Pro Bono News

Legal Tech Abounds, But Not The Kind People Need Most

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Legal Tech Abounds, But Not The Kind People Need Most

"There are more than 320 digital legal tools designed for regular Americans to use, including websites that help fight parking tickets, apps that explain mortgage foreclosure and software billing itself as "like TurboTax for divorce proceedings."

But most of this legal tech for nonlawyers, about 75 percent, merely provides information about laws or attorneys, often in the form of long, text-heavy lists, according to research conducted by MacArthur Foundation fellow Rebecca Sandefur and released last week by the American Bar Foundation.

Although those resources may be helpful in some cases, Sandefur's previous research has found that people with justice problems are rarely ready to look for information about specific laws or lawyers. Their primary dilemma is often diagnosing the legal nature of an everyday problem in the first place — a service provided by just 4 percent of the tech in her Jan. 28 study.

Sandefur called the disparity between informational and diagnostic tech "a mismatch between the help these tools offer and the help people need" in her report, "Survey of U.S. Legal Technologies," which was created with funding from Open Society Foundations.

"There's actually very few of these tools that formulate the problem in the way that a normal person would experience in their lives," Sandefur, a sociologist at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, told Law360. "I don't think, 'wow, my landlord is violating the implied warranty of habitability.' I think, 'why is this weird mushroom growing out of my bathroom wall and how can I make it stop?'"

The gap in diagnostic tools is hard to bridge for tech developers, who must follow bar association and court regulations on the kinds of services nonlawyers can provide. Margaret Hagan, director at Stanford Law School's Legal Design Lab, said rules on unauthorized practice of law are the main constraints for those creating access to justice tools..."

Continue reading