Litera’s Global Head of Corporate Development Haley Altman is joined by Richard Susskind for this podcast from Litera’s Changing Lawyer Summit. Susskind has been a well-known observer of innovation in the legal space for many years, and his recent book, on Online Courts and the Future of Justice, has been a timely source of guidance as courts have automated processes during the pandemic. Altman and Susskind discuss recent legal innovation developments from the point of view of the courts, law firms, clients, and legal tech providers in this wide-ranging look at the state of innovation. Read transcript
Head of Global Corporate Development, Litera
Author and independent advisor to the legal industry
- Ep 025 - The Changing Lawyer Summit - Technology in Courts, Dispute Resolution and the Future of Work
Welcome to Legal Tech Matters, a Litera podcast dedicated to creating conversations about trends, technology and innovation for modern law firms and companies big and small.
Our next panel will look at how we can increase access to that which lawyers dared to enter law school to champion quite daring, I'd say, justice and more specifically, increasing access to it. This should be fantastic from grassroots efforts to organizational changes. Let's dove in together to learn of these solutions for access to justice.
So our discussion today, I want to kind of give us an overview right now access to justice, the inaccessibility to justice. I should say it's a major issue. And so in this conversation, what we're going to talk about are the ways that courts lawyers, pro bono groups, there are firms are advancing efforts, increasing the access to justice in a variety of ways.
And so we're going to unpack a lot of that. But I think first I was hoping you could go ahead and introduce yourself to Vinnie and where you're broadcasting from.
Sure. Tiffany Graves, I am pro bono counsel at Bradley, a law firm with ten offices in six states and Washington, D.C. I am resident in our Charlotte, North Carolina, office and as pro-bono counsel, I'm responsible for directing our pro-bono practice and also managing our relationship with legal services organizations and nonprofit organizations.
Well, Tiffany, it is absolutely a privilege to be talking with you today about this topic and all the good work you do. And I think one of the things that brought us together, among some others Litera-TV notably was the fact that in our changing lawyer publication, which we released a number of months ago and we're paralleling that publication in this conversation, it turns out that one of the women that we quoted about access to justice. You two are sort of followers of one another on Twitter.
And I just have to read what Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said in one of her recent tweets. She said, “this pandemic was obviously not the disruption we wanted, but I think it might have been the disruption we needed in the courts to be able to accelerate change
in a way I hope can produce a justice system that's more accessible and more transparent and more efficient.” And you had some thoughts about Bridget's comments, too, and about Bridget herself.
Yes, she is outstanding. I think what I share with you, Sherri, is I would just love to clone her and let her be the chief justice of every Supreme Court in the United States. The way that she is so forward thinking, not only just about the court system in general, but about facilitating access to justice, is something that would be just fantastic to see throughout the country. That quote you read just resonates with me as sort of demonstrating a judge who really does understand the issues of our access to justice gap and the court's role and responsibility, and helping to close that gap along with attorneys and pro bono and a number of other components. But that's such a good quote. You know, just seeing this as a challenging opportunity to bring about some much needed change.
And I think there are some interesting things about her. One is that she is a tech enthusiast and and I feel that that dimension, of course, in her role, you know that I don't necessarily want to say it as generalized as this might seem, but in the court systems. There's not been a lot of access to technology. So the fact that what we now have is access to technology are certainly the groundswell to bring it there. She has seen this moment as a way to really, you know, evangelize that. I think the other part that has struck me about her is that she sees it as her responsibility and that tells me about that because I think that resonates with you as well.
It sure does. You know, another quote that she made that's in the changing lawyer publication. As you know, we use this as an opportunity to make lemons out of lemonade. She is again forward thinking about all of this. Most courts are not so to have someone who is willing to be public facing as a Supreme Court justice and saying we need to use this opportunity, frankly, to do something we should have done a long time ago.
You know, this pandemic has forced us to really look at what we're doing in our courts with respect to technology, and we should use this moment to make sure that we never find ourselves in a situation where we're having to make these quick pivots again. But also as an opportunity to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make our courts accessible to the public. You know, she uses customer friendly. I mean, you don't hear a lot of judges talking like that, but the court should be.
The courts are for the people, so it's just refreshing to have someone in the judiciary who is as public as she is with identifying her role as a judge as being a part of the solution.
And I think taking, shall we call it, a problem in the courts, a problem for the people, which was the transportation comment. Yeah, that, you know, transportation, if you want to share with our audience what we were sharing with me about that.
Absolutely. I mean, by making the sort of pivot to virtual hearings and virtual court proceedings, that is a way of facilitating access for a number of people who simply lack access to transportation. We take for granted when we live in large cities that there's transit opportunities for everyone. Well, not everybody lives in a large city. Many people in our country live in very rural areas where there's no bus, there's no train, there's no metro. So being able to get to court might require having to take a ton of time off from work, you know, might require you use in the car so that someone else in your family who needs it can't use it. You might not have gas to put gas money to, to pay for gas to put in the car. So when you're able to participate virtually in these court proceedings, it really sort of levels the playing field and allows those those individuals who are involved in in court hearings to be present and not to have the stresses that sometimes come with trying to figure out how to get to the courthouse.
All right. So this again, this was a really great way for us to kind of kick off our conversation because there are many initiatives, you know, with the current that are current and there's active focus on. So let's start by talking about you and your role as pro-bono counsel at Bradley and what are the initiatives that you've connected to and your and your firm has connected to in order to increase access to justice?
