Technology innovations

Over the last twenty years, the civil legal aid system has begun in earnest to utilize innovations in technology to improve and expand access to the civil justice system. As a result, low-income persons have access to information about legal rights and responsibilities and about the options and services available to solve their legal problems, protect their legal rights, and promote their legal interests. Technological innovation in virtually all states has led to the creation of Web sites that offer community legal education information, pro se legal assistance, and other information about the courts and social services. Most legal aid programs now have Web sites with over 300 sites.

All states have a statewide website, most of which also contain information useful both to advocates and clients. Most of these statewide web sites were made possible by the Technology Initiative Grants program of LSC. All of these state sites can be accessed through www.lawhelp.org. Half of the sites are hosted on one platform operated by Pro Bono net.

Dozens of national sites provide substantive legal information to advocates; other national sites support delivery, management, and technology functions. Many program, statewide, and national websites are using cutting-edge software and offering extensive functionality.

Projects in many states use kiosks with touch-screen computers that allow clients to produce court-ready pleadings and access to other services, such as help with filing for the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Video conferencing is being used in Montana and other states to connect clients in remote locations with local courthouses and legal services attorneys.

Technology: Document assembly applications such as HotDocs and A2j Author

Increasing numbers of legal aid programs across the country, in partnership with the courts and legal community, are using document assembly applications, most notably HotDocs and A2j Author to expand and make more efficient the provision of legal services to clients. These projects generally focus on the use of document assembly for pro se resources used by the public and automated documents used by legal aid staff to more efficiently represent their clients. Many of these projects nationally are coordinated through Law Help Interactive, which is a project of Pro Bono Net.

A2J Author uses HotDocs Online software to assist self-represented litigants in a web mediated process to assess eligibility, gather pertinent information to prepare a set of simple court forms, and then deliver those forms ready to be signed and filed. A2J Author is equipped with “just in time” help tools, including the ability to speak each word of the interview to the user in English or Spanish. The user can be directed to other websites to obtain explanations of technical terms.