Opening Remarks by LSC Board Chair John G. Levi | Innovations in Technology Conference

New Orleans
January 11, 2018

Good morning!

Thank you, Glenn.

It is a real pleasure to join you today at the newly named Innovations in Technology Conference.

I attended and spoke at this event three years ago, when it was known as the TIG Conference (I am afraid that this acronym may stick with me), and was so impressed and inspired by the innovation and imagination on display.

Before going any further, I want to particularly recognize the extraordinary role that Glenn has played in making LSC a leader in legal technology.  I know I speak for the entire LSC Board in thanking you for your vision and your leadership.

This conference has become a staple on the tech community calendar and, along with his outstanding TIG colleagues, Glenn has organized an event that this year sets another new record for attendance — 400.

I have a feeling that this record too won’t stand for long.

When the very first TIG conference was held here in New Orleans 18 years ago, Glenn tells me there were 35 people in attendance.

I only wish LSC funding would have increased at such a rate.

And speaking of LSC folks, let me acknowledge two others who are in attendance today — longtime and outstanding Board member Vic Maddox of Louisville’s Fultz Maddox Dickens, and one of our most significant non-director members of our Board committees — Abby Kuzma, formerly an Assistant Attorney General in Indiana and founder and Executive Director of a legal aid organization.

LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant program has helped drive innovation in legal technology for nearly two decades.  Since its inception in 2000, the TIG program has awarded 708 competitive grants, for a total of more than 63 million dollars.

This funding has been used to develop wide-ranging innovative programs to improve client access to high-quality legal information and assistance for self-represented litigants.  It has also helped many legal aid programs enhance their overall information technology infrastructure.

Tracking the impact of limited service legal assistance, for example, is a struggle for most organizations.  Traditional approaches, such as paper surveys or follow-up telephone calls, yield low response rates and are resource-intensive.  

Using TIG funding, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has created a technology-centric approach to collecting and evaluating outcomes data in advice and brief services cases.

This innovative program prepares carefully crafted text messages for clients in a range of limited services cases, and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has seen a response rate of nearly 60 percent among those clients who opt into the program.  LASC aggregates this data and can now make better decisions about its own service delivery based on outcomes. 

 Legal Assistance of Western New York is using TIG funding to address another common problem . . . remote access.  

Their Western New York Representative Video Project deploys a cloud-based video conferencing system across its seven offices.

The installations in three offices serving rural areas are in full compliance with the Social Security Administration’s remote hearing site requirements, allowing LAWNY to conduct hearings for clients on site instead of forcing them to travel significant distances to have their cases heard. 

In November, Michigan Legal Help launched a new TIG-funded project to help improve another area of concern for many legal aid providers — triage.

Their new on-line triage portal gives visitors referrals and legal information tailored to their specific legal problem and the resources available to them. 

For example, clients may be directed to a legal aid office, or to Michigan’s Counsel and Advocacy Law Line, or to the State Bar of Michigan’s various lawyer search and referral tools. 

The triage system also refers people to mediation or dispute resolution options, where appropriate, and refers site visitors to other relevant resources, such as foreclosure housing counselors, government agencies, and domestic violence shelters. 

The Michigan system builds upon years of work in the legal aid community to create more advanced triage systems.  The concept of triage in legal aid was broadly introduced to the field as part of LSC’s remarkable Technology Summit in 2012-2013, the second such summit LSC has convened.

As many Americans fail to recognize the legal significance of their problems, LSC is moving on another front to advance this triage technology by joining with Microsoft Corporation and Pro Bono Net to develop online, statewide legal portals to direct individuals with civil legal needs to the most appropriate forms of assistance.

These portals will use cutting-edge, user-centered technology to help ensure that all people with civil legal needs can navigate their options and more easily access solutions and services available from legal aid, the courts, the private bar, and community partners.

Last spring, we selected Hawaii and Alaska as the jurisdictions for our first two pilot programs.

As impressive as these and the many other projects LSC has promoted or funded are, the goals of LSC’s commitment to technology go far beyond software and online tools.

We have also tried to build a community to bring together visionaries and experts to help move civil legal aid forward.

The tremendous turnout at this conference illustrates that we are making significant strides towards meeting that goal.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the wrap-up of your remarkable, really breath-taking hackathon.  I was so impressed and moved by your work and, what I am sure would be a huge surprise to my kids, I even understood about half of it.

The two technology summits I mentioned earlier have also brought together leaders in the field and produced results that go well beyond the legal tech community.

 The second of those summits issued a report that set an ambitious goal to provide all low-income Americans with some form of effective assistance with their essential civil legal needs.

The Conferences of Chief Justices and State Court Administrators adopted this goal as aspiration in 2016, and it has helped profoundly to shape the discussion of civil legal aid during the past two years, placing technology at the center of that discussion.

In point of fact, we have known that there is little hope of meeting that goal without continued technological innovation.

LSC was founded with the recognition that equal access to justice is not only a core American value — but it is also essential to maintaining the rule of law and our democracy.

A few weeks ago, I heard a great line that I believe very much applies here — Democracy is like a farm; you reap what you sow.

The work you do is crucial to our efforts to remain true to our foundational principles and to help transform our system of justice so that equal access is a lived reality not an empty promise.

We must significantly increase LSC’s budget in order to properly fund legal assistance and pay for what it takes to make our justice system accessible to all Americans.

It is no secret that LSC funding has not kept pace with the growing need for civil legal assistance in our country during the past decade.  Unfortunately, today nearly 60 million Americans qualify for civil legal assistance because they are living at 125 percent of the federal poverty guidelines or below. 

Yet at $385 million, our Congressional appropriation is in inflation dollars near an all-time low.  That has forced our grantees to turn away so many qualified individuals with little or no assistance because of lack of resources.  What we at LSC call the justice gap.

Well, equal justice is not charity.  It is, as Justice Lewis Powell observed, “one of the guiding principles of our democracy.”

In 1951, at the 75th anniversary celebration of New York’s Legal Aid Society, the then Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Learned Hand, delivered a powerful address, and in it he reminded us that:

"If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment,” he said.  “Thou shalt not ration justice."

Much is at stake — not only the fairness of our judicial system but also the rule of law.  The American justice system belongs to all Americans, not just the lawyers, and the accessibility of that justice system is in crisis.  That is why your voices and your work is so tremendously important.

Let us all here today resolve that we will do our best to keep faith with Lewis Powell and Learned Hand to end our country’s justice gap by the nation’s 250th birthday in 2026.  Future generations of Americans are counting on all of us and, in many ways, as I experienced first-hand yesterday, your innovations, your work is that future!  Thank you so very much and thank you so much for joining us at this conference!