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A Vision of an Integrated Service-Delivery System

Technology can and must play a vital role in transforming service delivery so that all poor people in the United States with an essential civil legal need obtain some form of effective assistance.

Technology can and must play a vital role in transforming service delivery so that all poor people in the United States with an essential civil legal need obtain some form of effective assistance.

The strategy for implementing this vision has five main components:

  1. Creating in each state a unified “legal portal” which, by an automated triage process, directs persons needing legal assistance to the most appropriate form of assistance and guides self-represented litigants through the entire legal process
  2. Deploying sophisticated document assembly applications to support the creation of legal documents by service providers and by litigants themselves and linking the document creation process to the delivery of legal information and limited scope legal representation
  3. Taking advantage of mobile technologies to reach more persons more effectively
  4. Applying business process/analysis to all access-to-justice activities to make them as efficient as practicable
  5. Developing “expert systems” to assist lawyers and other services providers

The vision for achieving this is:

  • Every state will create a statewide access portal that provides an easy way for a person to obtain assistance with a civil legal issue.
  • The portal will use an automated process to refer each requester to the lowest-cost service likely to produce a satisfactory result in her or his case.
  • The automated process will ultimately be informed by a sophisticated “triage” algorithm continually updated for each state by feedback data on the outcomes for persons who have previously sought assistance through the portal.4
  • The portal will support a broad variety of access-to-justice services provided by courts, the private bar, legal aid entities, libraries, and others who collaborate in implementing the initiative. The systems of all collaborating entities will exchange information automatically to support each other’s applications and to enable the accumulation and analysis of information on the functioning of the entire access-to-justice process.
  • The baseline service available in a state will be a website accessible through computers, tablets, or smartphones that provides sophisticated but easily understandable information on legal rights and responsibilities, legal remedies, and forms and procedures for pursuing those remedies.5 The statewide access portal will link a requester with the most appropriate section of the website.
  • All of the collaborating entities in a jurisdiction will employ the same document assembly application, which will generate plain-language forms through an interview approach. Litigants will use the application themselves, or with lay or legal assistance, to choose a legal form or forms appropriate for their personal objectives and to complete the form by entering all required information through an on-line interview process.
  • The document assembly application will employ automated “smart document” tags for the information entered by a requester so that the information can be reused by all access-to-justice entities without requiring re-entry of the information.
  • The document assembly application will be linked to:
    • the website for access to detailed information about the legal principles and terms underlying the form
    • legal services providers, court self-help centers, and libraries and other support entities for assistance that does not include legal advice
    • legal aid lawyers or private lawyers providing pro bono services (or private lawyers providing unbundled legal services if the requester is unable or unwilling to receive free legal services) for legal advice on some aspect of the requester’s legal situation
    • the court’s electronic filing and electronic payment applications
    • the access-to-justice entity’s case management application to store all tagged data for reuse
  • Forms generated by the document assembly application will be universally accepted by courts in the state.
  • All access-to-justice entities will employ a variety of automated and non-automated processes to make the best use of lawyers’ time to assist requesters with their cases, including:
    • conducting business process analyses to streamline their internal operations and their interactions with all collaborating entities
    • having clients/litigants perform as much data entry and handle as many of the functions involved in their cases as possible (given the nature of the case and the characteristics of the client/litigant)
    • having lay staff perform a broad range of assistance activities not requiring the expertise of a lawyer
    • having expert systems and checklists available to assist and save time for lawyers and lay service providers
    • maximizing the extent to which services are provided remotely rather than face- to-face, to save the time of both the clients/litigants and the service providers
  • The level of legal representation in a case will be guided by the state “triage” algorithm, which will be reviewed and revised regularly to make it as accurate as possible.
  • Persons seeking more extensive legal services will be linked to legal aid offices, pro bono attorneys, court self-help centers, or lawyer referral services.
  • Mobile applications will be deployed to assist requesters/clients/litigants.
  • Evaluative information will be generated by automated systems routinely, presented to all collaborating entities regularly, and assessed collaboratively to refine and improve the access-to-justice process.

4  The term “triage” is placed in quotations because its use here is different from its source meaning in battlefield and other medical emergency situations, where a large number of casualties are sorted into groups to make the most effective use of limited treatment resources in medical circumstances. One of the groups is people whose wounds are so grievous that they are abandoned. This initiative, by contrast, has as its mission ending the current practice of abandoning (i.e., providing no service to) large numbers of poor people with essential civil legal needs. We use the term “triage” as it is commonly used today, including in the access-to-justice community, to characterize a range of strategies for allocating scarce resources most effectively.

5  Such websites are already in place in every state. The initiative will ensure that they are accessible through smartphones and tablets as well as computers.