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Background

This report proposes a national vision that must of necessity be achieved locally. The proposal is ambitious. It must overcome challenges not only of technology, but of leadership.

It has been widely estimated for at least the last generation that all the programs and resources devoted to ensuring access to justice address only 20%1 of the civil legal needs of low-income people in the United States. This is unacceptable in a nation dedicated to the rule of law and to the principle of justice for all.

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) has found through its experience with its Technology Initiative Grant program that technology can be a powerful tool in narrowing the justice gap—the difference between the unmet need for civil legal services and the resources available to meet that need. Drawing on this experience, in late 2011, LSC decided to convene a summit of leaders to explore how best to use technology in the access-to-justice community. LSC formed a planning group with participants from its grantees, the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the National Center for State Courts, the New York State Courts, the Self-Represented Litigation Network, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Access to Justice Initiative to design the summit.

The group adopted a mission for The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice
(Summit) consistent with the magnitude of the challenge:

“to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”

The planning group decided on a two-step process to accomplish this mission. In June 2012, LSC hosted the first session of the Summit with 50 participants (all participants are listed in the Appendix). This group was asked to explore a technology vision for expanding access to justice without regard to cost or practicality. In preparation for this first session, the planning group commissioned a series of white papers, six of which are available in the Harvard Journal of Law and Technology 2 and five more are available online.3 The participants in the first session identified 50 distinct technology activities that could be useful in improving access to justice.

The group attending the second session of the Summit in January 2013 was asked to develop a concrete plan for moving forward using the ideas developed in the first session. The second session had to consider factors such as cost, feasibility, and likelihood of adoption. In preparation for the second session, the planning group deployed a process called “Choiceboxing” to reduce the list of options. Using a website developed for this purpose, first session participants were given lists of 26 possible objectives and 50 possible technology activities and asked to identify their top 10 priorities from each list.

The planning group decided that the second session should focus on the top six activities identified in this process: (1) Document assembly for self-represented litigants; (2) better “triage”—that is, identification of the most appropriate form of service for clients in light of the totality of their circumstances; (3) mobile technologies; (4) remote service delivery; (5) expert systems and checklists; and (6) unbundled services.

The 51 attendees at the second session included 24 from the first session and 27 new participants (see Appendix). After an overview of the six areas of focus, the attendees divided into smaller groups to discuss strategies for overcoming obstacles and implementing the six areas of focus.

This report reflects the results of a process involving 75 leaders in legal services, the private bar, courts, libraries, IT development, legal academia, and other communities involved in providing access to justice; two one-and-a-half day working sessions; and preparation of numerous papers and analyses.

This report proposes a national vision that must of necessity be achieved locally. The proposal is ambitious. It must overcome challenges not only of technology, but of leadership, funding, and resistance to change. While the Legal Services Corporation has sponsored this process, from its inception the participants have recognized that the leadership necessary to implement the Summit’s recommendations must come jointly from a broad spectrum of entities involved in providing access to justice.


1 Legal Services Corporation, Documenting the Justice Gap in America: The Current Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low Income Americans, 2009, p.13.

2 http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/articles/pdf/v26/26HarvJLTech241.pdf

3 http://jolt.law.harvard.edu/symposium/