There’s a trend in the legal profession for the use of technology to enhance access of legal services. This trend aims to provide greater legal access to poor and underserviced communities. I call it the “Access to Justice Tech Movement” or “ATJ Tech Movement” for short. The ATJ Tech movement formed of legal innovators. Evangelizing the use of technology to provide greater access. Innovative law school curriculums that incorporate the use of technology to promote legal access. And legal aid organizations and non-profits who leverage technology to serve their clients.
Leaders of the ATJ tech movement have ushered a new era of the profession. Through the creation of disruptive technologies. Providing for greater access and improved delivery of legal services. Some of the technologies include self-help web portals, document assembly tools, mobile apps.
Some in the movement acknowledge technology will not solve the access to justice gap. Human-centered design and new innovative collaborations must also be integral in the solution making process. Tools such as self-help web portals created with the end-user in mind. Tools incorporating optimized content and plain-language forms to allow users to find legal information and digest that information to solve their legal issue(s).
Yet, there is one topic rarely discussed in relation to technology expanding legal access. That is the lack of diversity of individuals leading the ATJ Tech movement.
I would like to point out three paradigms that we know to be true. First, the legal profession is one of the least diverse professions in the nation. Eighty-eight percent of lawyers are white. Second, the tech sector doesn’t fare too far behind. Minorities and women account for just a tiny fraction of most of tech companies’ workforces. Third, over fifty percent of legal aid clients identify themselves as persons of color. And over seventy percent of legal aid clients are women.
When you factor it all in, you get a movement led by a group consisting of majority white men. Creating solutions for a group consisting of majority woman of color. I can assure this to be accurate based on my personal experiences in the ATJ Tech space as well.
Thus, if we are to realize the true potential of technology’s role in enhancing access to justice. we must acknowledge the elephant in the room. Creating solutions with user-surveys and other user-centered design thinking is not enough. The creation space must be as inclusive as the design of these solutions. Or else ATJ tech solutions may be susceptible to implicit bias and other flaws in their design.
The ATJ tech movement can solve the challenges restricting individuals from receiving legal access. But we must first take affirmative steps to diversify the makeup of the ATJ tech movement.