Many people—especially those who are poor or otherwise disadvantaged—are still facing various obstacles in accessing legal assistance to solve their problems. What is even more, sometimes they are left without any knowledge about their right for legal aid. Some, like US-based Legal Services Corporation, believe that, with the smart and disciplined use of technology, the legal aid community can provide some form of assistance to everyone with a significant civil legal problem. Others, such as Margaret Hagan, Co-director, Legal Technology and Design,at the Stanford University, argue innovative approaches like design thinking can be a valuable tool for improving access to justice and empowering regular consumers of legal services. So how can technology and innovation make a difference?
Technology can ease the way we receive legal assistance.
In Ukraine, citizens can get free legal consultations via Skype in their local library.Similarly,FrontlineSMS:Legal helps bridge the distance between communities and the legal services they need most, using low-cost mobile tools. E-justice system in Turkey serves lawyers and citizens to fill documents electronically, schedule hearings, or to access data and announcements on case flow processes and judicial procedures. The system works 24/ 7, using online portals and SMS messages. Another option represent online platforms that help people living with HIV/ AIDS in Russia access a lawyer even from 3,000 miles away. Similar platform is being developed by the Innovating Justice team to not only offer legal information, advice and services but also to enable people to work on solving their legal problems in their own words, at their own pace, and from their own homes.
At the same time, there are also “low(er) tech” ways that make justice more accessible.
While in Pakistan mobile court on wheels delivers justice to most remote regions, Moldova is using paralegals to help rural communities get legal advice. Communities are targeted also in Nigeria, where innovative approaches using design thinking have made community justice services more people-centered and effective in mediating crimes, disputes, and conflicts. In Turkey, students of Private Law Clinic help those who cannot afford an attorney by interviewing them, researching and providing information on the legal issue at hand and accompanying them to government office while Street Law Clinics students visit prisons in Istanbul and provide prisoners with basic legal education (learn more about the legal clinics).