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Evolve Law’s Access to Justice Through Technology Event in Denver

Experts in the legal field are wracking their brains and resources to find a solution to the access to justice gap. For some lawyers, technology is the key to solving the issue. Many of these progressive lawyers met at Lawgical’s Denver office in order to discuss what technologies they are currently using to close the gap and future actions to achieve access to justice for all. Experts gave Darwin Talks at the event to inspire innovation and action and we at Legal Talk Network recorded podcasts so that this information reaches a national and international audience.

Darwin Talk: Time is the New Green

  • Adam Camras, CEO of Lawgical

Adam Camras kicked off the conference with his Darwin Talk about the importance of optimizing your time as a lawyer and business owner. He illustrated his point with a throwback to Blockbuster, whose inefficiencies were brought to light by current streaming services like Amazon and Netflix. He suggested apps that save you time and energy so you can be a Netflix rather than a Blockbuster. As Charles Darwin himself said, “A man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of life.”

Expert Panel: Access to Justice

Panelists:

  • Mary Juetten (moderator), CEO Traklight, Managing Director Evolve Law, Access Advocate LegalShield
  • Richard Granat, Founder/CEO The Granat Group, LLC.
  • Dona Playton, Director of the Honoring Families Initiative at IAALS
  • Pat Monks, Attorney at Monks Law Firm
  • Keri Norris, Senior Vice President for Regulatory Affairs and the Chief Legal Officer at Legal Shield

“How can lawyers and legal companies merge technology with legal plans and services,” Mary Juetten asks.

For Keri Norris, the key to merging technology and services is meeting consumers where they are, especially since not every client is the same. Some have full time jobs or families, and don’t have the time or flexibility to dedicate to legal issues, but they are still in need of legal services. Integrating technology into everyday services allows consumers to access these services when they need them and in a way that is familiar to them. As Keri said, “We have to find a way to use current technology to connect real clients with a real legal need with real lawyers who are going to give real services.” She continued by describing the way LegalShield has put this into practice by creating the ability to make appointments virtually. She said, “Whether it’s a legal plan, whether it’s a small practitioner’s office, or whether it’s a large law firm, they’re going to have to integrate those technologies into their everyday service so that the consumer can access the services and then the law firm can provide them with current and modern technology.”

Dona Playton’s answers Mary’s question, “How important is the legal consumer?”

Dona explained her experience with Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System’s (IAALS) Center for Out of Court Divorce and their struggle to get clients through the door. This experience lead her to say, “I am a true believer against ‘if you build it, they will come.’ I think there’s a lot more we need to find out from the court consumers before we up here decide this is what you need, this is what is going to be good for you.” Part of the solution to this, she found, was taking inventory of self-help resources like automated forms and taking a closer look at the online resources that clients weren’t using. She said, “We need to figure out not only what the consumer wants but what is the consumer willing to use for certain types of legal actions.” This may mean, she explained, that using non-traditional methods may be a scaling process that starts small and grows as clients adjust to using these newer means of legal service.

Keri then chimed in with agreement, saying that technology is a tool that doesn’t replace the personal relationships between attorneys and their clients. She said, “Clients want to be able to access information quickly and easily with technology, but you still have to have personal service.” Technology, according to Keri, is a means of connecting to the lawyer who actually provides that meaningful relationship. Pat agreed, saying that the process often gets in the way of building a relationship. Especially in family law cases that involve a lot of tension, a personal touch is necessary. “If technology doesn’t improve the relationship than we need to not use that technology,” he said.

Richard then approached this issue from a different angle. According to him, depending on the kind of transaction, there are tools and software solutions that empower clients to do certain things on their own. This frees up a lawyer to focus on other aspects of their practice. He said, “Software becomes another intervening factor in the way in which the lawyer serves their clients. Ideally the lawyer should work at the top of their license which means they do what they were really trained to do best.” The issue, Richard claims, is that clients don’t understand the value of certain legal services. He used the example of Fortune 500 employees of which only 12% use prepaid legal insurance even though, according to Richard, this is a great value. Keri suggested this might be due in part to the fact that legal services are not widely accessible. For Richard, the method of payment, meaning having to prepay rather than paying when you actually have a problem, might be the issue. Mary agreed that millennials don’t fully understand the concept of prepayment, which lead her to ask”

“What, in the panel’s opinion, was the best way to close this education gap?”

Pat begins his answer by describing the higher number of insurance participants in Europe. He attributes this to their different legal culture and also mentions that, in the US, there are a lot of situations with no profit margin for the attorney. To this, Keri said, they should be able to send these kind of clients resources that will help them help themselves. She said, “If Pat can’t help them, we should be able as an industry and a profession to give them something that could help them.”  

