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January 25, 2019

Midyear 2019: Can we bridge the justice gap with today’s tech?

Digital technologies have developed at a rapid pace, transforming our lives – including the practice of law.  As access to justice remains elusive to so many Americans, could the technologies that have automated certain aspects of law be put to use to help them?

A panel at the American Bar Association Midyear Meeting will explore that question and examine other implications of technological development on law practice during the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation-sponsored “Maybe There’s an App for That: New Legal Technologies, Access to Justice, and the Changing Practice of Law” held on Saturday, Jan. 26 from  2–3:30 p.m. at the Caesars Palace Hotel.

Research will be presented by Rebecca L. Sandefur, an ABF faculty fellow and University of Illinois associate professor of sociology. Sandefur, who was recently selected as a MacArthur Fellow, is one of ABF’s Access to Justice research initiative.

Most Americans confront at least one civil justice problem each year, commonly involving needs like health, housing, employment or money, Sandefur said in a recent article. Yet – according to the Legal Services Corporation, 86 percent of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans in the past year received inadequate or no legal help.

Ajay K. Mehrotra, executive director of the ABF Fellows, said the panel will examine how “rapidly developing legal technology can help bridge the access-to-justice gap.”

Sandefur said there are more than 300 of such tools, mostly information resources and referral mechanisms to attorneys.  But, some offer promise.  Sandefur described ones that “diagnose legal problems, compile evidence for a claim, and create legal documents.”

Beyond the technology, an obstacle is adoption. “Uptake is slow,” Sandefur said, advocating a greater focus on technology adoption. “Human connections are what make these technologies useful… We should be investing in those connections, too.” 

Sandefur will be joined by foKatherine Altender, director of the Self-Represented Litigation Network; Barbara Buckley, executive director of the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada; George Clement, co-founder of; and Daniel B. Rodriguez, the Harold Washington professor at the Northwestern Pritzker School of Law. The panel will be moderated by the Hon. Elizabeth S. Stong, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge from the Eastern District of New York.

This program is sponsored by the ABA Center for Innovation, ABA Criminal Justice Section, ABA Division for Legal Services, ABA Government & Public Sector Lawyers Division, ABA Section of Civil Rights & Social Justice, ABA Section of Science & Technology Law, and ABA Young Lawyers Division.