Roger Smith, of the UK organization Justice, has a guest blog on Richard Moorhead’s Lawyer Blog, on “The internet and the provision of legal advice.”
It takes a somewhat pessimistic view of what has been achieved.
Here are his observations on the US:
One would have expected the United States, home of silicon valley and the cradle of the internet, to provide good examples of what can be done through web-based materials, particularly because of the relative dearth of civil legal aid funding as compared with the UKor The Netherlands. It would be helpful to be pointed to more USwebsites. To an outsider on a quick look, it seems very much as if the driver for use of the net comes, to a large degree, from the courts. Judges feel swamped with unrepresented litigants and they have every interest in supporting them up to – and perhaps sometimes a little beyond – the line between providing legal information/advice and legal advice/representation. Thus there are a number of self-help court based programmes with a supporting network of their own (http://www.SelfHelpSupport.org ). The law schools are also key players in this field with the Center for Access to Justice and Technology atChicago-KentLawSchool in the fore. The Center has developed an interesting internet package, A2J, which uses a cartoon-type format to progress someone through answers to a series of questions towards an appropriate document assembly. This is how it describes itself:
The simple act of filling out forms raises unique challenges that the many self-represented litigants have trouble overcoming. Without a very simple front end, a user unfamiliar with web conventions would be unable to use online form systems. To be effective, guided interviews for self-represented litigants must be very simple.
The A2J Author® tool … translated several of the conceptual models for a redesigned court system into a Web-based interface that gently leads unsophisticated users through a guided interview for determining eligibility and collects all the information needed to prepare the required court forms. Elegant, simple and powerfully effective, the A2J AuthorTM Web-based interface is the “front end” needed to make court document assembly more widely accessible to self-represented litigants.
The drawn figure of a woman takes you through a series of questions, represented along a road to a courthouse through which your answers fill in a form which you can then print at the end of the process. Examples of its use include applications for fee-waiver and name change applications. This is the same sort of interactive process as lies behind the road traffic accident programme discussed above. The A2J format seems potentially useful but a little wooden – particularly to anyone familiar with the possibilities that are usually displayed on an iphone or ipad app. There may well be other examples that need to be considered in any more comprehensive review.
I get a clear sense of the different regulatory environments having a major impact on the analysis.
Thanks for sharing this. Very interesting to see indeed.
Here are some additional websites that point to online forms currently in use:
There are some older writings going back to 2005, 2006 that provide some of the background of how we got here. Most of them can be found at LSNTAP’s library or at the LawHelp Interactive Resource Center http://www.probono.net/lhi (requires sign in). A good one to start on is: http://lsntap.org/node/2575. I would say that in majority of states,the issue of court services to self represented is relatively new. With the exception of a few states (CA,NM, WA, MN) most courts did not start working on SRL strategies until around 2007/2008. Even now, there are many states where they have not started Access to Justice Commissions, where there are no uniform forms, where uniforms forms and form simplification projects are threatenning and threatenned.A pivotal point was the Court Solutions Conference 2008 in Baltimore organized by the SRLN and NCSC. A precursor to all this has been the creation of online document assembly templates at the local level by legal aid groups and the infrastructure that makes the assembly of documents and sharing of templates possible, LawHelp Interactive formerly known as NPADO, sponsored by the Legal Services Corporation and other national and local funders.Legal aid groups in Georgia, Illinois, Washington, Arkansas, and Pennsylvania were pioneers in developing online forms to meet the needs of those who applied for legal services but could not be met about 5 years ago or before. Many of these groups continue to mentor other legal aid groups by sharing their knowledge and experience in list serves and community calls and develop and share new ways to use these technology–an encouraging trend now is seeing the creation of post judgement motions, such as modifications. The donation of HotDocs and the expansion of that donation in 2009-2010 by HotDocs Corp. also needs to be acknowledged. In addition LSC has continued to provide support so that each state has a bonafide statewide website were information seekers can find statewide materials about poverty law areas.These websites are how the majority of information seekers find the online forms and related resources (now video, webcasts, and instructions all in plain language!) I am looking forward to seeing how the needs of the very diverse SLR court user communtiy are met in five years from now. I hope ongoing collaboration, interaction, and sponsorship of online forms grow between legal non profits and courts–after all often times they are working with overlapping populations.