Can Big Data Increase Access to Justice?

We have talked about how legal tech often focuses on the wrong problems and that one of the things we should be doing is working to better access and wrangle big data. We have also discussed, again and again and again, how to close the access to justice gap. One legal aid organization in Maryland – the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, may have figured out a way to use big data to help close that gap.

[They have] used public-facing databases, to find the other issues that his legal aid group’s clients have. This includes overdue water bills, foreclosed homes, repossessed cars, and criminal records.

He’s also developed a more recent initiative to scrape some Maryland counties’ criminal case databases to find people whose records are expunge-able but not expunged. This goes to the question of how we engage people who don’t know they have legal problems, but have them and could be using the legal system to address them. The group compiled the list of people in certain counties whose records could be expunged, and then mailed out an invitation to them with details about an open Expungement Workshop, to get them to free or affordable legal services.

The linked article takes note of the fact, as will all of you, that there is a potential for abuse here: if good people can scrape databases for noble access-to-justice reasons, bad bottom-feeders can scrape those same databases to sell people expensive services they do not need. Unfortunately, I am not sure it is ever possible to entirely guard against that. That possibility shouldn’t stop legal aid and solosmall attorneys with a knack for accessing and manipulating publicly available data from considering this approach to increase availability of legal services.

Featured image: “Tunnel made of silver cubes with a digital floor and background” from Shutterstock.

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