April, 19 – WASHINGTON – The Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the country’s largest funder of civil legal aid programs for low-income people, is announcing the development of online, statewide “legal portals” to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance. LSC will partner with Microsoft Corporation and Pro Bono Net to develop portals for up to two statewide pilots intended to demonstrate how this approach can be replicated as widely as possible in an economic fashion.
There is no right to counsel in civil disputes in the United States, and each year as many as 80 percent of low-income people who face civil legal problems that can threaten home, family stability and livelihood are unable to obtain assistance in resolving their problems. The portals are intended to help the legal aid community, courts and other state justice partners to provide some form of effective assistance to everyone with a civil legal problem.
Microsoft has committed at least $1 million in funding, technical support, and project management services. Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing access to justice through innovative uses of technology and increased volunteer lawyer participation, will help convene local partners and provide service design expertise to execute the pilot.
“The current system of accessing legal services is confusing, opaque, and inefficient for many people,” said LSC President James J. Sandman. “The goal of the portals is to simplify the process by providing a single, statewide point of access to effective help for people needing civil legal assistance. Each user will be guided to available resources based on the nature of the matter and the user’s personal circumstances.”
“Technology can help empower the powerless—people who may feel lost without a lawyer in the legal system,” said Dave Heiner, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft. “Microsoft is thrilled to partner with the Legal Services Corporation, Pro Bono Net and the broader pro bono community to help close the yawning access to justice gap.”
“Many state justice communities are looking to develop collaborative approaches to meet the growing needs of low income and vulnerable individuals,” said Mark O’Brien, founder and Executive Director of Pro Bono Net. “We hope this initiative will strengthen those efforts and help spark creative, user-centered solutions.”
LSC will manage the state selection process, consulting with the National Center for State Courts, the American Bar Association, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, the Self-Represented Litigation Network, and other national stakeholders to identify promising jurisdictions that will be invited to compete for the opportunity to develop the pilot portals.
As the initiative moves forward, LSC will work to attract other institutional funders and identify local resources to help ensure that the pilots are a success.
Developing access to justice portals in every state was one of the recommendations of LSC’s 2013 “Report of the Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice.” The portals, along with other developments called for in the report, are designed to help the legal aid community provide a form of effective assistance to everyone with a significant civil legal problem. Last year, the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators adopted a resolution supporting “the aspirational goal of 100 percent access to effective assistance for essential civil legal needs.”
The initiative will be announced during the White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice on Tuesday, April 19. The White House will live stream the event from 1–4:15 p.m. at https://www.whitehouse.gov/live.
Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 to provide financial support for civil legal aid to low-income Americans. The Corporation currently provides funding to 134 independent non-profit legal aid programs in every state, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.