After filing to go public on June 4th, LegalZoom debuted on the market Wednesday, June 30th. Shares opened at 31% above offer price, highlighting the important role that the market can play in supporting initiatives to broaden access to legal services. LegalZoom’s success is cause for celebration, coming as a result of increasing interest by investors in technology that can help deliver affordable legal services to more Americans.

This growing interest in investing in legal support technologies was reflected in Village Capital’s “Justice Tech for All” report which found that over $77 million has been invested into over 100 startups focused on leveraging technology to provide legal assistance. Despite the progress shown by the increasing levels of investment in justice technologies, the access to justice gap will not be filled by for-profit organizations.

Joe Patrice, a reporter at Above The Law, explained the gap in access to justice by writing “As the cost of legal services continues to rise and tilt more in favor of deep pocketed clients, there’s a growing hole where middle class consumers used to be. That’s not a hole that LegalZoom will fill by itself…” Because it is financially disadvantaged individuals who face the brunt of the challenges posed by the legal system, the gap in accessibility can only be effectively filled through investment in technologies that provide free legal tools and assistance.

For more than 15 years, LawHelp Interactive has been working to bridge the gap in access to justice, ensuring that legal tools and guidance are available to all. LHI seeks to empower those that the for-profit market ignores by supporting courts and partners in the creation of free legal forms and online assistance. By providing a robust platform and working with a trusted network of partners, LHI aggregates high quality, plain language interviews that provide self-represented litigants with access to over 5,000 free and secure legal forms. The population of self-represented litigants that serve to benefit is significant, with an estimated 75% of cases regarding life-changing legal issues having at least one self-represented litigant. LHI provides assistance in the most crucial areas of legal disputes including family, domestic violence petitions, eviction, foreclosure, consumer debt, divorce, child custody, and child support, as well as public benefit forms. In a 2020 review of LHI, end users shared the profound impact that LHI’s legal assistance had on their lives:

“Means I can try and get my daughter back from [the] state’s custody a lot sooner.”

“This made the process simpler for us [who] have to work.”

“Such a blessing.”

LHI has become an indispensable tool for millions who cannot afford lawyers. In addition, LHI’s reach continues to grow with a 30.5% increase of new registered users in 2020 compared to 2019. This increase resulted in 11,834 new accounts being registered as Self Helpers every month of 2020 — an average of 16 new registered Self Helpers for every hour. Additionally, 658 new Court Employees, and 1,547 new Advocates registered with LHI per month. The sum of these accounts totalled 144,532 new registered user accounts in 2020. To close the gap in access to justice, the growth of nonprofit tech platforms and projects like LHI must be supported with the proper resources to bring the power of the law to all.

The American legal system is riddled with an endemic lack of resources to serve the millions of residents living in poverty who experience legal issues. The price of accessing lawyers and legal assistance continues to rise as people struggle to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic instability. High price tags, confusing processes, and an undersupply of free legal services make the legal system intimidating and inaccessible, leaving vulnerable individuals helpless in facing legal challenges. Though investors are starting to recognize some of these markets and are investing into for-profit legal technologies, needs won’t be met by market solutions alone. Initiatives such as LHI require resources and intellectual capital to continue supporting a growing user base each day. Nonprofit online form providers like LHI play an essential role in serving the needs of the people that the market does not, and these providers need public support. In the next few months, LHI will introduce a new feature that will allow users who have benefitted from LHI the option of “paying it forward”: making small donations to ensure that LHI can be used by others facing similar justice challenges. If you want to get a jump on that and help support equitable access to justice technologies, consider making a donation. Further, if you are interested in reading more about access to justice, sign up for Pro Bono Net, Connecting Justice Communities blog.

Timothy Steves is Pro Bono Net’s Communications Intern. Currently in his junior year at The George Washington University, he is majoring in International Affairs with a concentration in Security Policy and Philosophy with a Public Affairs focus.