Using technology to enhance access to justice.
The federal government has provided funding for the delivery of legal services to poor persons throughout the united states since 1964. (2) Those services, which have been administered by the Legal Services Corporation ("LSC") since 1974, are intended to increase the quantity and quality of legal services available to the poor. (3)
LSC estimates that no more than 20% of poor persons with civil legal needs are able to get assistance. (4) But new technology may enable the provision of more and better legal assistance. Technology has revolutionized the delivery of services throughout the public and private sectors of the United States and the world. Can the use of modern technology increase the capability of the civil legal services community to meet the legal needs of poor persons in this country, even if funding levels remain constant?
In 1998, LSC conducted the first summit on the use of technology to improve access to justice. The attendees represented courts as well as legal services organizations. over two days, the participants drew on a series of white papers prepared in advance of the summit to develop an ambitious plan that led to the creation of LSC's Technology Initiative Grant ("TIG") program in 2000. (5)
By 2012, TIG had provided over $40 million in grants to courts, legal services agencies, and nonprofit organizations to develop and implement technologies to enhance access to justice in this country. (6) TIG funding has supported the development of websites to provide information about civil legal issues in every state. (7) It has also helped create document assembly applications that assist legal services staff in preparing legal documents for their clients quickly and effectively. (8) These document assembly applications are also used by selfrepresented litigants ("SRLs"). (9)
Technology has changed dramatically since LSC's 1998 summit, bringing about the development of web-based business processes, the widespread use of smartphones, and the rise of social media. In recognition of these changes, LSC began planning a second summit in 2011--the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice. An advisory committee consisting of representatives of legal services organizations, courts, the organized bar, and governmental entities decided to hold the Summit in two sessions. The first session focused on developing a new vision for the use of technology to enhance access to justice, and the upcoming second session will focus on developing a plan for implementing that vision.
The mission statement for the Summit states the advisory committee's vision for the events:
The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice will explore the potential of technology to move the United States towards providing [assistance] to 100 percent of those persons with a legal need ... The Summit will bring together selected technology experts, academics, private practitioners, and representatives of legal services programs, courts, and governmental and business entities to develop a technology vision for the future and to develop strategies that will promote the development and widespread deployment of the identified components of the technology vision. (10)
The first session of the Summit took place in Silver Spring, Maryland on June 21-22, 2012. Roughly fifty lawyers, judges, and technology developers and providers attended. (11) The participants focused on developing a vision of how new technology can expand access to courts and legal services for poor persons. As of the publication of this Article, the Summit is in the process of analyzing the ideas developed during the first session. The second session of the Summit, scheduled for early 2013, will develop a plan for implementing some of the highest-priority ideas.
This Article comprises six papers prepared for the first session of the Summit. Part II of this Article summarizes successful efforts made over the past few years by legal services organizations using the Internet to deliver information and services related to access to justice. Part III discusses barriers to implementing new technologies that enhance access to justice and identifies impediments that new technologies may create for poor or unsophisticated persons. Part IV explains how legal services organizations are taking advantage of mobile technology to enable poor persons to access legal services. Part V describes current e-filing systems and proposes that open technical standards be used to facilitate development of applications for SRLs. Part VI addresses the potential use of technology to match individual litigants' needs with the services most appropriate for their cases. Part VII discusses financial, managerial, personal, and ethical impediments to the adoption of automated legal services applications.
II. WEB-BASED LEGAL SERVICES DELIVERY CAPABILITIES (JANE RIBADENEYRA) (12)
A. Improving Access to Justice Through Technology
When Congress authorized funding for TIG grants in 2000, (13) the digital revolution had already brought about great changes in society, but a significant "digital divide" kept low-income people from accessing information available on the Internet. (14) While the divide has not been eliminated, it has narrowed significantly in subsequent years. Today, 62% of low-income adults have access to the Internet, compared to 78% of all adults. (15) The narrowing of the digital divide presents an opportunity to examine past and present web-based legal services delivery strategies and to consider future online solutions that could significantly increase the provision of civil legal assistance to low-income people.
Since 2000, access to legal resources and information specifically targeted to low-income people has grown tremendously. Every state now offers a statewide legal aid website, where legal services providers collaborate with other access to justice organizations to provide a portal for self-help resources and a public entry point for intake and referrals to specific organizations that offer assistance. (16) Statewide legal aid websites are also used to coordinate pro bono attorneys and volunteers, provide training materials, and enable advocates to privately collaborate and share resources. As one leading designer of web-based access to justice programs observed:
It is difficult to overestimate the importance of these statewide Web sites as foundational building blocks for transformational delivery changes. These sites provide the Internet framework on which to hang new services and new approaches to collaboration. Their authenticity and interface consistency make these sites viable platforms for information and service delivery innovation across the country. (17)
Courts, facing increasing numbers of SRLs, are creating self-help centers and websites to provide forms, videos, and legal information. Some courts have partnered with legal aid programs on self-help websites. For instance, Illinois Legal Aid Online "works with courts and libraries across Illinois to establish technology-based legal self-help centers that assist lower-income residents who cannot afford a lawyer." (18) By 2012, 77 of 102 counties in Illinois had centers in local public libraries and county courthouses with computer terminals that SRLs could use to access Illinois Legal Aid Online. (19) Other examples include New York CourtHelp (20) and the California Courts' Online Self-Help Center. (21)
We envision a world in the near future where access to justice means that a potential litigant can easily find legal information about her rights, apply for legal aid electronically, talk to a legal aid attorney over her tablet computer, find and complete the forms she needs to file in court, access the court's e-filing system to file her response and check on the progress of her case, and communicate over the Internet with a lawyer in a larger city if her case becomes complicated.
We discuss current best practices, limitations, and potential future solutions for providing the most effective online assistance to low-income persons with civil legal problems, and recommend effective practices for the design and implementation of Internet-based resources that will make the world described above a reality for low-income people everywhere.
B. Recent Technological Innovations in Access to Justice
Below, we provide a brief overview of different technologies legal aid providers across the country have adopted to help serve clients with limited access to the courts.
