This may be a historic month for 100% access to justice.
LSC has now released the RFP, with proposals due Jan 19, for the portal project. After some extracts, I offer below some thoughts that may be helpful.
I think this is the key language from the RFP.
When a single, statewide, unified legal access portal is implemented:
Information will be available anywhere, any time to every person seeking assistance.
Assistance from a person – lawyer or otherwise – will be available anywhere, if resources are available.
The portal will use methods such as branching logic questions and gamification to assess the capabilities and circumstances of an inquirer, which will be part of the referral logic.
The portal will generate information on the legal needs of persons using it and on the results achieved from the referrals provided. The portal will aggregate this information and provide it regularly to all participating entities.
The portal will be an integrated system of resources, rules, and recommendations through which users can be matched with available services and applicable resources. The site will analyze users’ responses to questions and direct them to the most appropriate resource, considering factors such as case or situations complexity, the user’s capacity to use technology, strength and representation of the opponent, the importance of the user’s stake in the outcome, and the availability of resources, updated in real time.
All access to justice entities in a participating jurisdiction (including legal aid entities, courts, court administrators, the organized bar, interested law firms and lawyers, law schools, libraries, pro bono support entities, and other interested community entities) will have a presence on the portal and will receive appropriate referrals from it. If a referral proves inappropriate, the entity to which the referral was made may make a different referral. The system will preserve the confidentiality of information an inquirer provides.
Service options will include:
A link to a specific section of a website for substantive and procedural information and access to document assembly tools for completing forms.
Connection to a legal services, court, or library staff person for information and navigation assistance (including a personal assessment of the capability of the service requester).
Connection to a self-help center or legal services attorney.
Connection to a pro bono lawyer.
Connection to a lawyer providing unbundled services on a pro bono or compensated basis (if the client is able to pay for some services).
Connection to the organized bar or other solutions that provide legal assistance.
If the inquirer is connected to a person, that person will have the capability to change the referral. Responses from a person will take the initial form of an email, text message, or live chat. Escalation can take the form of a phone call or video conference.
An essential function of the portal will be the accumulation of data on how cases progress and, based on outcome data, the relative efficacy of various service delivery mechanisms. The goal is to employ technology that is smart enough to refine referrals based on the data collected, but human review will be essential to the evaluation process.
The criteria for scoring of applications is strongly hinted at by the following list of areas to be responded to in the RFP (which is limited to 30 pages and 32 pages of appendices).
- Capacities in Place
- Funding Evaluation
- Experience with Technology
- Letters of Commitment
- Letters of Support
Not a Project, But “The Project.”
Its important to understand the scope and ambition of this RFP. A state that successfully implements this vision with have a radically transformed access to justice system in which all players work and manage projects together, in which those needing help have a much more seamless process, and in which resources are far more efficiently used. Because technology projects carry (or should carry) their own replicability tools built into them, state that deploys successfully is going to have a massive impact, just as the early ATJ Board and Commissions did.
Do Not Be Discouraged by the Ambition and Expectations
States that are serious about this vision should not, in my opinion, be deterred from applying just because the amount of work required to get from here to there is so massive. It is much less about prior delivery system elements that it is about innovation capacity, strength of committement and partnering, and willingess to embrace the vision. We all know that in competitive processes the winners are not always or only the states with the biggest prior achievements. Most importnt of all, however, we have seen time and again that the states that do not get grants (I refuse to call them “losers” anymore, for obvious reasons) can make sure strides in partnership building during the applicaton process for such grants that the impact in non-awarded states can often be as great as in awarded states.
Making Sure the Portal Is Replicable
While not emphasized in the RFP, but certainly embedded in the DNA of the organizations such as Pro Bono Net that will implement it, is the idea that what comes out of this must be as easy to use as possible throughout the country. There will be myriad problems which the replication, but unless the system is build to make it as easy as possible, it will be impossible.
The Governance Issue Should Get Far More Attention Than In Prior Projects
While LSC and others have made serious efforts to incentivize collaboration in the past, it is going to be a big and critical leap to build a system of shared trust and legitimacy with all the stakeholders. A system that one silo or one program manages, and everyone else supports with kind words is simply never going to achieve the access innovations and integration in this vision.
The Conceptual Relationship With The Justice For All Project, and Other Innovation Agendas is Critical.
I would strongly urge that those bringing together a planning process for this RFP take as their bible this document that compares the proposed elements in the recent Justice For All Guidance, designed to implement the Chiefs 100% Access Resolution, with the NCSC Civil Justice Project and the ABA Commission on the Future of the Legal Profession. The link in the prior sentence references links to all those materials. As explained in the link, the parallels provide persuasive arguments on why the groups have to work in a deeply integrated way.
The User Voice
I keep being struck by the difference in the experience of the ATJ world and the medical world in their efforts to bring the voice of users into their systems. Given that many of our stakeholders are meant to be “advocates, I would like to see more progress in getting the user voice into governance vision and design. As anyone who observed the focus groups conducted by Voices for Civil Justice can attest, the public has remarkable insight into the needed vision, even if their concrete knowledge of the system is very weak. So, for example, the establishment as part of governance not the addition of a few individuals, but an intentional effort to create an insider/outsider voice, would be very helpful. Not just website usability input but system goals, operation, and vision. I suspect that willingness of stakeholders to make such a commitment is likely to be a strong predictor of ultimate governance and thus project success.
Evaluation As Always is Key
In particular, the JFA Guidance and materials will be helpful in designing the evaluation process. It is appropriate for a project such as this to evaluate not just individual achievements but its contribution to achieving 100% access, doing so with the kind of measurable outcomes urged by the Chief’s Resolution (which should not be forgotten in the crafting of the overall portal and system.