Claudia Johnson is the Program Manager for LawHelp Interactive (LHI) at Pro Bono Net. Under her stewardship LHI has grown to be the largest and most used online form platform in the US. In this capacity Claudia supports a network of legal nonprofits, pro bono programs, and other groups creating, funding, and using online forms to improve their work and make it better for those without lawyers to create legal documents for free. Claudia practiced public interest law for 15 years in California and Philadelphia before joining Pro Bono Net. She has been recognized throughout her career for her contributions, most recently receiving the Promoter of Justice Award by the Washington Access to Justice Board. She has also received the Fastcase 50 and Women in Law honors. Here are Claudia’s thoughts as she reflects on attending ITC this year and how her experience at the conference has changed over the years.

If you look at the #LSCITC twitter feed you can see how vibrant and diverse the Innovations in Technology Conference, hosted by Legal Services Corporation (LSC), was this year. I started going to the conference in 2008 – and back then we could count the number of women in attendance on two hands, and the people of color (POC) participants with only one hand. This year I was so happy to see so many new participants that bring new life experiences and perspectives to the Access to Justice Community.

In large part I believe this has to do with the ATJ Fellowship program that LSC has supported, which is now is going into its fourth year. This program has increased the participation of law students from non-traditional backgrounds and is mentoring them to become the technology access to justice leaders of the future. Many fellows presented in multiple panels, including Miki Nakamura who did her fellowship at Legal Aid of Hawai’I and presented on her navigator project and LaDierdre McKinney, who is the first woman of color online form developer at Michigan Legal Help.

From a document assembly perspective, it felt like a large percentage of the attendees were LawHelp Interactive alumni. Many of them are now leading on their own and it was great to see so many of them contributing beyond just forms in the tech and innovation field. For example, Angela Tripp, Jonathan Pyle, Quinten Steinhuis, Matthew Newstadt and Michael Hofrichter all led panels on their own and contributed significantly to the conference.

Prior to the start of the conference this year, LawHelp Interactive had two trainings. LHI trained staff from 10 programs and courts who hailed from California, Alaska, Texas, Arkansas, and Wisconsin. Since 2017, LHI has trained approximately 100 developers through the online training series in the fall and the live training in January. Many of these new developers are now managing successful form projects and are part of the larger LHI community including contributing to LHI monthly calls.

We had newer members of the LawHelp Interactive community join us. Laurie Garber, from the Northwest Justice Project, is leading the largest automation project to date. She has created forms that are rising in use at a rapid pace. She did a great panel with Mirenda Meghelli, Pro Bono Net’s LawHelp Interactive Partnerships Manager, on A Tale of Two Washingtons: Launching Successful Court Automation Projects.

In terms of the Pro Bono Net network, it was well represented and we were able to connect one on one during a well-attended session highlighting developments in Pro Bono Net’s State Justice Communities program. We also connected with many of our current and former partners on projects. They will always be partners in innovation, sharing and closing the justice gap. Many of us gathered impromptu at the ITC reception, which led to the picture below.

Substantively, the Innovations in Technology Conference did not disappoint. There were a lot of great panels and talks that challenged us to think grandly. The influx of new disciplines, including law school students, bloggers, design experts, and the participation from other countries, particularly Canada – greatly increased the dialog. For me the most gratifying part of the conference was to see how the idea of using technology to level the playing field for those without legal representation is no longer a radical or strange idea for a lawyer to pursue. It is now a movement that has buy in and intellectual momentum and force. It is a movement that will leave our nation a more just society, more inclusive, and more well thought out than what we had before the TIG program started or from when I joined this group of innovators in 2008. I left the conference feeling that legal technology and access to justice are now together forever – and I know that the future is bright. The foundations we have laid, the lessons we learned, and the trust we have built will ensure that future and create a more peaceful and just America.

Thank you to the LSC TIG staff and all of LSC for organizing a conference that is showing us the way to move forward together as a community.

The 2020 Innovations in Technology conference took place in January, earlier this year, in Portland, Oregon. This annual conference, hosted by Legal Services Corporation, brings together technologists, legal aid staff, courts, funders and many others to explore innovative ways of using technology to promote full access to legal assistance for low-income individuals.