1. Court and Legal Aid Websites
When court and legal aid websites were first created, they mostly contained static information about their services, electronic versions of paper flyers and brochures, and links to resources. over the last decade, as these sites have grown to include thousands of pages of increasingly interactive material, legal aid organizations have developed a number of tools for dealing with the increase in content. Statewide legal aid websites created using TIG funds are required to tag material using the National Subject Matter Index ("NSMI"), a centralized, comprehensive taxonomy of topics for the legal aid community by which documents and data can be indexed. (22) Most statewide websites now use robust content management systems, enabling nontechnical staff to easily add and update content. These systems include LawHelp (23) by Pro Bono Net and Drupal for Legal Aid Websites (24) ("DLAW") by Urban Insight, Inc.
As noted in a recent report prepared by John Greacen for the Michigan State Bar Foundation, a growing number of court systems offer resources to assist litigants on their websites. (25) That report includes an analysis of state court websites as of December 2010 and points out the variety of creative solutions that courts are using to provide information. (26)
Some court and legal aid websites have been redesigned to create content that is optimized for search engines, making it easier to find. (27) Multimedia content, including videos, podcasts, and interactive quizzes, is available. (28) Some legal aid organizations now have mobile apps to deliver information to smartphones and other mobile devices. (29) Despite the progress made on some legal aid and court websites, others are still in need of updating to increase their usability and to make the information they provide more relevant and current.
2. Interactive Resources and Remote Assistance
One promising development in web-based delivery of legal services is the provision of more interactive resources and remote assistance capabilities. Some legal aid organizations and courts are using instant messaging programs and remote access software to assist users in navigating their websites to find available self-help resources. For example, LawHelp/NY uses bilingual volunteers to staff its LiveHelp program, offering assistance to both English- and Spanish-speaking users. (30) Visitors to a website using LiveHelp can click a button to open an instant messaging session with a trained specialist. The specialist can answer questions and provide links to relevant resources on the site. if a specialist is unavailable, visitors can leave messages and receive information later via e-mail. (31) In situations where legal advice may be needed, the specialist will inform visitors about how they can apply for legal services or contact a lawyer referral service. (32)
The Minnesota courts' Self-Help Center provides remote assistance to SRLs using TeamViewer software. (33) Instead of trying to describe which links to click over the telephone or by instant message, a staff person can request permission to take remote control of a visitor's computer and show her how to navigate the website.
Legal Services of Northern Michigan has implemented an online system for eligible low-income people to submit questions that are then answered by volunteer attorneys. (34) The Internet Representation Project ("IRP") first screens clients for eligibility. If the client qualifies, the program allows her to post questions to a private messaging system, which are answered by private attorneys volunteering their time. (35) An IRP client can "check the system for answers at any time or schedule a real time chat session with an attorney. Both the client and the attorney remain anonymous to [e]nsure complete privacy." (36)
This system allows private attorneys to provide pro bono assistance at a convenient time and promotes access in rural areas where it is difficult to recruit pro bono attorneys.
In a similar project, The Tennessee Alliance for Justice has partnered with the Tennessee Bar Association to create OnlineTNJustice.org, a web portal that allows low-income people to post legal questions and receive brief advice from pro bono attorneys. (37) Potential clients answer a series of questions to screen for eligibility and agree to the site's user agreement. (38) If qualified, they can create a user account and post a question to be answered by a private volunteer attorney. (39) The volunteer attorneys receive continuing legal education ("CLE") credit for the time they spend researching and answering questions. (40) The system is created to act like a virtual legal clinic that provides more flexibility for both the volunteer attorneys and the clients.
The Judicial Council of California has also recognized the need to address the increasing number of SRLs (41) by providing additional resources, including an Online Self-Help Center "to help its users navigate the court system and acquire realistic expectations about the legal system." (42) It is also important for courts to ensure that inexperienced litigants can access information about their cases by providing a user-friendly case management system such as the My Court Case website developed by the Contra Costa Superior Court. (43)
The Sacramento Superior Court's family law facilitator answers a growing number of self-help questions via e-mail. (44) Courts are also using the web to allow litigants to schedule appointments at self-help centers. (45) The Orange County Superior Court gives litigants a homework assignment to fill in the information for a declaration for a court hearing on their type of case. (46) This can save a significant amount of time, allowing the self-help center to assist more people.
3. Document Assembly
Instead of finding static court forms online to download, print, and complete by hand, litigants can now use interactive A2J Guided Interviews, created with A2J Author, which walks the user through the litigation process step-by-step. (47) As litigants answer a series of questions, a form is assembled in the background using HotDocs document assembly software. (48) There are over 2300 HotDocs templates stored on the national LawHelp Interactive ("LHI") server for the use of advocates, pro bono volunteers, and SRLs through legal aid and court websites. (49) In 2011, more than a half-million interviews were conducted using LHI, generating over 300,000 documents. (50)
Another tool developed to help SRLs complete court forms is the Interactive Community Assistance Network ("I-CAN!") program. (51) Developed by the Legal Aid Society of Orange County ("LASOC") and currently used in seven states, almost 200,000 pleadings have been created since the system was developed in 1999. (52) LASOC has also used the technology underlying I-CAN! to create a new online service called Legal Genie. (53) Legal Genie asks simple questions and inserts responses in the correct places. The forms are then reviewed by an attorney from the California State Bar-certified Lawyers Referral Service ("LRS"), which also provides up to thirty minutes of telephone consultation to inform litigants about the court process and give brief advice. (54) The fees for this service range from $199 to $799, depending on the complexity of the forms. (55)
Smart legal forms are also becoming more commonplace, especially for SRLs. Smart forms get their "smarts" by being interactive --such as by providing data validation, calculations, and checks for completeness--and are stateless, meaning the forms can be worked on and saved whether or not the person preparing the form is connected to the Internet. (56) Smart forms, such as those created with Adobe LiveCycle, are XML-based, so the form data is tagged in a way that enables integration with other court systems. (57) They are also e-filing-enabled. While there are many benefits to the filers, with convenience at the top of the list, courts are adopting smart forms for operational cost savings. A well-designed smart form provides better accuracy because the entered data is validated and all required fields are completed. It also reduces the burden on the court, as it can be e-filed --eliminating the clerk's data entry work--and can be automatically integrated with the court case and document management systems. These benefits reduce continuances caused by missing, incomplete, or inaccurate forms. By extending the "smarts" into court workflows, courts can save themselves and litigants both time and money.
