Access and Affordability Feed

The Revealing Parentage of Europe's Most Developed Online Dispute Resolution Court System

ThinkstockPhotos-479710499According to Legal Futures, The Netherlands is leading the way in Europe in the practical application of online dispute resolution. The Rechtwijzer 2.0 describes itself as “the first ODR platform for difficult problems such as divorce and separation, landlord-tenant disputes and employment disputes.” Its development says all you need to know about whether, how, and how fast the staid and geography-bound global legal system is changing. The platform was designed and built by Modria, a California and India-based company founded in 2011 for the resolution of disputes on eBay and PayPal. Its founders are Colin Rule and Chittu Nagarajan. Rule, a non-lawyer, journeyed from a Peace Corps position in Eritrea in 1989 through the Harvard Kennedy School of Government into the stratosphere of innovative mediation and dispute resolution. Nagarajan, an English-trained lawyer, converted a part time position at PayPal to establish a community court into a full time position, leading to the co-founding of Modria itself.

Think that the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and our balkanized, state-based judicial system will keep these transformative innovations at bay in our world? Think again. Modria's software is in use in Ohio to resolve disputes over tax assessments and keep them out of court. A New York-based arbitration association is using it to settle medical claims arising from certain types of car crashes.

And what about Michigan? Court Innovations, a Michigan company developed out of the University of Michigan Law School, uses similar technology to resolve traffic disputes through an online option already adopted by six district courts in Michigan. 

Surprise? Accountants Eating Into Lawyers' Work in UK After Reforms

ThinkstockPhotos-451334397According to this story from Legal Futures, the ability of non-lawyers to invest in UK law firms is resulting in “intense competition” for mid-tier law firms from Big Four accounting firms, all of which are licensed under the reforms of the Legal Services Act of 2007 as alternative business service (ABS) providers. The story says the accounting firms are “quietly” taking the more commoditised work away from mid-tier firms, and, according to the head of legal services at the Royal Bank of Scotland, are about to move up the law firm food chain. He summarizes:

The upshot of all of this upheaval is that legal work has become disaggregated, with significantly bolstered in-house teams acting as de facto project managers to a host of legal and resource providers, with the traditional law firm just one constituent part – albeit, in many cases, the one doing the most complex, more profitable work.

Although in the U.S. growing national businesses such as LegalZoom provide a variety of legal services outside the traditional law firm legal service delivery model that is constrained by the rule of professional conduct banning non-lawyer ownership, no jurisdiction in the U.S. has a non-lawyer ownership ABS model like the UK's.

When Watson Eats Your Lunch: The Impact of Artificial Intelligence in Lawyering

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Watson is such a friendly name for an artificial brain that outcompetes our own slow, distracted, and haphazardly stocked neuronal skull factories. How could this cyber-sidekick, named for a second fiddle intelligence, come to undermine our professional authority?

For a long time, our best sci-fi writers and the cognoscenti of artificial intelligence have been telling us that it's not a question of if but when machines will take over even the most sophisticated and nuanced intellectual work. As lawyers we've comforted ourselves that even if that's true, it will happen tomorrow, not today. Surely the uniquely human empathic capacity that bring to the hard mental work of lawyering will make what we do forever unsuited to takeover by artificial intelligence.

The evidence is mounting,  however,  that when is now and a profound transformation in the delivery of legal services is already well underway. Ars Technica told us last week that Law firm bosses envision Watson-type computers replacing young lawyers. Latham & Watkins told The American Lawyer it is "test-driving new IBM Watson-based applications, including cognitive and predictive coding technologies." Artificial Intelligence in Law – The State of Play in 2015? neatly describes the current landscape. In legal research,  the hardest work is "practical implementation against good data at scale;" legal research innovators like Fastcase and RavelLaw have already done that work, and are adding visualization to enhance its usefulness. Many vendors are using procedural rules and inferencing to generate legal documents. And e-discovery has taken off with the implementation of predictive coding (technology-assisted review or TAR) that processes huge data sets using natural language and machine learning techniques. 

But from England last week yet another post on the subject, Come the AI legal armageddon, what's in it for me? that includes the reassuring thought from a young London lawyer that AI may actually bring some joy and comfort to lawyering:

As a fixed-fee direct access barrister, I often end up spending far more time on a project than I can bill to my client – technology which increases my accuracy and decreases my hours is certainly something I’m keen to explore. That said, the main focus of my practice tends to involve translating human interactions into legal terms which are then assessed by human judges and tribunals. Translating into and out of “human” is something technology has yet to learn to do. I’ve no doubt it can learn: by analogy, it used to be said that chess grand masters could never be beaten by machines – until they were. I’m not sure of the degree to which machines should replace human decision making: I’m uncomfortable about the risks of King Solomon-style “justice” instead of living, breathing decision-makers willing to mitigate rough justice with “mercy” and “equity.” Rather, I see technology as an important tool to increase accuracy, decrease time spent on routine tasks, giving me the freedom to efficiently focus on the aspects of a case which genuinely require a living expert in law and 'human'.

