New ABA Center for Innovation project will connect legal aid providers with free legal tech
The ABA Center for Innovation, in partnership with the Legal Services Corp., wants to connect legal aid providers with free legal technology.
Called the Legal Tech for a Change project, Chase Hertel, deputy director and counsel at the Center for Innovation, explains that the project’s “focus is getting good operational technology into the hands of LSC grantees to help increase their efficiency.”
The project formally launches April 30, but it is already accepting applications at legaltechforachange.org from interested legal aid organizations and legal technology companies. Ross Intelligence joins MetaJure, a document management company, on the list of partner companies.
Hertel says that the Center for Innovation can help legal aid organizations by acting as a broker between the agencies and vetting potential technology solutions. He says that they are looking to work with established technology companies that “align with the LSC grantees that express interest.”
He adds that the criteria they are using to assess potential technology partners includes the privacy standards employed by the company and what the onboarding process looks like for interested legal aid groups.
Marty Smith, founding director of MetaJure, a Seattle-based document management company and vice chair of the Center for Innovation, explains that the impetus for this project was born out of his company’s concerns about shifting political winds.
“We all sat around at a [company] board meeting after the presidential election and were concerned about legal aid and potential cuts to funding,” he says. President Donald Trump’s first budget zeroed out LSC’s funding only to have it reinstated by Congress.
To that end, the board of MetaJure decided that for every dollar raised in their Series A funding round they would donate the equivalent in services to legal aid organizations. Later, he says, for each corporate or law firm deal the company closes, they will extend a free version of their platform to another legal aid organization. He equates this technique to the Tom’s Shoes approach to social entrepreneurship, where the company gives a pair of shoes away to a person in need for every pair purchased.
After Smith connected with LSC to find partner organizations, the Center for Innovation and LSC ran a pilot over the last year providing MetaJure’s document management software to six legal aid entities across the country.
“Our greatest need is to have consistent and reliable access to state-of-the-art technologies at no or lower than market cost,” says Molly French, technology manager at Colorado Legal Services, one of the pilot organizations. “These monies, normally allocated to software acquisition and maintenance costs, could then be used to hire additional attorneys or paralegals to serve more low-income Coloradans in need of legal assistance.”
Hertel says that success for the next stage of the project will be defined by whether the technology will help legal aid providers be more efficient and help more clients as providers are forced to do more with less.
He says more partner companies are being considered but have not been made public yet.
Andrew Perlman, chair of the Center for Innovation and dean of Suffolk University Law School, says that he hopes the launch brings together technology companies looking to help out and legal aid providers looking to do something different.
“If we can marry those two instincts, I think we’ll be able to move the needle, even if it is just a little bit,” he says.