While smart forms and document assembly projects using HotDocs and A2J Author provide helpful resources for SRLs, technologies like these require significant technical expertise, staff time, and funding resources. Smart forms also require ongoing maintenance as laws are changed and forms need to be updated. The challenge, given the current fiscal climate of reduced funding for court systems and legal aid programs across the country, is to show how these online systems can help save court clerk time, increase the efficiency of the court system, and provide increased court access for litigants who cannot afford an attorney. (58)
Many courts allow litigants to electronically file documents with the court. Some courts use a third-party intermediary called an Electronic Filing Service Provider ("EFSP"), while other courts have built web portals to facilitate e-filing transactions directly. One of the EFSPs for e-filing with the Superior Court of Orange County is LASOC. (59) LASOC has channeled operational savings created by the e-filing system back into courthouse Self-Help Centers to provide even better service to filers. (60)
Some of the e-filing systems being implemented require the filer to be a licensed attorney, registered with a username and password. (61) This has the potential to enlarge the access to justice gap in the long run, as low-income pro se litigants are excluded from these systems. Some courts are starting to look into how to include pro se e-filers, but such a change would raise complex issues, and in light of recent budget cuts, addressing these issues may not be a high priority. (62)
The e-filing software used at different courthouses is not always fully compatible. Later in this Part, we address the problems this raises, and the promising future that could be provided through greater interoperability. (63)
5. Web Services
A web service is a piece of software that enables two systems to interact and readily share information. Other software, or websites, can then take advantage of the service to deliver new online capabilities. For example, Google Translate is a web service that allows a website to dynamically translate text between different languages. (64) Many courts now make case information available via web services. (65)
The kinds of data that can be accessed via the e-filing web service of the Superior Court of Orange County, California include:
* Person (all persons/parties associated with a case);
* Org (all organizations, agencies, and law firms associated with a case);
* ROA (provide the register of actions on a case);
* Events (show future and past events);
* Summary (share basic case information);
* Case (share all cases based on certain criteria); and
* Title (provide the official title of a case). (66)
With a library of web services, a court or legal aid office could assemble applications for a variety of platforms (website, mobile phones, iPads, etc.) with minimal effort.
6. Social Media Tools
In addition to operating standalone websites for legal aid programs, self-help centers and courts, a significant number of these organizations now also maintain a presence on commercial social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. (67) In the broader nonprofit community, 93% of organizations report some presence on a commercial social media platform. (68) Legal aid organizations and courts can use social media to expand their outreach to the community by posting information about the availability of legal clinics, as well as videos, self-help resources, court information, and online intake programs. Having an active presence on social media sites allows courts and legal aid organizations to provide an alternative way for people to find information and resources, as well as to ask questions. Arguably, this type of communication also provides another means of building support and confidence in a legal system that is often confusing for (and mistrusted by) low-income and minority populations. (69)
Videos posted to websites like YouTube and Vimeo can help litigants learn how to complete forms, prepare for court, and understand their legal rights. (70) Videos can be produced inexpensively using photographs, animations, and voice-overs, and such videos can be more visually appealing and instructive than ones that use actors or talking heads. Additionally, videos that use graphics and voice-overs can be translated for individuals with limited English proficiency and updated when a law is changed more easily than other types of videos.
Good examples of social media use include the websites of the Superior Court of Arizona, (71) the South Carolina Access to Justice Commission, (72) and Lone Star Legal Aid. (73)
7. Online Learning Tools and Trends
Another important web-based delivery tool widely used by legal aid programs, courts, and access to justice organizations is online meeting and training software. Through the LegalMeetings program, legal aid organizations have adopted online web meetings and webinars as important collaboration and training tools for their staff, board members, advisory groups, community partners, and pro bono attorneys. (74) Some programs have also implemented videoconferencing systems, although bandwidth and maintenance requirements have limited the use of videoconferencing among legal aid programs. (75) Courts have had more success implementing videoconferencing systems to provide remote assistance (76) and hearings. (77) Legal aid programs can use low-cost web-based videoconferencing platforms like GotoMeeting and WebEx to host training sessions, meetings, and legal clinics, and for co-counseling. (78)
Some universities are making their courses available for free, such as MIT through its OpenCourseware initiative. (79) Independent efforts such as the Khan Academy, (80) Coursera, (81) and Udacity (82) offer free online courses in science and technology. The e-learning models being implemented could be used to build similar repositories for legal services learning materials. Additionally, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction recently offered a free online course for law students and law faculty on Topics in Digital Law Practice that could serve as a model for the delivery of online courses focused on legal aid issues. (83)
Legal aid organizations and courts have made great strides in the development and use of web-based delivery models, including websites, interactive resources, remote assistance, document assembly, efiling, web services, and social media and online learning, for the delivery of legal services to low-income people. However, progress is not universal across all states. Even where online information is available, it can be difficult for the targeted low-income population to find and understand. Website usability needs to be improved and complicated legal information needs to be translated into plain language. Therefore, while replication of successful delivery models and continued innovation should be encouraged, attention and resources must also be allocated to improving accessibility and usability.