With every passing day there are more and more AI tools available to us. Will they nourish us, or consume us? The choice is still ours.

Monopoly: How The Game Has Changed for Lawyers

monopoly boardRichard and David Susskind's new book, The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts, posits that the application of artificial intelligence to services like law, medicine, and even spiritual guidance, will ultimately replace most of the traditional work of the professionals who have long held a monopoly on these services. They argue that a traditional "grand bargain" struck by society with the professions will wash away in the face of the superior product that artificial intelligence will offer. The "grand bargain" they describe is this:

In acknowledgement of and in return for their expertise, experience, and judgement, which they are expected to apply in delivering affordable, accessible, up-to-date, reassuring, and reliable services, and on the understanding that they will curate and update their knowledge and methods, train their members, set and enforce standards for the quality of their work, and that they will only admit appropriately qualified individuals into their ranks, and that they will always act honestly, in good faith, putting the interests of clients ahead of their own, we (society) place our trust in the professions in granting them exclusivity over a wide range of socially significant services and activities, by paying them a fair wage, by conferring upon them independence, autonomy, rights of self-determination, and by according them respect and status.

For lawyers, the bargain has been fraying around the edges for decades. It's not because our commitment to the standards of the profession has changed. What's changed is that broader literacy has opened up access to legal knowledge, and that access is now vastly expanded and accelerated by the Internet. Case in point: just last week Harvard Law School announced its “Free the Law” Project with Ravel Law to digitize all U.S. case law and provide free access.

While the Grand Bargain was fully in effect lawyers didn't have much incentive to market the value of their training in applying knowledge of the law to the needs of potential clients or to compete to deliver legal services economically. The game has changed. The ethical rules still apply, but strategies must adjust. Hence the astonishing proliferation of new marketing tools and advice, and new business models. Lawyers need to make sense of the new landscape to continue to be relevant. And bar associations must help their members negotiate the change to continue to be relevant. The State Bar of Michigan accepts the challenge

Self-Represented Litigants: Turns Out We North Americans Really Are Alike

ThinkstockPhotos-121024995Hockey. Humor. English common law. And, apparently, legal services in the 21st century. All things that U.S. and Canada have in common. The University of Denver's Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System IAALS has released the preliminary results of a study of self-represented litigants that turns out pretty much to mirror the results of a 2013 study of Canadian self-represented litigants. Among its key findings: 1/4 of those surveyed had previously retained a lawyer, and, most significantly for the practicing bar, the most common advice that self-represented lawyers had for others was “get a lawyer.” Both studies showed that the primary motivation for self-representation is financial but that the motivation is "complex and cumulative."

HT @WillHornsby

New White House Memo Gets Specific On Access to Justice

ThinkstockPhotos-452018103A newly-issued Presidential Memorandum on access to justice and the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable hits the high notes in the playbook of legal futurists -- coordination across traditional boundaries, user-friendly technology, sustainability, and data-driven decision-making. No wonder Richard Zorza, a thought-leader on Access to Justice issues, says the memorandum is a "big deal."  Full memorandum below the line.


Continue reading "New White House Memo Gets Specific On Access to Justice" »

No, People Don't Choose Lawyers The Same Way As A Century Ago

ThinkstockPhotos-479512083A new law firm-commissioned U.S. study of 1500 people who had recently chosen a lawyer says that the most common way they used to select a lawyer was to rely on the advice of friends or family. That finding has led to headlines on posts like this on respected sites, Study: People select a lawyer the same way today as in 1915.

I can't vouch for the validity of the study. The statistics for folks with incomes over $150,000 just don't make sense to me. But I do buy what the study seems to be saying: that the Internet is beginning to have a big impact on how people who are hiring lawyers choose them, especially millennials and the wealthy. 

So no. People don't choose lawyers the same way as they did a century ago.

It only makes sense. A century ago most people lived in places where there were few lawyers, they tended not to specialize, and you knew who they were from church, school, social clubs, the local scene. In other words, there weren't all that many choices, and there was ready access to first hand information and opinion. Selecting a lawyer has become much more complicated over the last 100 years. Non-internet advertising and lawyer referral services stepped in over the decades to address the lawyer selection challenge created by increasing lawyer anonymity and specialization, but it apparently failed to successfully overcome consumer fears about cost.

Today, the Internet is an obvious and popular tool to help potential consumers understand their choices in many markets, but it is still a confusing,unreliable, and under-developed resource for people who are seeking help to solve a legal problem. But the new study says that potential clients are starting to turn to the Internet anyway, even in its current state.

Some have estimated that almost 90% of the people who need professional legal services do not get them and that the value of the latent market for legal services world wide could be as high as $800 billion. Imagine what could happen if the Internet could help lawyers tap into the market of people with legal needs who don't know they have a problem, don't know where to turn, or are too afraid of the expense of a lawyer to even try. People will always care most about what people they trust have to say when they are making important consumer choices, and they trust those they know. If they don't know someone who can recommend a lawyer, who should they trust? How about bar associations, to whom many consumers have turned for years.

To those Michigan lawyers who still wonder why the State Bar has converted its directory to make information about our members more easily accessible to the public searching for legal services, this is your answer. It isn't 1915 anymore. 