Mary then transitioned to whether Dona had experienced similar issues in family law. According to research conducted by IAALS, 67% of all family law cases in Colorado in 2016 involved at least one self-represented litigant. This was because, Dona said, they couldn’t afford an attorney, they wanted more control within the situation, and they genuinely believed they could do it themselves. The problem is that family law can sometimes be extremely complicated. Other research showed that most people actually wanted a lawyer or legal professional at some point in the case. So Dona agreed that building relationships is an important aspect of these cases. She said, “We’ve got to build in that human touch somewhere along the way for when people need that, but that they don’t need it throughout the whole case.” Especially for family law cases that involve a lot of heavy emotion, it’s important to listen to clients and understand their needs. Dona said sometimes the role of the attorney is to “help people figure out how to do this in a way where they can maintain and survive, and come out not completely destroyed at the end of the process.”

The panel then addressed a question from David Fisher, CEO of Integra Ledger: “Do model rules restrict supply and innovation within the legal industry?” Mary also expanded on the question by applying it to the broader access to justice problem and the fact that lawyers don’t want change within the industry.

Richard then dove into his belief that the answer is in deregulating the ability to give legal advice. He went so far as to say anyone should be able to give legal advice, it is simply the title of lawyer that they cannot claim unless they’ve gone through the proper motions. He said, “If you want real deregulation anybody should be able to give legal advice but you can’t call yourself a lawyer unless you go to law school and become a member of the bar.”

Most of the panel disagreed with this idea. Pat said, “So what you’re suggesting is open the door and let anybody perform any kind of legal services for anyone but lawyers are the only ones who can say they are attorneys?” Richard confirmed, saying, “People will get their problems solved, not by being billed on an hourly basis, but by a solution that solves their problem at a price they can afford.”

The subject then changed. Dave Aarons, CEO of Unbundled Attorney asks, “Which technology tools is the panel most excited about and how are they implementing them?”

According to Keri, the answer to this relates to the issue of allowing anyone to offer legal advice. Quite simply, more efficient lawyers can offer more legal services. This can be done in a variety of ways. LegalShield aims for efficiency by offering online questions and answers, helping clients better understand their legal issues. This minimizes the back and forth between attorney and client since the client already has a basic understanding of what they need from their lawyer. This also helps with processing smaller scale issues so lawyers can focus on, as Richard said, working “at the top of their license.” Richard agreed, saying, “So everything that can be done, I would argue, through software or paralegals should be done that way leaving the lawyers to do what the lawyer was trained to do.”

Kimberly Sanchez, executive director of Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida (CLSMF), asks, “How can lawyers help consumers adjust to the shifting culture of the legal industry?”

According to Dona it depends on the clients and their cases. Some consumers don’t feel as comfortable online, some don’t fully understand English, and others don’t want to talk on the phone at all. Lawyers need to be able to adapt to these differences in order to provide the consumer with what they need. She said, “Not every case is going to be the same and you need to be able to figure out what’s going to work.”

Pat believes lawyers need to stay relevant. He said, “I think millennials and people really are not interested in hiring lawyers; they’re interested in getting their legal solutions resolved.” And to stay relevant, Pat said, lawyers need to show that they care about the case and the client. Along with competence and price, this is one the most important aspects of why a client hires and keeps a lawyer.

Keri concluded with the opinion that the legal profession is transitioning and moving forward, even if it is moving slower than it should. She said, “I think one, it’s going to take a little bit of time and two, it’s going to take honestly the people in this room that are willing to think about it and take some chances and figure it out.”

Darwin Talk: Law Nights

  • Sarah Kieny, Attorney at Riggs Abney

The final Darwin Talk was from Sarah Kieny about how there are a variety of ways to provide access to justice that include more than apps and legal plans. Namely, you could meet with potential clients face to face. She then dived into the program started by her firm which had lawyers hosting law nights with the people of Warren Village, an organization that is transitional housing for single parents who are trying to improve their lives. These law nights involved the lawyer volunteers physically meeting with these families and answering their questions. As the firm continued to host these nights, they started to bring in laptops so they could show the families how to use technology to meet their legal needs. Doing things like this, she said, is how her firm is addressing access to justice. She said, “Until we have more access, until we can get further in more people having the legal plans, the LegalShield, the access to pick up a phone and call a lawyer, until we are past number 52 in providing access throughout this country, we’re doing something small. Every step, every little thing, we believe makes a difference.”

For more information about the panelists or to get a deeper dive on their access to justice discussion, check out these On The Road episodes or visit Evolve Law’s website.

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Sam graduated from Hope College in May 2016 and has just recently emerged into the online marketing world via Lawgical. She likes dogs, cameras, and short walks on the beach because she burns easily.