III. LET'S NOT MAKE IT WORSE: ISSUES TO CONSIDER IN ADOPTING NEW TECHNOLOGY (BONNIE ROSE HOUGH) (84)
TECHNOLOGY PERMEATES ALMOST EVERY ASPECT OF OUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL LIVES, OFTEN PROVIDING MORE EFFICIENT WAYS TO ACCOMPLISH A VARIETY OF TASKS. THE PUBLIC HAS ADOPTED THESE SERVICES TO CONDUCT ACTIVITIES SUCH AS ONLINE BANKING, TRAVEL RESERVATIONS, SOCIAL NETWORKING, AND SHOPPING. THESE TECHNOLOGIES CAN SIMILARLY HELP PEOPLE ACCESS COURT SERVICES. IN THE PAST DECADE ... TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVES HAVE PRESENTED OPPORTUNITIES TO ADMINISTER JUSTICE MORE EFFICIENTLY AND TO A LARGER COMMUNITY OF COURT USERS ... NOW MORE THAN EVER, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT ACCESS REMAINS A CENTRAL FOCUS IN THE DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND DEPLOYMENT OF COURT TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS. (85)
In an age of cutbacks in funding for legal services and courts, the increased use of technology is often identified as a source of savings and efficiency. (86) But this also raises the specter of a digital divide that institutionalizes a two-tiered system incapable of delivering appropriate justice to low-income persons. (87) One can envision a system where all persons are required to use complicated e-filing systems that charge parties for access without providing fee waivers or access to support staff.
In order to more fully identify and avoid these barriers, the California Administrative Office of the Courts ("AOC"), the staff agency of the Judicial Council that makes policy for the state court system, (88) commissioned OneJustice (then known as the Public Interest Clearinghouse) to survey California legal services providers and self-help center staff to identify potential benefits and barriers that increased use of technology posed for low-income persons. (89) Based on these findings and ongoing discussion and review, the Judicial Council's Court Technology Advisory Committee ("CTAC") developed a proposal, which the Judicial Council approved after comments on August 31, 2012. (90)
These guiding principles are intended to establish a set of considerations for court technology decision-makers rather than to function as a mandate. (91) They articulate the fundamental values that should underlie future use of technology in the courts. (92) The author, a staff member who helped develop these principles, describes how they provide guidance to courts and court partners in avoiding barriers to access to justice.
B. First Two Principles: Ensure Access and Fairness and Include SRLs
The first and fundamental principle set forth by the committee was to "Ensure Access and Fairness." (93) CTAC noted that technology should be used to "allow all court users to have impartial and effective access to justice." (94) Electronic means of communicating with the court have many benefits for litigants. online resources allow litigants to conduct legal business remotely at any time, day or night. (95) Litigants therefore no longer have to miss work to fill out legal forms; the requisite information can be entered from a computer at home. (96) That being said, equal access requires courts and their partners to keep in mind the unique needs of certain groups of litigants. The principles thus identify several groups that may face particular challenges as technologies are deployed. (97)
CTAC considered the challenges SRLs face to be so important that it made them the subject of the second principle: "Include Self-Represented Litigants." (98) This group is discussed below, along with other groups for whom electronic court access may prove particularly challenging.
1. Self-Represented Litigants
The first group that CTAC identified as facing barriers to electronic access to courts are those who represent themselves. (99) An estimated 4.3 million Californians use the courts without attorneys. (100) Many of the cases involve traffic violations, family law, small claims, domestic violence, landlord/tenant disputes, and guardianship. (101)
These court customers, understandably unfamiliar with court business practices, require additional support and attention. The use of technology can be of great assistance in providing outreach, information, and support to those navigating the courts for the first time. (102) And, if designed properly, these solutions also can provide reassurance to SRLs by giving them instant access to case information or the current status of filings or case events.
CTAC noted that "[b]ecause so many cases now involve selfrepresented parties, technology must be implemented in ways that benefit those with or without legal representation so that all parties have equal access to the courts." (103) Until the fall of 2012, the California Code of Civil Procedure authorized courts to require electronic filing and service only in complex civil cases. (104) Representation is almost universal for these difficult cases. (105) Today, however, the law provides that, upon adoption by the Judicial Council of uniform rules for mandatory electronic filing and service for specified civil actions, any superior court may, by local rule, implement mandatory electronic filing subject to certain requirements and conditions. (106) The statute requires statewide policies on, among other things, unrepresented parties, parties with fee waivers, and reasonable exceptions to e-filing. (107)
CTAC also recommended that courts take into account aspects of usability and access unique to SRLs. (108) SRLs are likely to access court systems using public terminals, which may be available at libraries, legal aid offices, and court self-help centers. (109) Thus, special precautions must be made to protect SRLs' private information. (110)
Well-designed e-filing solutions that involve document assembly can also be extremely helpful to both the public and the courts. in 2003, the Orange County Superior Court and LASOC collaborated to create I-CAN!, which consisted in part of thirteen interactive modules addressing legal issues SRLs frequently face. (111) These modules would generate the appropriate forms for filing. (112) By 2012, I-CAN! had generated nearly 182,000 pleadings in California, (113) and the orange County Superior Court had accepted over 12,000 small claims e filings. (114) Orange County judges noted that they could help six ICAN!-assisted litigants in the time it typically took to assist a single SRL. (115) I-CAN! also allowed legal aid attorneys to assist SRLs in rural areas. (116)
it is also essential that court technology implementers strive to ensure that technology solutions improve not only access to justice, but also the appropriateness and neutrality of substantive outcomes. it is critical that the legal work be done thoughtfully and comprehensively and that litigants are encouraged to get additional help to understand concepts and review their documents prior to submitting them to the court.
Courts and legal aid providers should also be looking at hybrid legal services systems that integrate human and automated assistance. For example, legal services and court programs in California have had great success using LHI, which is an Internet-based application. (117) LHi applications have been designed to support domestic violence clinics and help litigants submit pleadings in eviction proceedings. (118) The applications substantially reduce the time needed to complete court forms. (119) Self-help centers are, as a result, able to focus on more significant matters, such as educating litigants on important legal concepts and the legal process, answering questions, and assisting in the preparation of litigant declarations. (120) The programs ensure that the proper facts are gathered and inserted into the court forms. (121) Illinois' success with LHI has proven that online forms can be updated continuously to ensure compliance with the most current law and court policies and procedures. (122)
Developers must recognize that the same features that make an application friendly for unsophisticated users may make it unfriendly for those who use the application more frequently. (123) For instance, unsophisticated users are best served by an application that leads them step-by-step, whereas more frequent users are best served by an application that allows the fastest and most efficient data entry possible. (124) Arguably, a user-account based system may benefit repeat players like attorneys, but one-time access should still be available for SRLs. Certain systems, such as the I-CAN! program, are designed explicitly for those with limited computer experience. I-CAN! goes through screens one question at a time and includes an audio component where each question is read aloud to assist those with limited literacy. (125) This can be very slow and frustrating for regular computer users; thus, two or more versions of an application may be required to meet the reasonable needs of both types of users.
