Law in Contemporary Society

Creative Approaches to Providing Legal Services

-- By ElizabethHayden - 01 Mar 2018

Incorporating the needs of everyone

Law school attempts to teach us to view legal problems from different perspectives. Admissions offices carefully curate each class to try to provide what they think is a diverse set of viewpoints. I worry that this gives us a false sense that we understand the implications of the decisions we are going to make when we become lawyers. When I listen to the stories people tell in our classes, though I’m amazed at the many different perspectives I’m lucky to be exposed to, I also think about all of the stories that are missing from the conversation. I think it’s important to try to consider the interests of the entire community, including the people who aren’t represented in our law school classes and who won’t be paying us to care about their side of things. The problem with keeping a narrow perspective, focusing only on the interests of our clients who pay us to care, is that the effects of the decisions we make may not always line up with what we intended to happen. I want to learn how to incorporate the needs of everyone in a community into the conversation and design legal services in a way that does the most good for the greatest number of people.

Creative approaches to providing legal services

When I become a lawyer I want to provide legal services to people who need them. In order to do as much good as possible for as many people as possible, I will have to reach a lot of people. I also have to figure out a way to provide services at a lower cost so more people can take advantage of them and I can do more with my time and resources. The law is something that governs all of us and which no one can get away from. It seems to me to be unjust to impose laws on people that those people don’t understand, without ensuring they have the tools they need to interface with the legal system. With a rapidly changing technological environment and massive amounts of information at our fingertips, I think that my generation of lawyers is going to be able to help make new advances in how legal service providers can help clients.

Innovation is defined by Merriam-Webster as introducing a new idea, method, or device to solve a problem. The legal profession has in the past moved forward slowly compared to other industries where innovation is a part of everyday life, however right now as I’m training to become a lawyer the profession is finding ways to incorporate innovation.

How lawyers are already changing things with software

One area where lawyers are using technology to their advantage is through electronic consultations, where live chats and questionnaires can help lawyers save time and money in the process of finding and connecting with clients, and through services that educate the public about the law.

An application called BernieSez allows customers to receive help from actual lawyers for speeding violations, traffic tickets, and DUIs. Finding a lawyer can be as simple as taking a picture of your traffic ticket, filling out a questionnaire, and then receiving bids from lawyers who want to take your case and meet you later in court. Applications like BernieSez? connect lawyers and clients in a way that requires minimal effort from an attorney. The less time lawyers spend looking for clients the more time they can spend doing things that are going to directly earn them money and help people.

Another example of technology being used to connect clients and lawyers is an application called Citizenship Works that walks immigrants through the naturalization process. Questionnaires help clients understand the basics of the process and whether or not they are eligible, and then the service connects them with real lawyers to provide help either electronically or in person. In our current political climate, legal issues involving immigration affect a lot of people who need legal assistance. Citizenship Works is a great example of how technology can augment that process by connecting people and providing information on a large scale.

Innovating the service itself

Technology is not the only tool for innovation, often times broad leaps forward can be made just through new ideas and structures that lawyers test out with real clients. The Bronx Defenders is an example of a legal service provider who uses new creative methods in how they approach public defense. The Bronx Defenders offers a new perspective on what services a public defender should be providing to do the most good, and radically changed the process and scope of services provided, taking into account the interests of the community as a whole. A team of attorneys and other professionals such as social workers work together to provide a comprehensive approach to each client. In contrast to the phone applications discussed above, the holistic defense employed by the Bronx Defenders and other organizations prioritizes a comprehensive and more individualized approach to the service as a solution to the larger problem, instead of attempting to reach more people with a more automated solution.

What can I do?

There are a lot of people trying to tackle this problem, including lawyers, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who sees opportunity. Phone applications can cut out some corners and distribute information, but that is just skimming the surface of what’s possible, and is only one category of ways that lawyers are innovating in how they provide legal services. I want to learn more about what people need before I start trying to provide them with solutions. However as I continue to learn about what people need from lawyers, it’s important to me to never stop asking how I can use creativity to do a better job at providing those services.


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r3 - 24 Apr 2018 - 20:23:50 - ElizabethHayden
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