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There is a clear case for the use of tech to improve our civil justice system. While there’s a huge legal accessibility gap in our nation, the use of tech and innovation can play a pivotal role to increase the capacity of legal services providers to address the unmet legal needs in many poor communities across the nation.

However, as it currently stands. The use of tech in expanding legal access is constrained by fragmentation, and lack of sound infrastructure. LCS’s Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) serves as the central funding source for A2J tech projects. As each state has unique justice problems, this national grant program positions states to compete against one another for grant funds. While not a knock on the TIG program, this should serve as a wake-up call to individual states to improve their funding infrastructure for tech and innovation projects if we are ever going to realize “equal access to justice for all.”

The Legal Aid Drupal Users Collective is holding a hackathon this week that aims to address some of the underlying issues with the legal aid tech infrastructure. Drupal is an open source website content management system that supports Illinois Legal Aid Online, Northwest Justice Project, and many other innovative statewide legal information websites. Participants at this hackathon will develop open source tools using Drupal to improve access to justice. The hackathon is being held on Tuesday, January 10, 2017 (8am to 5:30pm CT),

One of the proposed hacks will be a “JusticeHub”, a social network & hub aimed to aid in the identification, prevention, mitigation and solving of justice issues that affect our communities. This ecosystem should serve as a great model to aid legal services professionals in the duplication of effective and efficient A2J tech projects across state lines.

Many of the other proposed hacks will be collaborative tools that legal services providers across the nation can use while sharing insight and expertise. The hackathon is just one day before the TIG Conference, the leading conference for legal aid professionals and technologist.

The use of technology and innovation in our justice system will inevitably lower barriers to the law so that people can, on their own, understand their legal options, make informed decisions, and, when necessary, represent themselves in court. But a greater need for collaborative, not competitive models to ensure legal access  But a greater need for collaborative, not competitive models will ensure this vision of equal access and the Legal Aid Drupal hackathon serves as a fertile environment for such building.