Tragedy Gives Rise to Innovative Collaboration

864px-Aaron_Swartz_profile A new Boston University School of Law Entrepreneurship & Intellectual Property Law Clinic offers MIT student-entrepreneurs free advice on a broad range of legal matters related to entrepreneurship and cyber law, from basic issues associated with the founding of startup companies to novel questions about the application of laws and regulations to students’ innovation-related activities. The advice is provided by BU’s law students under the direction of experienced law instructors. 

Nate Matias, a doctoral student at the MIT Media Lab Center for Civic Media, explains how the death of Internet entrepreneur and activist Aaron Swartz gave rise to the clinic:

Each year, hundreds of MIT students make everyday legal decisions about establishing new organizations and managing IP. We also sometimes face much more serious risks. In recent years, MIT students have faced legal challenges for groundbreaking and creative work: an MIT student arrested by homeland security for wearing e-textiles who eventually dropped out; MIT researchers who found security flaws in public transportation systems; and a gradstudent whose research helped hobbyists extend the capabilities of their gaming hardware.  Prompted by Hal Abelson's report to the president on the role of MIT in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz (see Ethan's post about the report), I convened a group of concerned Media Lab gradstudents to meet with others at MIT and figure out our response. Upon learning the history of MIT students and community members who had faced prosecution, it became clear that one of the most urgent issues was to address the lack of support at MIT for students who were doing innovative work at the edge of the law. I worked with Kate Darling, Wendy Seltzer, Kit Walsh, and Andy Sellars to create a "Coders Know Your Rights" seminar to inform students about the legal dimensions of their work. Together with Erhardt Graeff, Jason Haas, and Chris Peterson, I co-authored a proposal for a "legal triage advisor" at MIT -- essentially a legal clinic for MIT students.

Matias invites those interested in similar initiatives to the Freedom 2 Innovate conference at MIT, hosted by the Center for Civic Media and the EFF on October 10th and 11th.

Photo of Aaron Swartz by Fred Benenson

Legal Health Check-up, Meet Smart Design Thinking

ThinkstockPhotos-116628045The Access and Affordability Committee of the State Bar's 21st Century Practice Task Force is tackling the new opportunities and challenges lawyers and potential clients face today in four specific areas: triage, referral and access to online information; access to quality legal counsel; use of legal technicians and supportive services; and business process analysis and simplification.

If we're going to take advantage of the Internet as a tool to help lawyers connect with clients and improve access to justice we need to understand how people act online and offline, and why. Open Law Lab is trying to do just that. Its creator, Margaret Hagan, is a fellow at Stanford Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession and lecturer at the Stanford One of her concerns, and our Task Force's, is how to guide people to pay more attention to possible legal help for their problems and prepare them to take maximum advantage of that help.

In that quest, click here for her (positive) critique of Google Accounts Privacy Checkup, culminating in these recommendations for designing an effective strategy for a legal health check-up "intervention":

  • Reach out to the person, hopefully in a context (like the Google search) that relates to what you’re checking up on, so that they feel primed to engage on the topic
  • Give them insights into their own status quo — tell them something about themselves that they don’t already know, or that frames it in an interesting way. It’s almost like a Buzzfeed ‘which kind are you’ quiz. Or here, where Google tells you who they think you are & what your preferences are.
  • Tell them possible outcomes from their status quo. Give them a sense of what may come down the road — bad consequences, good ones, how they’ll be treated, what they’ll get — if they continue on with their current situation.
  • Provide action steps in which they can immediately change their status quo — whether it’s by setting goals/preferences, taking a step to resolve a problem, reaching out to someone else for hep. Embed easy follow-up action into this review, so that the person can immediately exert their agency (while they’re still thinking about it, and while their preferences & long-term thinking are at the forefront).

Client counseling and prophylactic advice has always been central to good lawyering, but the type of interactive engagement Hagan is describing feels far different than the paternalistic model that has dominated legal practice for most of our professional history. Welcome to the 21st century.

What Innovation in Legal Services Looks Like Globally

57e40ed973fa59abd35136c371af3b88Freshly home from the inspiration of the 2015 conference of the International Institute of Legal Association Chief Executives (ILLACE) in Washington, D.C. I have a heightened appreciation for the promise of Innovating Justice's annual challenge to direct entrepreneurial energy into developing innovations in the justice sector. 

Here's just a sample of this year's candidates for the €20,000 prize:

  • An initiative to make business registration accessible and transparent in Nigeria through automation
  • A public platform to promote consumer protection in the banking industry in Kenya
  • An educational app to make legal resources accessible anywhere, anytime in Canada
  • An app to simplify contesting and paying for parking tickets in Belgium
  • A model to recruit, train and place volunteer lawyers in the slums to provide free legal advice to slum dwellers in Argentina.
  • A U.S.-developed plan to develop a globally collaborative and market-friendly means of collecting and diffusing information about arbitrators

Warning: be prepared to spend more time the Innovating Justice site than you might expect. It's rich, inspiring, and beautifully designed.