in designing a system, one must consider the locations at which an application will be used. For instance, while many tenants might choose to use a computer located in the courthouse to prepare an answer to an unlawful detainer action, a legal aid or private attorney would not find this to be an acceptable way to prepare pleadings. For them, an application would have to be accessible from their offices. Persons filling out financial disclosure declarations in dissolution actions will need to refer to their tax returns and other personal financial records--a process that would be extraordinarily awkward at a kiosk-type facility. In general, systems should be designed to allow parties to complete necessary forms in a location other than the court, and should anticipate that there will be little on-site support for the computer user.
2. Rural Residents
The issue of rural barriers to access to justice is critical. Over 30% of the five million Californians that live in rural areas are eligible for legal aid services. (126) Moreover, low wages and limited employment opportunities in rural areas contribute to higher poverty rates and lower education levels than in urban areas. (127) Legal aid programs in rural areas face even greater challenges than those in urban areas as there are fewer traditional sources of pro bono legal work and fewer funding resources. (128) other challenges involve travel time and costs for the client to reach legal aid offices and the difficulty of recruiting staff to serve in rural areas. (129)
Technology offers many options for the largely underserved rural population. it can assist those who do have web access by providing legal information online and allowing litigants to access court files, pay fines and fees, and file documents remotely. Legal aid programs have also succeeded in using videoconferencing to reach rural residents. (130) Videoconferencing and telephonic appearance procedures are also making it possible for rural residents to participate in some court proceedings without incurring the cost of traveling to the court house. (131)
The Self-Help Assistance Regional Project ("SHARP") uses videoconferencing equipment to link four court-operated self-help centers in California's Butte, Glenn, and Tehama counties. (132) The SHARP technology allows one supervising attorney and minimal support staff to provide self-help assistance through workshops and individual support to more than 1200 customers per month. (133) This equipment also allows staff members and volunteers to provide language services in all connected locations. (134)
However, a solution like SHARP is not possible in all areas because of significant technological challenges. Indeed, many rural service providers do not have access to high-speed Internet connections, some lack cell phone reception, and others have little nearby access to fax machines. (135) In addition, rural areas have high levels of illiteracy, which limits the value of text-based information. (136) For these reasons, courts and legal aid providers must maintain traditional services even as they expand into new technological frontiers.
3. Persons with Disabilities
Technology can be particularly helpful in providing disabled persons meaningful access to information and the courtroom. For instance, screen readers allow visually impaired persons to use the
Internet by reading a website's text aloud. (137) Thus, a person no longer has to rely on a friend's kindness to read her information about how to file a case; now she can simply navigate to a court's web page on her own. Videoconferencing is a powerful tool for hearing impaired people when used to provide sign language interpreters in rural courts. (138)
it is critical, however, that technological solutions do not add to the barriers faced by persons with disabilities, particularly when they involve the deployment of new websites for SRLs. For example, the Department of Education estimated that, in 2006, nearly 10% of Americans had disabilities involving vision, hearing, mobility, or learning, all of which have the potential to impair their ability to use the Internet. (139) Additionally, only 54% of adults living with a disability use the internet, compared to 81% of adults without a disability. (140) Further, up to 2% of adults may be unable to use the Internet at all because of disability or illness. (141) However, thoughtful web design can address many of the challenges and resources are available to help web designers overcome these issues. (142) Courts and legal services programs must follow developments in this area and avail themselves of these resources.
4. Persons with Limited English Proficiency
Not only do more than 40% of Californians speak languages other than English at home, (143) but language skills create an effective barrier to court access for nearly seven million Californians. (144) The dense language used in court documents and websites can make it difficult to convey legal concepts clearly and accurately. (145)
Machine translation, a form of computer-automated translation, is becoming more widespread and of higher quality, allowing for a greater distribution of resources. (146) However, machine translation is still not as accurate as human translation. (147) Courts cannot simply rely on this automated method of translation and expect to get a product that is legally accurate. (148)
Videoconferencing, Skype, and similar technologies can also be used for remote interpretation and bilingual assistance. (149) However, courts again must recognize that there will be real challenges with simultaneous interpretation and the lack of personal contact. This may not only compromise the accuracy of the translation, but also the trust and confidence that the non-English speaker has in the legal process.
C. Other Critical Principles
CTAC adopted other principles similarly designed to provide greater and more equal access to the court system while introducing technological solutions. (150) Several of these principles are described below.
1. Preserve Traditional Access
To address the very real concerns about access for these underserved populations, CTAC proposed to preserve traditional access to courts for those persons challenged by technology. (151) This critical principle pushes courts to develop systems that will truly work for all persons--it encourages technological solutions, but does not mandate them as a general rule.
2. Provide Education and Support
The principles note that training is critical not only to encourage effective use of technology, but also to speed its adoption by reassuring litigants that the system is user-friendly. (152) They also note that education and training cannot be a one-time occurrence since so many persons coming to court are there for the first time or will use the system infrequently. (153)
The principles suggest various ways of training users and recommend that such training be adapted to the "complexity of the system and the sophistication of the intended users." (154) Indeed, the court could even ask large law firms or legal aid societies to provide training programs. (155)
3. Secure Private Information
Facilitating public access to information may infringe on individual privacy. This is a particular problem with court documents, which often contain personal and confidential information. California has already taken some steps to protect litigants' privacy in certain situations, such as providing for confidentiality in parentage cases. (156) California's Rules of Court provide that electronic access should not be available outside of the courthouse for a variety of cases including family law, juvenile court, guardianship and conservatorship, mental health, and criminal proceedings. (157) The policy motivations that underlie this rule and others like it may require greater protection of court records as they are made available online. Litigants who are seeking work may not want a prospective employer to have access to their family law case.
