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ABA's new Center for Innovation will drive efforts for new methods of delivering legal services

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The ABA has wasted no time in implementing one of the recommendations made by the Commission on the Future of Legal Services in its final report.

The commission issued its Report on the Future of Legal Services in the United States on Aug. 6 during a program at the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco. On Aug. 15, the ABA announced the creation of the Center for Innovation, a key recommendation made by the futures commission in its report. And on Sept. 1, the ABA unveiled its inaugural list of appointments to the center’s governing and advisory councils.

“The purpose of the proposed center is to position the ABA as a leader and architect of the profession’s efforts to increase access to legal services and improve the delivery of, and access to, those services to the public through innovative programs and initiatives,” stated the commission in its report. The center also will serve as a resource for ABA members, keep track of the ABA’s innovative efforts, and provide fellowships to collaborate with professions in the technological, entrepreneurial and design industries. In addition, the center will track the innovation efforts of the domestic and international legal services community.

“Closing the access-to-justice gap and making the legal system accessible to all people is of critical importance,” said ABA President Linda A. Klein of Atlanta in a news release. “The Center for Innovation will help bring together the best and most forward-thinking ideas for making our system more efficient and available.”

The need to adopt innovative approaches to close the gap in legal services delivery was an underlying theme for the futures commission as it went about its work for the past two years. “We must open our minds to innovative approaches and to leveraging technology in order to identify new models to deliver legal services,” said William C. Hubbard of Columbia, South Carolina, who appointed the commission as ABA president in 2014. “Those who seek legal assistance expect us to deliver legal services differently. It is our duty to serve the public—and it is our duty to deliver justice, not just to some, but to all.”

The commission also emphasized the importance of innovation in its report. “Innovation is an ongoing process that requires sustained effort and resources as well as a culture that is open to change,” states the report. In addition to working closely with others in the legal community, the new Center for Innovation “will seek vital input from and collaboration with technologists, innovators, consumers of legal services and those in public policy to develop new projects, programming and other resources to help drive innovation in the delivery of legal services.”


The commission’s legacy is reflected in some of the appointments to the governing and advisory councils for the innovation center. Andrew Perlman, the dean of Suffolk University Law School in Boston who served as vice-chair of the commission, will chair the governing council. Other members of the commission who were appointed to serve on the 14-member governing council are Karl Camillucci, an attorney in Chicago; Margaret Hagan, a fellow at the Stanford Law School Center on the Legal Profession; Dana M. Hrelic, an attorney in Hartford, Connecticut; and Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Virginia.

The 10-member advisory council includes former futures commission members Daniel B. Rodriguez, dean of the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law in Chicago; and James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corp. in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Innovation also will have three special advisers: Hubbard; Judy Perry Martinez, a New Orleans attorney who chaired the futures commission; and William H. Neukom, a past ABA president and current president of the World Justice Project. Janet Jackson, the former director of the ABA’s Office of the President, will serve as managing director of the center.

“Extraordinary talent has been recruited from the tech and design worlds to join forces with respected leaders of the bar to govern the center,” Klein said. “This unprecedented collaboration will assure that out of the center will come a surge in legal services delivery innovations that will benefit the public for decades to come.”

Dispute REsolution and more

Perlman says the Center for Innovation already has several major projects lined up. The center will assist the ABA Judicial Division in implementing a court-annexed online dispute resolution pilot program in New York. “With court-annexed online dispute resolution, the parties resolve their dispute entirely online without ever having to step foot into a courthouse,” Perlman says. The program will cover consumer debt cases in New York, and, if it goes well, it could be expanded to cover other areas of the law. “Our great hope is that this could be a useful solution for many types of cases throughout the U.S.,” says Perlman. The center also will participate in the development of guidelines and standards to help lawyers and bar associations administer regular legal checkups for individuals, another project recommended by the futures commission.

In the meantime, the center will take the lead in creating fellowships for recent law school graduates as well as midcareer lawyers. The purpose of the fellowships will be to allow lawyers to come to the ABA and work with experts at the center, as well as professionals outside the legal industry, to develop innovative projects that will help deliver legal services more efficiently.

“Young lawyers may have an idea they’d like to get off the ground,” says Perlman. “We can give them time and resources to pull that off. As for midcareer lawyers, we can help them retool and help them develop new ways of delivering legal services in their own practices.” Perlman says the fellowships will be funded out of money that’s been allotted to the center by the ABA, and that the center also hopes to raise funds going forward.

“This has definitely been a labor of love,” Perlman says. “But I care very deeply about the future of legal services and how the ABA can advance its work as a leader in how legal services are delivered. It’s a privilege and honor for me to be part of it.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: “Go for Launch: The ABA’s new Center for Innovation will drive efforts to develop new methods of delivering legal services.”

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