Request for Blue Sky Technology and Access to Justice Ideas

As you may know, the LSC Technology and Access to Justice Summit will include in one of its White Papers a “Blue Sky” paper, designed to take a far out look at how technology and access to justice can interact in the not-immediate future.

I am working with Marc Lauritsen and Lisa Colpoys on the paper.  Ideas, thoughts, fantasies abd analyses would be much appreciated.  Feel free to use the Comments section, or email me, and I will forward to the others.

I look forward to some exciting ideas.

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About richardzorza

I work in access to justice.
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4 Responses to Request for Blue Sky Technology and Access to Justice Ideas

  1. Kate Bladow says:

    Richard – I wonder if a technology like this – http://www.pockethotline.com/ -could be used to create a national routing system for legal aid referrals. Almost every program has a hotline anyway. Seems like you’d be able to route to those hotlines and supplement with volunteers to get people to the right place to get the legal information they need.

  2. Claudia Johnson says:

    I want to encourage the conference planners to look at what the Office of Science and Technology is doing. Six government departments which include DOJ are releasing $200 Million to help w/the “Big Data Research and Development Initiative.” From Tom Klalils’ blog post of 3/29:

    “By improving our ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex collections of digital data, the initiative promises to help accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen our national security, and transform teaching and learning.”

    http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2012/03/29/big-data-big-deal

    The call is includes government agencies (courts) and non profits (legal services agencies, LSC?). Maybe this blue sky part can include data experts from universities and research institutions already working on the competition–to inform. Or someone from Data Without Borders? Rosling Foundation, or similar university.

    And I do agree with Charles, we need to work on a legal ontology and maybe go back to legal taxonomies. Here are some ideas on what some groups are doing with ontologies and harnessing the power of the crowd and of non-expert groups in a legal context from Cornell Law. http://blog.law.cornell.edu/voxpop/category/legal-ontologies/

  3. A good Blue Sky system would need to devise a way to capture all the data possible and make it available for research. I am thinking of a CMS that inserts metadata tags at just about every data entry point and that the tags would be arranged in some sort of hierarchical list or thesaurus. The model I am thinking of is the Machine Readable Cataloging Data (MARC) record format used by libraries to catalog books and other information resources. To me the obvious entry form would be the court forms themselves, i.e., plain language court forms where each check box or set of lines to be filled in has a metatag. Court clerks would enter additional tags, such as the case number, fees paid or waived, etc. Perhaps additional data could be entered under other tags, where, for instance a self-help center assistant or a legal aid intake employee enters some sort of input sheet for each client, tied to the case, and perhaps listing the services performed for the client, or an attorney doing limited scope would also enter data as to the amount of effort put into the case. While the model CMS protocols suggest something along these lines, they are very limited as to all the data that is actually captured. (Mostly, they come from the point of view of court clerks who ask only for the data they need, not from the viewpoint of social science researchers or those who would study the court system for purposes of improving justice or efficiency.)
    What is needed is an arrangement of these fields in a record so that subfields could be created for each jurisdiction that had a particular aspect of law represented in a form as a data collecting point which was not found among the regular set of entries. These definable fields should presumable be rigoritized within a jurisdiction, or at least noted when they are not, for research purposes. (Currently, court management systems, even by the same vendor, have a lot of local variation from county to county with regard to what data gets entered in certain fields.)
    Personally, I am philosophically a conceptualist. That is, I believe our categories are creations of our minds, and they vary slightly from person to person within a culture and greatly between cultures and even sub-cultures. However, the practice of law has to presume a great amount of continuity in categorization in order to determine what law applies to whom. Written language obviously aids that continuity and helps maintain the myth of the rigid categories that we see applied in law. Given the increasing numbers of self represented litigants, I believe the categorization of data entries will continue to grow as a vexing problem. They do not provide the filter of trying to fit data into legal discourse terms, i.e., the entries are not pre-edited. But, if all the data is captured, we can begin to apply new tricks to make more sense of what we have. I am thinking of corpus linguistics, e.g., finding correlated terms that represent the presence or absence of a concept. (It would be interesting to compare the uses of the term “good mother” with that of “fit mother”, for instance.)
    It took some forty years to bring the MARC record system to its present level of sophistication. I would think this would take a similar amount of time, although by examples like the ones Claudia noted, we might envision more earlier and speed the process.

  4. Claudia Johnson says:

    The blue sky will be data driven. The challenge we phase is intergrating data streams from multiple sources and in different formats/contexts, and getting information that is actionable and valuable out of that data.For exmaple, we need to integrate telephony data to CMS data, to website data, to online forms data (in the aggregate) and on to that data reporting tools, but also visual/graphics tools that help make the data easier to see as it changes over time, and easier to then coordinate different response teams, as emerging legal problems change and come up. Then, lawyers with differetn types of legal skill can be deployed to address those needs. Some tools to consider are R, looking at the statistical package in social science http://www.r-project.org/, and seeing if that could be adopted to legal services, look at what the Rosling Foundation http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_on_global_population_growth.html is doing in health care with health care data, and see if a model could be built for legal data, and then also looking at Tableau http://www.tableausoftware.com/ . To this, desktop/phone integration tools for call centers, and other online tools like secure web chat, and Avaya Web Alive http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pP_ZVLQflpA –could start creating a blue sky case tracking system, with capacity for lawyers to detect trends as they emerge, managers to allocate funds and hire based on community needs (substantive area of law and language needs by region, for example) and then give the funder community a better more visual understand on how legal problems and legal interventions can change and alter the health of large number of households and communities. All of this would of course build tools in mulitple languages and disability enabled for public facing tools. One of the challenges here is that we would need to agree on the defintiion of a “unit of service”–across contexts–so for example a case in a self help center will need to have a weight assigned to it from a resource point of view when compared to a unit of legal services for a divorce with children, DV, and real estate to divide. A unit of intake in an LSC program, may be different from a unit of screening in a probono program–so units and weights will need to be developed to able to meassure and mobilize resources as needed. We have some good buildind blocks already, which did not exist in 2000, most of these having been supported by LSC through its TIG funding stream. The building blocks include the use of NMSI to track area of law in statewide websites and LawHelp Interactive (online forms), online forms on demand where they exist from anywhere in the country. Mature statewide websites, strong hotlines using state of the art telephony that know how to support and increase meaningful litigation in their programs, strong staff in legal aid program with a range of experience–all of these existing building blocks will need strong funder and user support to stay viable and connect to new emerging ways of doing legal work (mobile, efiling etc) online CMS systems for legal aid and courts and pro bono projects.We now need to turn our attention to data, change it into information, and use that information to build stronger and better legal services programs and increase access to justice in all settings. Data will show us what types of intervention work, don’t, how much they cost, how best to staff for those interventions that work, how best to train. Data will be a core component, if not a core part of the blue sky.

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