Litigants may also expose themselves to privacy risks by using public or shared computers to access court information. (158) identity theft committed with data in court documents poses a particular threat to low-income people. Although low-income people are targeted less often than those with higher incomes, they can suffer greater financial harm. (159) The principles emphasize that these individuals should be informed of both the existence of and ways to mitigate such risks. (160)
D. Moving Forward
Technology is a great asset and courts and legal services providers need to move forward with technological solutions to address the needs of the public they serve. But not everyone will be able or willing to use the technology when it is first deployed. it is critical that courts never unfairly disadvantage a party because of new technology. (161)
When LSC and state courts began their statewide self-help websites, of the half of American adults without internet access, 57% did not wish to gain access. (162) Yet the digital divide was never a sufficient reason not to make maximal use of the internet for persons who did have access to it. The percentage of Americans who use the Internet has continued to rise, reaching nearly 80% in 2011.163 Today, virtually everyone has some means of obtaining online access--whether through her own computer, through that of a relative or neighbor, or through a public access computer at a court or public library. (164)
Courts and legal services providers should adopt principles such as those described in this Part while remaining aware of technological developments. They must recognize that some technologies may raise barriers to justice and think through the challenges posed by the increased use of technology in the legal system.
IV. MOBILE STRATEGIES FOR LEGAL SERVICES (ABHIJEET CHAVAN) (165)
AMERICANS DESERVE A GOVERNMENT THAT WORKS FOR THEM ANYTIME, ANYWHERE AND ON ANY DEVICE. BY MAKING IMPORTANT SERVICES ACCESSIBLE FROM YOUR PHONE AND SHARING GOVERNMENT DATA WITH ENTREPRENEURS, WE ARE GIVING HARDWORKING FAMILIES AND BUSINESSES TOOLS THAT WILL HELP THEM SUCCEED. (166)
-- PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
President Obama recently directed all major federal agencies to make two key government services available to mobile devices within the next twelve months. (167) The White House expects that by 2015, "more people will be accessing the internet via mobile phones than via traditional desktop computers." (168)
Today, the term "mobile" is used to refer to a variety of new technologies. These include mobile networks that provide voice, text messaging, and data services; smaller portable computing devices such as smartphones and tablet computers with touch interfaces; and mobile apps (small, downloadable applications) that extend the functionality of devices. Today's mobile computing devices have the following characteristics:
(1) Multi-function: Tablets and smartphones can access the Web, send and receive e-mail, communicate using instant messaging, and run apps.
(2) Intuitive: Many modern mobile devices use a touchscreen interface. A user can place her fingers on the screen to interact with the device, which makes the device more intuitive and easier to use than desktop computers.
(3) Always-connected: Mobile devices can connect to the Internet using cellular data networks or available wireless networks.
(4) Location-aware: Mobile devices are capable of identifying their location via Global Positioning System ("GPS") and other services. Location information can be used to personalize the information that the devices access.
(5) Recording: Smartphones and tablets can take pictures, videos, and audio recordings and store this information on the phone or in the cloud (on a remote storage service accessed over the network).
(6) Cloud-connected: Mobile devices increasingly store personal user data in the cloud instead of on the device itself. This allows the data to be accessed from multiple devices and provides backups.
(7) Personal: Mobile devices, especially smartphones, are private devices, unlike landline phones that are shared by an entire family.
In a February 2012 survey, the Pew Research Center found that only 12% of American adults do not have mobile phones. (169) This year, the number of adults who have smartphones (46%) surpassed the number who have only ordinary cell phones (41%). (170)
Younger Americans increasingly choose smartphones as their communication devices. A January 2012 survey found that 66% of Americans ages twenty-five to thirty-four own smartphones. (171) A 2009 study by the National Center for Health Statistics revealed another trend: nearly one-fourth of American households have no land line and use mobile phones instead. (172) A recent study by web browser maker opera found that more than half of its mobile users access the web exclusively via mobile devices. (173)
Mobile computing may already be having an impact on the "digital divide"--the gap between those who have access to information technologies and those who do not. A survey by the Pew Research Center released in April 2012 found that:
Groups that have traditionally been on the other side of the digital divide in basic [I]nternet access are using wireless connections to go online. Among smartphone owners, young adults, minorities, those with no college experience, and those with lower household income levels are more likely than other groups to say that their phone is their main source of [I]nternet access. (174)
Americans are increasingly turning to mobile devices to access information and conduct transactions. This Part discusses how organizations that provide legal services are implementing mobile technologies.
B. Mobile Use in Legal Services
Many legal aid programs must serve large geographic areas with few attorneys. For instance, the Montana Legal Services Association ("MLSA") has twelve attorneys (175) to cover a service area of over 145,000 square miles. (176) Legal aid programs have turned to innovative uses of technology to overcome these geographic challenges. These approaches have included self-help kiosks, websites that use LiveHelp to answer questions and find appropriate resources for website visitors, and videoconferences that connect remote advocates and clients.
1. Mobile Self-Help Centers
Rural Californians face difficulties in accessing legal services; rural areas of California have fewer private or legal aid lawyers than urban areas. (177) To address this need, Lassen Superior Court created a Mobile Access Center ("MAC") that allows real-time entry of case information into the court systems. (178) The court can provide legal information to SRLs who receive filings, accept payments for fines, and schedule mediation services. Ventura County went mobile in 1999 with the "Winnebago of Justice," a self-help center modeled after a bookmobile that traveled to senior centers, homeless shelters, and social service programs to provide computers, video stations, and a small library of legal information and court forms. (179) Fresno established a similar program, but both Ventura and Fresno's programs have been cut due to funding issues. (180)
Given the expenses of maintaining a mobile center, including gas and staff time, current technology offers alternative solutions that are more cost-effective. Laptops and tablets with video cameras can be used to connect rural clients to staff in urban offices. Central California Legal Services ("CCLS") received a 2010 TIG grant from LSC for a project to enable urban law students to staff virtual law clinics for low-income clients using laptop computers with webcams. (181) CCLS will set up laptop computers in various locations in its service region, including law libraries, senior centers, and community centers to hold intake, advice, and brief service clinics. The law students will conduct intake and advice sessions through online video chats with the clients under the supervision of legal services attorneys located elsewhere.
