If you want to know how technology can be used to increase access to justice, you need look no farther than the Legal Services Corporation’s Technology Initiative Grants program. Since 2000, when Congress first appropriated special funds for the TIG program, it has been the most significant and consistent source of funds aimed at innovation in the delivery of legal assistance to low-income individuals, having put more than $60 million into more than 700 technology projects.
Recently, the LSC announced the latest round of TIG grants. This year, it awarded 26 grants to 24 legal services organizations in 21 states totalling $3,891,457. The projects provide tangible evidence of how technology can help drive access to justice. Among this year’s grantees are projects that enhance online self-help resources, expand services to rural communities, and facilitate clients’ ability to seek legal help via text messaging and voice assistants such as Google’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.
Here are the 2018 TIG projects (descriptions via LSC):
Legal Services Alabama
Legal Services Alabama will receive $24,999 to strengthen its capacity to serve clients. The program will undertake a comprehensive technological assessment and develop a strategy to address its immediate technology needs and long-term goals.
Alaska Legal Services Corporation
Alaska Legal Services Corporation will receive $169,879 to streamline communication with people in need of civil legal assistance. The project will enhance the electronic client referral system for states piloting Legal Navigator portals—an initiative launched by LSC, Microsoft, and Pro Bono Net to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance.
Central California Legal Services
Central California Legal Services will receive $25,000 to maximize its use of technology for client service. An expert will help conduct an inventory of the organization’s existing software and hardware, identify gaps and inefficiencies in current technology use, develop recommendations, and establish a training protocol to ensure effective use of technology.
Inland Counties Legal Services
California’s Inland Counties Legal Services will receive $25,000 to create a strategic decision-making guide for technology projects. The organization will hire an industry leader to help staff evaluate the quality of the organization’s legal technology products and provide an assessment of potential technology enhancements.
Colorado Legal Services
Colorado Legal Services will receive $56,762 to develop a mobile chat system powered by artificial intelligence. The system will provide unrepresented debtors with access to useful legal information and services when creditors sue them. The organization will also produce an online court form for individuals defending a collection lawsuit.
A second grant of $23,400 will allow Colorado Legal Services to undertake an assessment of the organization’s overall use of technology. The goal is to prioritize improvements that will directly aid clients, including network infrastructure, internet services, security and privacy protections, staff technology training, remote data accessing, and mobile device usage.
Legal Services of Greater Miami
Legal Services of Greater Miami will receive $142,862 to enhance Florida’s statewide online client intake and legal triage system by integrating two partner agencies: Community Legal Services of Mid-Florida and Legal Services of North Florida. This project will also add tools to ensure the efficiency of online client applications for assistance, including an improved referral system and the use of artificial intelligence to automatically review key client information.
Legal Services of North Florida
Legal Services of North Florida will receive $184,402 to facilitate access to higher quality search results for people seeking legal help. The project will improve results on major search engines like Google and Bing, as well as results from voice assistants like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii
Legal Aid Society of Hawaii will receive $60,000 to enhance access to legal aid services through search engines and voice-assistant queries like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. In partnership with Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab, the organization will pilot methods to protect people from accessing low-quality, potentially predatory legal websites.
Legal Assistance Foundation
The Illinois Legal Assistance Foundation will receive $264,000 to leverage artificial intelligence to upgrade the IllinoisLegalAid.org website and improve legal services organizations’ client intake.
Indiana Legal Services
Indiana Legal Services will receive $25,000 to develop a roadmap for an enhanced statewide legal information website. The project seeks to improve the client referral system by offering self-help forms and a broad range of legal guidance. The grant will also fund sharpening online triage tools used for prioritizing client needs, with assistance from Microsoft.
Legal Aid of the Bluegrass
In Kentucky, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass will receive $24,000 to assess and upgrade its technology systems. The focus will be on revamping its case management system, communications platforms, and document management tools.
Pine Tree Legal Assistance
Pine Tree Legal Assistance in Maine will receive $98,495 to enhance the statewide, online legal triage website by improving the accessibility of self-help information and legal referrals for users. This project will explore the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to simplify users’ experience, especially when they have limited knowledge of legal concepts. It will connect users to the most accurate resources available to help them. A “chatbot” will allow AI to interact with users while also ensuring their privacy.
Community Legal Aid
In Massachusetts, Community Legal Aid will receive $138,500 to improve the accessibility and functionality of the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder. The Resource Finder provides people seeking legal help with targeted contact information for legal aid programs, government agencies, and court programs. It also provides relevant legal information and self-help materials.
Montana Legal Services Association
Montana Legal Services Association will receive $144,104 to extend the reach of the Montana Court Self Help Program to 11 rural communities. The project will place technology in remote locations across Montana to connect residents to self-help law centers in more populated sections of the state.
A second grant for $130,610 will allow the organization to introduce artificial intelligence-powered legal tools through a new online pro bono legal advice platform, AskKarla.org. This will help clients properly frame their legal issues and access relevant resources.
Legal Services of the Hudson Valley
In New York, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley will receive $70,000 to implement Microsoft’s SharePoint Online program, an organization-wide knowledge management system. The project will facilitate access for all staff across all offices and make client services more efficient.
Legal Aid of North Carolina
Legal Aid of North Carolina will receive $180,000 to continue developing the A2J Author document assembly product, cloud-based software that helps self-represented litigants prepare court forms and other legal documents. The project will expand the availability of user-friendly legal forms for North Carolinians facing civil legal issues.
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland
The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, Ohio, will receive $207,750 to help better assess the impact of legal assistance that is limited to brief engagement with clients rather than full representation. The project builds on an existing program that uses automated text message exchanges with clients to study outcomes resulting from brief service.
Ohio State Legal Services Association
Ohio State Legal Services Association will receive $783,200 to support outreach, operations, training, and improvements for LawHelp Interactive (LHI). LHI is the national online document assembly initiative used by more than 40 states to provide reliable and secure online forms that help legal aid lawyers, pro bono programs, and those without lawyers create online forms.
Philadelphia Legal Assistance Center
Philadelphia Legal Assistance Center will receive $210,000 to expand software tools on the Upsolve.org system. Upsolve helps individuals who cannot afford an attorney to complete Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings. Enhancements will include streamlining the bankruptcy questionnaire and improving Upsolve’s operation on mobile devices.
West Tennessee Legal Services
West Tennessee Legal Services will receive $118,272 to create an organization-wide knowledge information system through Microsoft’s SharePoint Online program. The project will mitigate the challenges of delivering legal services in rural areas by facilitating collaboration among staff across all four offices and providing a technology-based framework to improve remote staff supervision.
Utah Legal Services
Utah Legal Services will receive $306,047 to employ artificial intelligence to create an online application and client-referral process through the LegalServer Case Management System. The system will guide users seeking legal help through the process of identifying their legal issues and help match them with the right resources for them.
Legal Services of Northern Virginia
Legal Services of Northern Virginia will receive $102,000 to create online visual guides to teach users how to navigate complex civil legal issues such as housing and consumer law. The guides will work on mobile devices.
Northwest Justice Project
The Northwest Justice Project in Washington will receive $266,000 to add new components to LSNTAP.org, a national technology support resource for the national legal aid community. This grant will also support a technology training webinar series and in-depth technology guides.
Legal Aid of Wyoming
Legal Aid of Wyoming will receive $25,000 to plan a new online intake process to better serve clients across the state. The goal is to make services more accessible to clients, including through mobile-friendly self-help materials.