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Law and Technology: Online Legal Services that Help Bridge the Access-to-Justice Gap

Law and Technology: Online Legal Services that Help Bridge the Access-to-Justice Gap

"INTRODUCTION

The American Bar Association requests that lawyers perform a minimum of 50 hours of pro bono service annually, which lawyers currently exceed by performing, on average, 56.7 hours per year.2  Despite an uptick in pro bono work and the emergence of new technologies over the past decade or more, it is estimated that, at least in 2017, low-income Americans approached Legal Services Corporation3 funded legal aid organizations for support with an estimated 1.7 million problems,4 but they receive only limited or no legal help for more than half of these problems due to a lack of resources.5  A report that focused on the pro bono effects of 128 firms found that, in 2017, 3.92% of all billable hour work went to pro bono causes and.  In 2018, that number remained high, but actually dropped slightly, to 3.81%.6

Today’s legal technologies offer innovative ways to facilitate pro bono work.7  The access-to-justice gap is manifest in the difference between the legal needs of low and medium income Americans and the availability of legal resources meeting those needs.8  By connecting attorneys with clients online, giving clients access to forms and information, and creating online dashboards to manage pro bono clients, online legal services are increasing accessibility to legal advice.  Although these technologies threaten to disrupt the current pro bono landscape, that disruption is a positive force as the technologies allow more legal services to be delivered to those in need.9

This note explores various pro bono technologies available on the legal market as well as looks to how firms will conduct pro bono work in the future and what the drivers of change are within the industry.  Addressing barriers to adoption of certain technological offerings,10 as well as how those offerings can and should be evaluated, is important to finding aspects of legal technologies that can aid in solving legal problems.  This note, in Part I, looks at the disruptive nature of online legal technologies before turning to state specific reporting requirements, which sets the stage for how many hours are required of attorneys per year.  Part II looks at how certain lawyers perform pro bono work online and analyzes the drivers of change within firms.  In this section, high performing firms, chosen on the basis of their Vault 100 ratings,11 are analyzed and pro bono partners at those firms discuss challenges associated with adopting technology, as well as what technologies are currently employed in their firm’s respective pro bono departments.  Part III concentrates on which areas of pro bono work are currently on the rise and delves into the business models and the technology employed by current market offerings, including Paladin, ABA Free Legal Answers, and Pro Bono Net.  The paper concludes in Part IV with a look to the future of pro bono legal work as it is increasingly paired with technology..."

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Topics:
  • Pro Bono/Legal Services
  • Nonprofit/Community Development