“These are the times that try men’s souls.” Immortal words uttered by Thomas Paine in 1776 seem appropriate in many respects today. For instance, as we survey the legal services landscape, it’s easy to see that demand for legal services is up and funding is down. Meanwhile, the existing service delivery model has never met more than a fraction of the needs of low-income Americans facing legal problems – even in the best of times.
But Mr. Paine also said that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph and that he who stands now deserves the thanks of man and woman. Paine, of course, was speaking of the cause of the American Revolution. And, just like us, his generation was on the cusp of great change confronted with momentous opportunity.
That’s why The Florida Bar Foundation is focusing on bringing innovation to the system, building strong partnerships, and facilitating a new vision for legal services in Florida, while still providing a base level of funding to 30 legal aid organizations statewide.
Recognizing that technology can streamline a range of processes from client intake to legal self-help, the Foundation has engaged some of the nation’s top minds in legal services and court technology and funded the creation of a new nonprofit organization, the Florida Justice Technology Center.
The center will work with a broad array of stakeholders to marshal existing resources and shepherd advances that will increase efficiency, expand service and facilitate statewide legal services technology projects. It also will help turn technology-related recommendations of the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice into reality.
The Foundation is also engaged, along with members of the Commission and legal aid representatives, in a project that will involve a major corporate partner providing pro bono business process analysis of legal aid intake. The hope is that this project will be replicable nationwide.
The goal of all of these initiatives is to help modernize the legal services delivery system, enabling it to help more people using fewer resources. Technology alone won’t close the civil justice gap, but if we embrace technology and work together, we can better help those in need and earn the thanks of future generations.