VOLUME 40, ISSUE 1
Table of Contents
Big Ideas: ALA President’s Letter
The start of a new year means it is the perfect time to hit the reset/restart button and pay attention to what 2020 taught us.
BP Perspective: Insights from a Business Partner
This newfound acceptance of technology has catapulted technology to the top of 2021 priorities.
Innovations: Fresh Thoughts For Managing
Innovative initiatives, coupled with a culture that embraces efficiency mining, allowed one firm to thrive in 2020.
Test Drive: Gadget Reviews with Bill and Phil
We take an up-close look at the the Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G.
Increasing Access to Justice with Technology
There is a growing awareness around the current limitations of the courts, particularly around the lack of equal access to the legal process for all who fall within a given court’s jurisdiction.
Access to justice involves providing everyone in a community with the ability to have adequate and comprehensive representation in the legal process. It touches on the ability to be “present” during proceedings, to have enough information to make informed decisions, and to be able to be represented in court. Technology is one hope for closing some gaps in the legal system and increasing accessibility.
The current impact of technology on court access and its potential ability to increase access further was explored by a group of four panelists in a recent webinar from ABC Legal Services, “A New Day in Court: Technology and the Legal System.” Panelists from ABC Legal Services included Sascha Mehlhase, Vice President of Product; Brandon Fuller, Chief Technology Officer; and Radley Angelo, Head of Customer Success. The discussion provided a mix of ideas around technology and how it can improve access to justice from the perspectives of the courtroom, the law office and the public. The following are key takeaways from their conversation.
WHAT ARE CURRENT TRENDS IN LEGAL TECHNOLOGY AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE?
A core principle of access to justice is physical access to the court system and a trial. While technology was making some headway in that regard through telephonic hearings, Brandon Fuller notes the pandemic accelerated the acceptance of technology — necessity overwhelmed historic reluctance. He points to the adoption of videoconferencing for certain court services during times of social distancing as a prime example of technology opening new doors for clients as well as lawyers. His team at Docketly, which provides appearance counsel services, has seen this shift firsthand.
“We saw people that previously couldn’t get to a particular court hearing because it was far away from where they were being able to use these systems to join. [Lawyers] could go and get on a Zoom conference, and not have to get on a plane, to fly up to practice somewhere in their own state.”
Fuller warns that courts will need to be cautious about adopting existing public solutions, which may provide a quick fix for now but were developed without court privacy and processes in mind. He hopes that this technology can be explored further by courts that will customize solutions to truly fit their needs and better serve the legal process.
HOW CAN TECHNOLOGY SHAPE INFORMATIONAL ACCESS TO COURTS?
Sascha Mehlhase spoke about the implications of the digitization of courts, of the concept of the court coming to be more of a service than a place. Of particular note for Mehlhase is the “consumerization” of the courts in China. The “smart court” system in China has allowed the average citizen to make informed choices around their case by placing known information into a system that provides a predicted result should the case be pursued in the court. He additionally credits this technology with supporting court infrastructure in China through the pandemic. The courts were well-equipped to deal with fully remote legal processes with e-filing and videoconferencing solutions largely already in place.
Finding impactful ways to incorporate technology in the legal process will be key to not only providing access but also making the process feel accessible and comfortable for legal clients.
Technology adoption in the U.S. court system has not yet reached this level of sophistication, though Mehlhase says that the focus on clients and data has made its way into certain parts of the legal services sector. In such companies, technology and automation tools — like artificial intelligence (AI) and document management systems — connect data between courts and legal clients to provide a secure, transparent transaction. The panelists discussed transparency and security at length during the webinar, underscoring the need for balance to create accessibility without compromising client trust.
HOW DOES TECHNOLOGY SHAPE LEGAL CLIENT EXPECTATIONS?
Mehlhase suggests that the normalization of technology and the ability to have the world at one’s fingertips via the internet have created certain expectations. People anticipate easy access to products, services and information — instant access, even. To cater to these expectations and maintain their client lists, legal professionals need to stay on top of the technology their customers are using. He argues that people appreciate and judge law professionals based on their successful adoption and implementation of technology, especially when they can see it for themselves. Finding impactful ways to incorporate technology in the legal process will be key to not only providing access but also making the process feel accessible and comfortable for legal clients.
Mehlhase notes that adopting technology is mutually beneficial for both legal professionals and their clients. Providing data and communication allows for a level of transparency that satisfies a client’s need for information while providing rich feedback for an attorney. Using technology to manage, track and analyze data gathered throughout the legal process, attorneys and paralegals may be able to glean insights into better strategies for their business. Data can provide gateways to optimize pricing and timelines and engage more customers at the right point in time to get and retain their business.
HOW CAN LEGAL PROFESSIONALS USE TECHNOLOGY TO UNDERSTAND CLIENT INTERACTIONS?
Radley Angelo suggested that technology is allowing law firms to have increased oversight and insight into their customers, and he spoke at length regarding the potential application of customer relationship management (CRM) tools. He emphasized the need to view customer relationships as alive. “They’re not one-and-done; it’s not a ticket that you open and close,” he says. “It’s a relationship, and that really matters.”
Technology like CRM enables a law firm to organize and manage data around customer interactions. It ensures that even the smallest voices are heard and that outreach doesn’t fall into a black hole masquerading as a team inbox.
CRMs provide opportunities to improve existing interaction and communication with clients, and they could help firms connect with clients down the road, according to Angelo. One of the strengths of CRMs is their ability to serve not only as an organization tool but as a full database centered around client data. Angelo encourages law firms to explore this option so they can not only discover who their customers are today but also how they can grow their ability to reach and provide services to a broader audience.
Delve more into how technology can close the access to justice gap. You can access the full webinar, “A New Day in Court: Technology and the Legal System,” by signing up here.
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