Honoring Mike Genz and Remembering His Foundational Work

Mike Genz has retired from LSC (although I understand he hopes to continue to do some consulting work).  Those who know him will not be surprised that this event passed without fanfare.  Mike is not the kind of person who feels that the world needs to hear of his achievements.  Yet, perhaps it should hear.

Mike being Mike, I am sure that I know of only a small segment of his contributions to access to justice for the poor.  But I can attest to his key role, while head of OPP at LSC in putting into place LSC’s field technology infrastructure, surely one of the great access to justice success stories of the last 15 years.

Least anyone doubt the clarity of his vision — long before it was commonly held, I am posting the paper he wrote for the 1998, yes 1998, LSC Technology Summit here.

Its full title is Technology and Client Community Access To Legal Services — Suggestive Scenarios on CLE, Intake and Referral and Pro Se.

The paper consists of a series of scenarios, and for each, Mike has identified the technology and other advances needed to be put in place.  Here is one of those scenarios.  I think it speaks for itself in terms of its intelligence, practicability, and insight.  While we have not built all of this system, to the extent we have, it is in large part thanks to Mike’s foresight and vision.  It should be noted that of all the scenarios in the paper, this one is the least implemented.  That is perhaps because it is the most farsighted.  Remember that when he wrote it there was no network of statewide websites, no document assembly system, little cooperation with the courts, and not even broad deployment of the Internet onto the desktop.

Scenario Five: Pro Se — The Computer Helps  

 The housing intake specialist determines that this case can proceed pro se.  While it is adversarial and there is a good deal at stake for Maria, it presents only the vary narrow legal issue that has already been decided — favorably to Maria — by the state’s Supreme Court.  Maria is interested in going pro se and appears to the intake specialist to be capable of doing so.  Since the system has the necessary information, the specialist produces the documents.  She reviews them with Maria during the teleconference and determines that Maria understands the documents and the proceedings.  The documents are downloaded to Maria’s telemonitor, complete with instructions on how to electronically file them (including how to “sign” them with her identifier) with the court and send a copy to the adverse party.  The specialist advises Maria to contact the legal services program if other issues arise in the case or if she is not certain how to proceed.  At Maria’s request, the case is put on “active monitoring.”   The program’s computer will automatically search daily for pleadings in the case that have been filed in the court.  It will alert Maria if she hasn’t filed her Answer and Motion for Summary Judgment and the deadline is approaching.  If other pleadings are filed by the adverse side, the pleading will be brought to the desktop of the housing specialist for her review and possible contact with Maria.  If the landlord amends its pleading, pursues discovery, or otherwise acts in a manner not anticipated, the case will be considered for full representation.  

 Deployment Prerequisites for Scenario Five

  • Document Assembly and Information Search and Analysis.  The software described in the scenario takes the intake information that is in the intake data base and merges it with the appropriate pleadings.  The ascertions of law that the pleadings make should be filed in a legal information data base search, so that if either case law or statutory law changes, there would be a trigger to indicate that the pleading has to change.  For example, in this case, if the decision that Maria is relying on was of an intermediate appellate court rather than of the state’s highest court, the search engine would be on the lookout for a case that overturns or modifies the decision being relied upon.
  • Reliable Identification of the Source of Filed Documents.   Automatic court filing is very helpful to pro se procedures because pro se litigants often find the process of actually filing the needed documents complex, intimidating or both.  But in order for this to be a practical way for courts to proceed, there has to be a secure and reliable way for the person submitting the document to be identified.
  • Resolution of Unauthorized Practice of Law Issues and Other Issues Surrounding Pro Se Representation.   In this case, there has to be a determination that the computer’s provision of pleadings does not constitute the unauthorized practice of law.  The decision may require the finding that both: there is an attorney (as opposed to a paralegal or a “smart computer program”) behind every aspect of the pleading production and that the filing is that of the client pro se, and not of the attorney.  There also has to be the finding that the centralized intake and delivery system is within the code of professional responsibility in producing pleadings and continuing to monitor the progress of the case without actually being responsible to the court or to the client as the attorney of record.  

Lets keep building this and similar systems.

And, please use the comments to remember this and other aspects of Mike’s work.

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About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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