly, the panel discussion centered on the developmental strategies employed by the different design teams to ensure the final web programs and mobile applications would be user friendly and accessible by the target audience.
Another major focus item was the concept of privacy and the importance of ensuring that programs created to help low-income civil litigants protected their personal information. I thought the privacy discussion was a good reminder that not only should the civil aid community be focused on using innovative technology to promote access to justice, but such innovation should not be at the expense of sacrificing the privacy of the individuals such programs are designed to help. As I sat through various panel discussions throughout the day, it was clear that in order for technology to have a successful and prominent role in promoting access to justice, technologies would have to be designed from the perspective of end-users.
Out of all the technologies presented, there were two innovations I found the most fascinating. First, the Statewide Access Portal Project, run by the Legal Service Corporation in partnership with Pro Bono Net and Microsoft, and second, the Human-Centered Design to Build Tools for Access to Justice, run by Blue Ridge Labs at Robin Hood.
The goal of the Statewide Portal Project was to develop a unified online system that all civil legal aid providers could use for intake and triage efforts. The ability to streamline the intake and triage process would help legal aid providers be able to best assess the needs of a client and place clients in contact with the most appropriate legal help. With a unified system, data could easily be transferred and multiple legal aid partners could work simultaneously to help an individual if so required.
Blue Ridge Labs is conceptualizing the possibility of developing an application that would allow users to essentially self-triage and access free legal information from their mobile devices. User testing plays an invaluable role in the development of the company’s programs. The Design Insight Group is a paid user-testing group that tests programs currently in development for several months and record their experiences along the way. The company uses the group’s feedback to alter problematic aspect of the program and rethink their design approach.
Both of the aforementioned technologies addressed important issues the civil legal aid services community faces when looking to develop technologies for individuals in need of legal aid:
- accessibility of the program;
- technology that is user friendly in both usability and comprehension; and,
- technology that can be used across the board by multiple legal aid providers.
Keynote speaker, Seth Andrews, senior adviser in the Office of Technology and Policy at the White House, addressed all of these reoccurring themes in an impassioned presentation. Drawing reference to the challenges the White House faced in updating many federal government websites, he encouraged leaders in the civil legal aid community to work together to reach goals in promoting access to justice, and also to align their projects with more popular technologies. For instance, promoting an application that allows pro se litigants to independently fill out necessary court forms for a court proceeding on a platform like Facebook or Twitter.
There is still much to figure out regarding how technology can best be used to close the justice gap. However, the civil legal aid community has already taken several progressive leaps in accomplishing their goals. I had an enriching experience at the conference and I look forward to seeing what happens in the civil legal aid community with technology in the near future.
Several Pro Bono Net staff members participated in panels in the conference: Mark O’Brien, Executive Director; Niki DeMel, Pro Bono and Special Initiatives Coordinator; Mike Grunenwald; Program Coordinator; Tony Lu, Product Manager, Immigration Advocates Network; and Sandra Sandoval; Citizenshipworks Program Manager, Immigration Advocates Network.