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The cost-effectiveness of cloud technology (aka “virtual law office” or VLO) that enables lawyers to deliver online legal services has been touted as one of best methods to address access to justice challenges, increasing as a result of a prolonged economic downturn. Joblessness has no apparent end in sight, and the middle class is rapidly eating through their savings and retirement accounts. As a result, they have joined the ranks of those who cannot afford traditional legal representation, but do not necessarily qualify for legal aid.
These conditions, and the opportunities for lawyers to address them, are ripe for establishing a non-profit law firm, or a non-profit component of a for-profit firm. Surprisingly, while pro-bono and legal aid associations have jumped on the bandwagon in a big way, for-profit firms, still hovering reluctantly at the virtual law firm door, are letting this prospect to “do good while doing well” go by. So let’s take a look at some of the tools that are available, and the resources that have been developed as a result.
- Legal Services Corporation (LSC): Calling itself “America’s Partner for Equal Justice,” LSC has a long history of funding legal aid programs. It has now created the Technology Initiative Grants Program, the purpose of which ” is to promote full access and high-quality legal representation through the use of technology.” The creation of the the program lends credence to the significant need for tech-based legal services delivery models and the strong belief that technology can successfully address access to justice challenges.
- A2J Author: Developed by The Center for Access to Justice & Technology at Chicago-Kent College of Law and Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, and partially funded by LSC, A2J is “a software tool that delivers greater access to justice for self-represented litigants by enabling non-technical authors from the courts, clerk’s offices, legal services programs, and website editors rapidly to build and implement customer friendly web-based interfaces for document assembly.” It has integrated its case management functions with e-filing to enhance its ease of use and it’s doc assembly function is powered by HotDocs. It attributes much of its success to its compatibility with the National Public Automated Documents Online (“NPADO”) Server for Nonprofit Legal Services. The technology is available for download and use by any non-profit association or law office who wishes to offer these types of services. Learn more about how to use A2J via this video.
- Pro-bono.net: “Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and increased volunteer lawyer participation.” It works side-by-side with non-profit legal associations to increase access to justice. They do this by “(i) supporting the innovative and effective use of technology by the nonprofit legal sector, (ii) increasing participation by volunteers, and (iii) facilitating collaborations among nonprofit legal organizations and advocates working on similar issues or in the same region.” Pro Bono Net is a well-funded enterprise that uses “information technology and collabortion among the various parts of the public interest legal community” to help make your non-profit venture a reality. The organization has also developed Pro Bono Manager, a cloud-based case management program customized for creating and running a non-profit legal venture.
- LawHelp.org and LawHelp Interactive: LawHelp is a Pro-Bono built site, which partners with state bars, legal aid societies and other associations to offer a wealth of legal resources and information to consumers by state. Once you choose your state, you can access self-help documents, court forms, access to explanations of a legal process, and to the full library of published and unpublished opinions, powered by LexisNexis. LawHelp Interactive is the document assembly component, where you go to actually draw up the documents or court forms you need, and save them if you create an account.
From sources such as these, non-profit, cloud-based legal associations have found the support, training and financing to create viable options to for-profit, non-lawyer legal services, legal aid and unaffordable traditional legal representation. Cloud technology is the tool that makes it all possible, and the non-profit sector looks to make significant use of it.