Zooming in on Legal Tech in 2020

It happened: I got old.  I don’t know exactly when it happened. Maybe it happened this semester. Maybe it happened over the summer. I suppose it could have happened last year and I just didn’t notice.

I’m not even thirty yet, and still, somehow, I have found myself at the optometrist getting fitted for bifocals so I can read the tiny print in the textbooks without giving myself a massive headache. I got a super ugly pair of orthopedic slippers. I also had set up my work station in a way that didn’t hurt my back and I had to stop using my phone so much, because oh my god, my thumbs were cramping so badly.

I have no idea how to talk to my teenage siblings anymore. They want to do all these phone-based things with me, but I spend so much time staring at a screen, that I find myself asking if we can just go play outside like we did back in the olden days.

A year and a half ago, I was working in a support role at a law firm and was running around the office helping with computer setup, database issues, software problems, whatever. But something changed.

Now, my girlfriend (who is a whopping 6 months younger) cannot understand why I don’t know how to use all the new Instagram features.

I used to be baffled by the baby boomers in my workplace who didn’t know how to edit a word document or conduct a basic document search on the firm database.

But now, I must say, I get it.

Sometimes, the font is just too small. Sometimes, the program set-up, or day to day functionality, is just so complex or so filled with bugs, that it can feel impossible to use. Sometimes, the program just isn’t intuitive, and the setup or navigation process is more complicated than the task you need the program to complete. Sometimes, the help line is closed and you’ve got a thousand other things on your plate that needed to be done yesterday.

I never thought I’d say this, but boomers, I get you.

I get you and I’m sorry for shaming you for your technological deficiencies. I now understand that in order for the field of law to step into the 21st century, we have to make legal tech more user-friendly. No senior partner is going to want to relearn their entire work system at a point in their career when they are experiencing peak success.  If I ever find myself in a web design role, I promise to make the font adjustable and organize the contents logically so that you can easily find whatever it is you need and get back to your shuffleboard game.

To my young gen z friends: you can laugh at me and my reading glasses and my misuse of snapchat filters all you like, but remember, you’re next.

Incorporating Intersectionality in User Profiles: Accessibility and Inclusion.

The need more for accessible legal services or information is well known and unnecessary to recount, but it is clear that a major problem facing access to these services is the amount they cost; very few people can afford them. This leads to average-income and particularly low-income groups or individuals not having access to justice and many of these low-income groups or individuals are also from other equity-seeking groups, which makes this an intersectional issue.

The transition into offering legal services or information online can help address the access to justice issue by allowing these groups to have access to answers or information regarding their legal problems at low or no cost. However, what about those groups or individuals that are at the intersections of disadvantage? For example, minority groups with none to limited English proficiency that also have low income or disabled people with low income. The impact of A2J initiatives for them will undoubtedly be less unless the online tool can address these intersectional issues.

When making user profiles, it is critical to consider users that may fall outside the majority but for whom the services offered may still be essential. Accessibility, usability, and inclusion are important concepts to address in user-profiles and then work towards implementing solutions within your online platform to help address the needs of these groups.

For example, how will the online service help those groups of people that do have limited or low English proficiency or those that have visual impairments and may not be able to read the text? The need to address questions such as: Is there a way to translate English to another language; is it possible to have audio prompts for those who cannot read or have visual impairments, etc.?

Now, by no means am I an expert in technology. I am only addressing some of the potential issues that may come up as legal professionals or students work towards developing online tools to help people with legal needs – presumably, those who cannot afford to pay for them.

I believe that online platforms can accommodate these groups further by having these added features. For example, web services that enable two systems to interact and share information. Online legal applications can take advantage of these services to deliver new online capabilities, like translating text between two different languages.

This is not to say it is a perfect solution. I recognize there are real challenges with the interpretation or translation of languages that may compromise the accuracy of the information translated. Therefore, preliminary testing to ensure the translation of the text is accurate by an expert is recommended.

Services like screen readers allow visually impaired persons to use the internet by reading a website text aloud. Video conferencing can be a great tool for hearing impaired people when used to provide sign language interpreters, particularly if a firm is using technology to provide services or for rural courts who may need the help of sign language interpreters.

This post was just a friendly reminder to incorporate equity-seeking groups into our user profiles, if possible or applicable, to the legal services online platform to be developed. I acknowledge that some online platforms will be targeted to professionals or users that will not have English proficiency as an issue, for example, “BC lawyers”. However, some online platforms that are directed at the population may face some of these issues. For those of us moving forward in this profession, we should not only be aware of these issues but advocate for solutions when possible.