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The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) conducted a study in 2017 demonstrating that 86% of civil legal issues reported by low-income Americans received at best ineffective assistance or often no legal help whatsoever.
Inadequate access to justice and legal services can significantly impact lives, such as in the case of rental housing disputes. Time and again, low-income tenants are fighting landlords that can afford expensive legal counsel.
Thankfully, however, phenomenal advancements in technology are changing the landscape of legal service access. A Survey on US Legal Technologies has identified over 300 technologies that effectively assist with access to justice, the most common uses relating to providing information, connecting individuals to attorneys, and producing documents.
The easiest and most common way technology improves access to legal assistance is via online delivery of crucial legal information, assisting attorneys and individuals alike.
There has never been greater or more accessible access to vast amounts of legal information at our fingertips for individuals. Most law firms feature online guides and general advice on a wide range of topics to help people ascertain their next move.
Whether you want to know how to sue someone who owes you money or where you might stand legally regarding wrongful employment termination, you only need to hop online to access a wealth of professional insights.
And these online resources don’t stop at assisting the public directly. For example, ProBono.net is an organization that provides free online legal guidance for attorneys, offering easily searchable libraries of legal resources created by law firms and public-interest organizations throughout the country.
Access to such a wealth of resources enables attorneys to take on pro bono cases within areas of law that they might not otherwise know.
Technology connects people in need of legal help with attorneys at law firms and legal aid organizations.
For example, nonprofit tech company, AsylumConnect, works to connect asylum seekers from the LGBTQ community with verified immigrant and LGBTQ-friendly lawyers and other legal and professional services throughout the US, Canada, and Mexico.
Thanks to technology and the internet, it is now even possible to access free legal advice virtually. The ABA Free Legal Answers website, for example, hosts a free virtual legal advice clinic.
Site users can post questions regarding civil legal problems to their respective state’s website, and qualified volunteers can respond and provide legal advice and information online. These attorney volunteers are pre-qualified as being authorized to offer free legal assistance in their state.
Social media is also becoming a popular platform for lawyers to collaborate, debate, and network. LinkedIn’s professional standing makes it the obvious go-to choice for legal professionals, but a surprising number also take to Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to participate in legal discussions.
In turn, much of this content is accessible to the general public, particularly by visiting an expert’s profile or channel for general legal advice and insights.
An increasing number of organizations and law firms are adopting document automation practices to improve the public’s access to legal services. Typical uses include documents relating to asylum, debt collection, and transgender name changes.
Document automation technology allows law organizations to convert documents into user-friendly online questionnaires to assist legal processes.
In keeping with our modern world’s need to make everything infinitely more convenient, we now also have access to various legal apps. These apps can perform a limited number of legal tasks.
For example, LegalZoom allows any user to create their own will, while an app called Tomorrow also assists users in setting up a will or trust. These technologies help with such legal tasks, and the software highlights the importance of such legal decisions and gets a community of users to talk about it.
Administratively speaking, these technologies are also smoothing out many legal processes, thus potentially improving customer experience and enhancing the quality of legal services.
For example, artificial intelligence (AI) is significantly improving document-processing turnarounds, and chatbots that function as legal clerks have the power to match clients with the right professional and more.
Online archiving systems can also streamline scheduling and record-keeping, vastly reducing the time wasted for legal professionals. All of these technologies make for a more efficient legal field, which can improve access to justice for individuals.
The issue of limited access to legal resources and assistance has been long-standing, and technology is finally bridging that gap.
Slowly but surely, individuals and families are gaining greater access to critical legal information, free legal advice, and meaningful professional connections. These advancements not only allow for far greater convenience but connect lower-income earners to vital information.
Thus, technology holds the key to a more accessible and progressive legal sector — but these advancements must continue to provide increased access to justice for the disadvantaged.
Luke Fitzpatrick is an academic speaker at Sydney University. He enjoys writing about tech, productivity, lifestyle, and is a contributor to Forbes.
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