in some cases, mobile lawyers literally go out into the field to support rural farm workers with laptops, printers, and wireless hotspots. For example, the Missouri Association of Trial Attorneys ("MATA") provided pro bono assistance to tornado survivors in Joplin, Missouri. (182) when the Red Cross disaster center was present in Joplin, MATA's Emergency Response Team ("ERT") installed a wireless internet hotspot with laptops, tablets, and printers to deliver legal assistance. (183) After the disaster center closed, MATA continued visiting Joplin with this equipment and providing legal assistance by phone. (184)
2. Mobile-Optimized Websites
Americans across all income levels are buying smartphones. Among individuals in households with incomes of less than $30,000, smartphone ownership grew from 22% to 34% from 2011 to 2012. (185) Websites are beginning to see increased web traffic from mobile devices. A 2011 study by walkerSands Communications found a 102% increase in web traffic from mobile devices between the fourth quarters of 2010 and 2011. (186) In May 2012, 50% of Facebook's users used mobile devices to access their accounts compared to only 13% in 2009.' Smartphone owners "under the age of 30, non-white smartphone users, and smartphone owners with relatively low income and education levels are particularly likely to say that they mostly go online using their phone." (188)
To serve the increasing numbers of low-income people who access websites primarily using cell phones, statewide legal aid websites are creating mobile-optimized versions of their sites. In 2008, Pine Tree Legal Assistance ("PTLA") was awarded a TIG grant to create the Maine Legal Aid Mobile Web. (189) Anyone visiting www.ptla.org using a mobile browser is now redirected to that site. (190)
As part of the process of optimizing content for mobile devices, legal aid and self-help programs also need to consider the medium through which information is relayed. Given the limited screen size on mobile devices, content delivered through video and audio files provides a good alternative to written content.
In 2011, Legal Services of Delaware launched the first mobile-optimized statewide website built on the DLAW platform, followed by Idaho Legal Aid, Native Legal Net, and Rhode Island Legal Services. (191) The DLAW platform (192) uses a "responsive design" approach that automatically adapts to the type of device used to access it. For example, a website page that displays three columns of information on a desktop monitor or laptop might display two columns on a tablet device and one column on a smartphone. In 2012, MLSA launched the first mobile-optimized version of a statewide website built on the LawHelp platform. (193)
3. Mobile Apps
Given the extent of interest in accessing the PTLA mobile site from smartphone operating systems, PTLA and its partner, Illinois Legal Aid Online, developed some of the first mobile apps for legal aid in 2011. Illinois Legal Aid Online launched the Illinois Legal Aid app and the Illinois Pro Bono app, and PTLA launched the Legal Aid News App and the Legal Aid Finder App, available for Android, Apple iOS, and as a web app. (194) The Illinois Legal Aid app, designed for lower-income residents who need legal assistance, offers plainlanguage legal information and Illinois-specific referrals to courthouse legal self-help centers and legal aid agencies. The Pro Bono app provides legal professionals with "a volunteer opportunity search tool, a calendar of upcoming legal events, including [CLEs], and comprehensive legal resource guides in the most common pro bono practice are as." (195)
The Arkansas Access to Justice Foundation developed the iProBono app for the iOS platform. Launched in January 2012, the interactive app allows licensed Arkansas attorneys to view available pro bono opportunities to "represent low-income Arkansans, sort through those cases based on legal topic and county, and request cases with a push of a button." (196) Other examples of legal aid apps include the Force for Good app developed by the Public Counsel Law Center, the nation's largest pro bono law firm, to provide an easy way for volunteer attorneys to give the Center routine updates on cases they accept, (197) and the OpenAdvocate platform, built with DLAW, which includes both iOS and Android apps. (198)
Mobile apps for the delivery of legal aid services are in their nascent stage of development and usage. The healthcare industry has been using mobile strategies to address hard-to-serve populations for a longer period. In a grant-funded project run by San Francisco State university, the healthcare community conducted a study to determine whether an app platform could impact low-income teens and young adults managing obesity. The app helped teens and young adults monitor observations of daily living to provide data back to "health coaches and clinical care teams in order to help set health goals, track their progress, and ultimately improve their health." (200) The target population for this project included "individuals with low income and education levels, limited access to computers, and possibly unstable housing situations." (201) Legal services providers may be able to learn from such case studies to develop mobile apps that provide legal tools and information.
Current legal aid apps provide links to resources, information, and videos for users to absorb, but this technology has yet to provide an easy way for programs to interact directly with legal aid clients and SRLs. For instance, many legal aid and court self-help websites provide access to court forms and other automated documents to address various legal issues that clients may be able to address on their own. However, current hardware limits a user's ability to complete a lengthy interview or court form with a mobile device. Two of the most popular self-help software programs in the nonprofit legal aid community, A2J Author and I-CAN! Legal, are not currently optimized for mobile devices. Future development will need to consider how to address the challenges associated with low-income individuals who need to use mobile devices to complete forms, to e-mail and print them, and to submit them for e-filing.
4. Quick Response Codes
Quick Response Codes ("QR codes") are graphic barcodes consisting of square dots arranged in a square pattern. (204) Though they are similar to the familiar UPC barcodes seen on items in stores, QR codes can carry much more data than standard UPC barcodes and can be read by mobile devices such as smartphones. (205) They can be displayed on printed materials and posters. users can point a smartphone at the code, scan the code, and retrieve data such as the address to a website.
The Superior Court of Fresno County uses QR codes for juror summons. (207) Each juror summons is printed with a unique QR code including an address for a web page that contains juror information.
