Chief Executive Officer FrontlineSMS
The future of law is no field of dreams
Bridging the gap between the principles of access to legal services and the practicalities of its provision will require more than new tools and approaches, it will require a new perspective: the client.
I am a lawyer who works for a company that makes software. That’s not unique, but it means that in a room full of lawyers, I’m often called the “technology guy.” I’m not a technology guy, but I am someone who takes a systems design approach to solving problems.
Most legal services are based on paper records and courthouse buildings, putting the burden on the citizen to accomplish their goals. I’m all for personal responsibility, but the Field of Dreams approach- namely, “if you build it, they will come,”- expects a lot of the average person. All systems are based on a number of assumptions, which end up being as, if not more, determinative of access than the procedural safeguards built into the system itself. For example, to get a disposition, you have to be able to appear at a courthouse. That means you have to know what you need, which lawyer or courthouse can help, where they are, how to get there, access to the means to get there, and the time (and conviction) to get there multiple times, all without any guarantee of success. And that’s just to get started.
Legal systems are defined by national (and international) constitutional frameworks, which focus on principles, often ignoring practicalities. These frameworks fail to address hugely important factors, like the uneven distribution of infrastructure, high costs (and requirements) of formal legal proceedings, and increase in urbanisation, all of which cause inequality of access. These inequalities result in a number of practical barriers to accessing legal systems, resulting in everything from injustice to insolvency.
Bridging the gap between the principles of access and the practicalities of its provision will require more than new tools and approaches, it will require a new perspective: the client. The client, it turns out, is the most important member of any community - a lesson technology companies all over the world recognise by prioritising user input in system design. By including user input in the evolution of legal services, we can overcome the practical barriers to access, reaching billions of new clients and fulfilling the promises of equality made in our constitutions, treaties, and oaths.
The thing is, technology has managed to do one thing that legal services haven’t - reach people. If that’s what they mean, maybe being the technology guy isn’t so bad.
My posts will focus on taking a user-centric approach to the design of legal services, the platforms we use to communicate, and the potential of new tools to change the way we work.