When states put forward proposals to open up their legal marketplaces to nonlawyer practitioners and investors, the loudest voices in the room are often attorneys who speak against such regulatory reform initiatives for fear they will negatively affect the profession and harm consumers.
Erin Levine, the founder and CEO of the online platform Hello Divorce, says what’s often missing from these debates are the voices of members of the legal technology community whose platforms interface directly with consumers trying to navigate a very complicated legal system.
In response, she and several other leaders of business-to-consumer legal tech companies this month launched a new group called the Justice Technology Association with the aim of providing regulators with a more well-rounded perspective about the need to embrace innovative approaches to offering legal services and addressing the justice gap.
“The goal is to have a more cohesive, thoughtful voice from the people that are actually doing the work, not just the lawyers that might be afraid that their businesses will suffer or that the profession will be cheapened,” Levine says. “And what we want the message to be is that regulatory reform, if done thoughtfully, is good for everyone. Not just consumers but lawyers and the legal profession as a whole.”
The founding members and companies of the nonprofit Justice Technology Association are Sonja Ebron, the co-founder and CEO of Courtroom5; Levine from Hello Divorce; Camila Lopez, the co-founder and CEO of People Clerk; and Yousef Kassim, the CEO of Easy Expunctions. Both Levine and Lopez were are members of the ABA Journal’s 2022 class of Legal Rebels.
Maya Markovich, who is a justice tech executive in residence at Village Capital, has been tapped as the association’s executive director.
“There’s a massively underserved population of consumers that aren’t getting access to justice,” Markovich says. “We believe that tech can be part of the solution.”
The new organization defines Justice Tech as a sector that “encompasses innovative technology businesses, initiatives and solutions designed to improve or open access to the exercise of one’s legal rights; increase individual agency; improve outcomes for those seeking legal help; and more equitably and efficiently administer a legal system or service.”
Some of the association’s planned activities include raising awareness about the justice tech sector; sharing reliable data about companies’ service of consumers; and educating investors about the opportunities available to them in justice tech. One way they plan to highlight the opportunities in the justice tech space is by demonstrating that it can bridge different technology sectors—such as legal tech, financial tech and education tech.
The association is also seeking out other direct-to-consumer companies and entrepreneurs to join the organization, according to Markovich, who previously served as chief growth officer at Dentons’ Nextlaw Labs.
Ebron, who was a guest on the Aug. 18 episode of the Legal Rebels Podcast last year, says sharing best practices to address common issues will be another important function of the association.
“I am looking forward to exchanging information and best practices on consumer protection, regulatory proceedings, fundraising sources and other challenges unique to our space,” Ebron says. “I think we’ll all be surprised at how strong the sector becomes when the diversity of current justice tech solutions coalesces under one umbrella.”
Levine says one reason regulatory reform will be a key focus early on is that states such as California are actively considering whether to open up their legal marketplaces the way Utah and Arizona have in recent years.
Those two states have embraced nonlawyer ownership and investment in law firms, with Arizona eliminating Rule of Professional Conduct 5.4 and Utah allowing new business models to be tested out in a regulatory sandbox. Both Utah and Arizona also allow nonlawyers to undertake some legal tasks as legal paraprofessionals.
The association plans to “encourage and advocate for innovative business models that include alternatives to representation by a lawyer,” according to its website.
“With the regulatory framework that we have now, we believe innovation is really being discouraged every day because these regulations prevent us from providing consumers exactly what they need,” Levine says.
To support its efforts, the Justice Technology Association has already established an advisory board that Markovich said features people from a variety of backgrounds, including academics, regulatory reform advocates, venture capitalists and tech leaders. The advisory board’s members include Chas Rampenthal, the former longtime general counsel of LegalZoom; Stacy Butler, the director of the Innovation for Justice lab recently featured on the Legal Rebels Podcast; Jim Sandman, president emeritus of the Legal Services Corp.; and Caitlin Moon, director of innovation design for Vanderbilt Law School’s Program on Law and Innovation.
“We are receiving so many inbound expressions of support that I have no doubt we will soon have a compelling organization with an industry-shaping advisory board,” Markovich says.