STANFORD – The president of Legal Services Corp., who spoke at the CodeX FutureLaw Conference at Stanford University last month, says the time is now for technology to revolutionize the legal industry.
“Low-income people and people with modest means are not able to afford lawyers," James Sandman, who heads the civil legal aid agency, recently told the Northern California Record. "When they have real problems they need help, they’re currently left to their own devices and have to navigate their way on their own by a system that is largely designed by lawyers for lawyers.”
With 4 million people in California going to court with no lawyer, Sandman said now is the time to offer access to the legal system for all people. He also said lawyers need to be responsive to technology and learn what it is available to them now.
“There’s technology that could help people help themselves without lawyers and there’s technology that lawyers might be able to use to make themselves more efficient to their clients," Sandman said.
For instance, Sandman said a self-help app could walk a person through the legal process, much like Turbo Tax walks users through their taxes by asking a variety of questions. Through the app, Sandman said, users would be able to e-file their forms in a way that judges would be able to understand.
“It’s much more likely to be understood by the judge to allow a person to assert a valid claim or defense rather than have to make it up on their own,” Sandman said.
For technology for lawyers, Sandman used the simple example of turning a Word document into a PDF, which he said may lawyers don’t know how to do.
“Lawyers aren’t using enough of what’s out there or what could be available out there," he said.
Sandman wants to improve access to lawyers and is working on a project with Microsoft that would be an access portal where users could find the law resource that is right for their situation. Through a series of questions, the portal would direct the user to a lawyer specializing in the circumstances, legal aid or other appropriate legal resource.
Sandman doesn't think opening the access to the law process would make the U.S. a hyper-litigious culture. Instead, he believes more mediation would occur.
“I think it could help resolve disputes more quickly," he said. "If you’ve been sued, you’ve been sued. That’s why you need to use a system like this. What everybody should want is the quickest and easiest resolution of their dispute. If they can get is out filing a lawsuit, all the better.”