Transformative Legal Tech Expanding Access to Justice

by Donna Bausch
Presenter:  Roger V. Skalbeck, Associate Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Library and Information Services, University of Richmond School of Law 

(Photo of Roger Skalbeck by Fred Dingledy)
Virginia is late to the game in A2J, but thanks to the Virginia Access to Justice Commission, of which State Law Librarian Gail Warren is a member, and the work of Roger Skalbeck and Patty Petroccione who both serve on the Access for Self-Represented Litigants Committee, there is hope on the horizon.
Democratization of access was a theme of Roger’s remarks.
Roger discussed: 
1. National projects         
 2.Tech initiatives 
3. Emerging technologies 
4.  Virginia examples
Here’s a sad fact – Americans invest more in pet Halloween costumes than on Legal Aid.
Recently, two states (Alaska and Hawaii) have been identified as pilot sites for “single online statewide access portals for seeking help with civil legal needs”. These will be Microsoft/ portals emphasizing inclusive design.
Free Legal Answers
For nearly a year, Virginia has made available Free Legal Answers.
This site allows members of the public who income qualify and who are not incarcerated to ask up to 3 legal questions per year and receive asynchronous answers from anonymous Virgiinia attorneys.  No attorney client relationship is established.
Participant numbers are modest to date, but VALL members can play an important role in encouraging lawyers to participate and letting members of the public know about this resource.  Lawyers can log/document pro bono hours via the site.
Provides resources and links to forms and videos designed for self-represented litigants.   Gail Warren had a large role in making this resource available.
Provides a growing array of information for SRLs.   This site is currently undergoing redesign to improve findability and understandability.
A2J Author
Access to Justice Author is cloud based software that delivers greater access to justice for self-represented litigants by enabling non-technical authors from the courts, clerk’s offices, legal services organizations, and law schools to build and implement user friendly web-based interfaces for document assembly.   A2J Guided Interviews take complex legal information from legal forms and present it in a straightforward way to self-represented litigants.  A2J Guided Interviews remove many barriers faced by self-represented litigants, allowing them to complete and print court documents ready to be filed with the court system.  3.5 million A2J Guided Interviews run and 2 million documents assembled since 2005.   A2J Author is free to interested court, legal services organizations, and other non-profits for non-commercial use.  Not currently in use in Virginia.
Plans are afoot to involve University of Richmond law students in a plain language legal drafting project.  Roger encouraged other academic law libraries to pursue similar opportunities. 
There is a plan to fully automate court forms already available at:
Those which will be automated first will be the name change and fee waiver forms. 
Progress is underway towards increased access to justice in the Old Dominion and VALL members continue to play a crucial role in advancing these efforts.

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