Driven by the belief that knowledge is power, Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico’s attorneys, technologists, and operations talent provide critical legal help for vulnerable people across the island. In addition to leading Know-Your-Rights workshops, running a housing rights hotline, and managing Puerto Rico’s only online legal help portal, AyudaLegalPR.org, Ayuda Legal is also a social justice technology leader in their community.
“Conocer tus derechos es poder.”
Utilizing technology as a tool for legal empowerment is key strategy for the Ayuda Legal team. As pioneers in the Puerto Rican access to justice space, Ayuda Legal has always known that technology can be leveraged for the public good. To bolster this effort, Ayuda Legal gathered its powerful network of legal aid advocates, scholars, and allies in November of last year to host Puerto Rico’s first-ever Access to Justice and Technology Summit. The Summit followed a daylong Equity Design for Legal Empowerment workshop, by the Open Society Foundations.
A cohort of Pro Bono Net team members and partners (including Georgetown University Law Center and Alaska Legal Services Corporation) had an opportunity to participate in the summit to share and discuss how technology can be used in the pursuit of access to justice.
On the first day of the two-day summit, participants met at the picturesque Luis Muñoz Marín Foundation in San Juan. A key goal for the day was to build alignment between participants by talking through the pros and cons of technology as a tool for legal empowerment. As a group, we brainstormed assumptions that techno-optimists often make about technology’s impact, as well as discussed controversial positions about how legal services ought to be provided in the Puerto Rican context. Using a line of tape on the floor as a barometer for those in favor or against a belief, we held a lively debate based on the topics that we brainstormed.
After our debate, participants learned how programs on the island and across the United States leverage unique models of legal empowerment. We moved around the room as leaders from Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico, Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net’s Immigration Advocates Network, and LawHelpNY presented examples of their work.
Imagining a better foreclosure process
We returned the next day for a day-long co-design workshop. Adapting from Pro Bono Net’s co-design methodology, Ayuda Legal’s David Rodriguez and IAN’s Rodrigo Camarena led participants through a series of design exercises. Our challenge was to explore legal empowerment and technological solutions to Puerto Rico’s severe foreclosure crisis.
After Hurricanes Maria and Irma and years of economic distress, more than 250,000 Puerto Rican homes are at risk of foreclosure. Thousands of Puerto Ricans still live in temporary housing and the government’s response has been considered insufficient. Most homeowners do not know their rights and lack legal representation, with the elderly, disabled, and domestic violence survivors especially at risk. Misconceptions about the process and a sense of shame also prevent homeowners from accessing justice.
With help from the Ayuda Legal Housing Justice team, Derecho a Tu Casa, we reviewed a timeline of the problem as a group to identify key moments of intervention. Then, we split into teams to brainstorm and sketch possible solutions. We closed out the workshop with two storyboards that each team shared out to the whole room.
Until next time!
Despite feeling sad to leave the next day, the Pro Bono Net team left Puerto Rico inspired by the friends we made and energized by what we learned. It was an honor to collaborate with Ayuda Legal on Puerto Rico’s inaugural Access to Justice and Technology Summit, and we look forward to supporting next steps in their work.