This allows a user to scan the QR code at any time with a mobile phone app to check the status of her jury duty without needing to type in any information. This technology eliminates the need for a user to call into the court's voice response system or use the court's online web interface, both of which require the user to enter data. QR codes are also used for Courtesy Notices. The QR codes take users to specific URLs, allowing them to make payments on the web. Printed materials produced by courts and legal service providers could include a QR code so that those in possession of the printed material can easily access additional information online.
5. Text Messaging
While the growing number of low-income people with access to smartphones will present future opportunities to provide better access to legal services and information using these devices, text messaging, or Short Message Service ("SMS"), offers a form of communication that is ubiquitous to cell phone owners and an untapped resource for the delivery of legal services to this population. A 2011 survey showed that "83% of American adults own cell phones and three quarters of them (73%) send and receive text messages." (208) In addition, a program that provides free and low-cost cell phone plans to eligible low-income people now includes free text messaging. (209)
Healthcare organizations have been using text messaging to reach their target populations. For example, text4baby is a free service that sends three text messages a week to pregnant women and new mothers. (210) The content, available in English and Spanish, is tailored to the timeline of the mother's pregnancy or the child's first year; it includes reminders about prenatal check-ups and advice and resources about nutrition, exercise, car seat safety, breastfeeding, and other topics. (211) In another model, Text 4 Teens is a mental health initiative offered in certain areas that uses live counselors and text messaging to provide support to teens on issues such as drugs and alcohol, depression, suicide, and bullying. These examples of using text messaging to push personalized information to those who need it may serve as a model for legal services organizations.
An early example of text messaging in the legal services community comes from CitizenshipWorks, a project of the Immigration Advocates Network, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, and Pro BoBono Net. By texting "citizenship" ("ciudadania" in Spanish) to 877877, users "receive the location and contact information of nearby legal services providers" as well as information about the naturalization process. (213)
One barrier to access to justice for low-income clients is long queues on legal aid telephone hotlines. Potential clients may have to hang up due to limited cell phone minutes or other time constraints. (214) Legal information via text message could provide an alternative access point for low-income people, particularly those with limited cell phone voice plans but unlimited text messaging. Such a service could also free up overloaded telephone lines and increase efficiency of hotline staff by allowing the use of pre-formulated responses, a practice that has been successfully implemented in LiveHelp chat protocols for statewide websites. (215)
Once a client completes the intake process and gets an appointment to receive additional legal assistance, some clients fail to show up for the appointment, or they show up without critical paperwork that advocates need to review. Legal aid programs and courts could ask clients if they prefer to be contacted by text message and build the capability into their case management systems to send reminders about appointments, court hearings, and other important information.
The capabilities and limitations of the new mobile medium means that the legal aid community will need to develop new mobile strategies for content, functionality, and design.
Research has shown that users scan text on the web rather than reading it. (216) Therefore, web content should be easy to scan and concise: it should use bulleted lists, fewer words, and convey one idea per paragraph. Reading and comprehending content on a mobile device is twice as difficult as it is on a desktop computer. (217) Thus, writing for mobile devices needs to be even more focused and brief. (218) Legal services websites should rewrite and restructure content so that it is suitable for reading on mobile devices.
Adobe's Flash format has been used to deliver interactive content, video, and animation on the web. However, experts advise against using Flash. (219) Also, Apple's iOS does not support Flash and recommends the use of modern formats such as HTML5 for delivering interactive content instead. (220) Some efforts are already underway. For example, the A2J Author software that generates Flash-based interactive legal aid forms is in the process of replacing Flash with HTML5. (221)
Usability expert Jakob Nielson has long noted that documents in PDF are not ideal for reading on a screen. (222) Reading PDFs that were designed for an 8.5x11" layout on smaller devices such as smartphones is even more challenging. (223) Legal services organizations should avoid the use of PDFs and convert content to HTML format instead. For long-form content such as reports and books, they should consider using the ePub format, which is used for e-books. (224)
The characteristics of mobile devices offer legal services programs opportunities to provide services to their clients with new functionality. For example, the legal services community could explore ideas such as offering an online check-in before coming for an inperson visit at a legal aid self-help center. Mobile devices could also be used to provide the latest personalized information at the user's fingertips, such as the status of a case, updates on wait time at courts or jury duty, or alerts about the next action required on a legal case. These devices could also bridge the physical and digital worlds: QR codes on printed materials or building signage could link to more detailed data on the web or help users navigate a building. Mobile apps could also provide legal fee calculators or audio instructions for filling out legal forms. However, legal aid programs should not completely rely on new mobile technologies. Since not everyone has mobile Internet access, it is vital that services continue to be offered via traditional means.
Website designers must consider the limitations of mobile devices and cellular data networks when creating content for a mobile audience. (225) Content needs to be readable on a variety of devices--from small smartphones to large tablets. Arguably, websites that take a long time to load are less effective. Since cellular data networks are slower than the broadband networks typically used by home computers, (226) websites should be optimized to load quickly.
Designers of mobile websites need to take into account the fact that many users interact with their devices through a touch-screen interface. (227) As the number of people using mobile devices is expected to skyrocket in the coming years, some advocate a mobile-first design process that starts with the needs of mobile users and then adds functionality for desktop and laptop users later. (228)
While it is possible to create a separate website just for mobile devices, the approach recommended by Google and others is to use a design strategy called responsive design. (229) Responsive design is a technique for building a single website that looks different on different device sizes. (230) Using a flexible grid layout and modern web standards such as HTML5 and CSS3, responsive websites adapt to the device on which they are being viewed, scaling and reorganizing content for better readability and interaction on mobile devices. (231)
Mobile devices and networks are expected to become a primary means of accessing information in the near future. The legal services community needs to develop new strategies to continue to deliver content and services to their clients using these new mobile technologies. The advent of the mobile age offers new opportunities for providing legal services and aid to those who need it.
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|Title Annotation:||I. Introduction through IV. Mobile Strategies for Legal Services, p. 241-278|
|Author:||Cabral, James E.; Chavan, Abhijeet; Clarke, Thomas M.; Greacen, John; Hough, Bonnie Rose; Rexer, Lin|
|Publication:||Harvard Journal of Law & Technology|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2012|
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