Well, I think much like the courts and having to sort of make these shifts to innovative approaches to be able to facilitate access, pro-bono attorneys have had to do the same. You know, we still have pro-bono cases, we still have clients that we need to meet with. And while we can't do that in person, we had to find ways in order to make sure that our clients were able to communicate with us and vice versa.
So what has happened really in the pro bono community in partnership with legal aid organizations is we're having virtual legal clinics, virtual help desk. You know, as we get referrals from legal aid organizations, we're finding ways to connect with our clients telephonically, video conferencing, those sorts of things so that they know as pro bono attorneys, we're still there for them. We're still advancing their legal matters.
So we've even had to make those same types of shifts. It was a little easier on the law firm side because most of us do have technologies in place, but a lot of our legal aide partners did not, you know, so we were able to lend support for them, give them the time and space to get where they needed to be all along, trying to communicate with the individuals who'd reached out for legal assistance so that they still knew we were in their corner and advocating for them.
So, you know, it's made us look at how we communicate. We've also seen over the course of the pandemic an increase in a lot of legal issues that we've always sort of handled on a pro bono basis and really ramped up, frankly, because of the pandemic. And specifically, I'm thinking about things like domestic violence cases, you know, early on in the pandemic, throughout the country, really throughout the world, we saw an increase in interpersonal violence. And you know, folks who were approaching legal aid organizations to say, I need an order protection because I'm not safe in my home, you know, those sorts of things and we were all home. So, you know, I think about the situation where you really don't have anywhere to go.
So we saw an increase in those cases. We've all sort of heard about the eviction crisis. And while we've sort of felt effects of that throughout the pandemic, we're really seeing it now with the the lifting of the federal moratorium and folks trying to stay in their homes. Immigration issues have also ratcheted up over the course of the pandemic. Some of that has to do with sort of changes in regulations with the change of administration.
Some of those cases that were dormant for a while all of a sudden are getting active. So there's just been a lot happening, not to mention a number of firms or helping Afghan refugees. So there's there's a lot of work happening and pro bono again in partnership with legal services organizations. We haven't stopped despite there being a pandemic, but we've had to make some shifts to make sure that our clients could communicate with us effectively and that they again knew that we were still doing everything we could to work for them.
And I was curious to you were sharing with me that there are now self-help kinds of resources, forms and videos and guides and things like that. So tell us a little bit about that and how those tools are helping.
You know, again, thinking about technology and how technology and innovation can be used to access justice. You know, some of those things that Judge McCormick and others have put in place is they've taken a hard look at states Supreme Court websites and said, What are we? What are what are we making available on our website so people can easily access to get into courthouses? So you're seeing more sample pleadings, documents that would help people file complaints, file petitions to really get legal matter started that some courts have always had available on their websites, but not everybody. In fact, I would say that most courts.
So now we're realizing because of this moment we have this means of communicating with people, helping them get that sort of information that they need. Let's make it available. Some courts do a really great job of having self-help centers in the courthouses where people can meet with individual lawyers or access forms and information. I think we're seeing and we'll continue to see a rollout of more of those in light of some of the things that we've seen over the past two years. So again, these are all things that put information and legal documents in the hands of people who would not otherwise be able to access this information.
Exactly. And I feel as if I'm thinking of professional services and and this is really making the courts more welcoming and more, shall we say, equalizing more for the public, their access to the court system and to legal services, really. So I also wanted to talk with you about a recent I guess it's really a whole sort of maybe international, but a national event, at least where it was pro bono week, just like a week ago. And so tell us about pro bono week and tell us about some of the ways at your firm. Pro bono week was, you know, again, adjunct to increasing access to justice.
Sure. You know, the ABA has designated, you know, it's typically the last week in October is national celebration of pro bono. And it's really an opportunity to sort of spotlight and celebrate the contributions of legal aid organizations and their pro bono partners. Pro bono is one component of sort of the access to justice puzzle, but it's it's a pretty significant one. And the more lawyers we have engaged in pro bono work, the closer we get to meeting the overwhelming need that exist for legal services.
So I appreciate the ABA and making this effort to sort of acknowledge the role that pro bono plays in facilitating access to justice. So in the U.S., it's the last week in October. The UK has the first week in November, and Ireland has won in a couple of weeks as well.
So this has really become, as you said, share an international celebration of the importance of pro bono work. And at Bradley, you know what we did this year and every year we sort of do something different to sort of commemorate the week and find ways to promote pro bono at our firm. This year, we had daily information sessions that focused on five of the areas in which we regularly do pro bono. So we do pro bono and more than five areas, but we do it a lot and immigration and death penalty cases and supporting small business owners and domestic violence work, and also in obtaining or receiving referrals from federal court. Appointments when they are pro SE litigants who could use the help of a pro bono attorney.
So those are big areas for us and because we brought in new attorneys and because we're always interested to get more of our attorneys engaged in those areas, we decided to offer those learning sessions to really expose our attorneys to what those cases look like and what it means to represent clients who are involved with those types of issues. So we were fortunate to have some of our legal aid partners from across our firm's footprint, offer these pro-bono learning days for our attorneys.
And then we also invited attorneys who are handling those types of cases to talk about their experiences so that there would be that sort of relatability factor. And you could say, OK, if she did it, I can do it too. But with that daily and then in addition to that, we had practical ways for people to plug in. So we had legal clinics basically in every office. All of them were virtual for the most part, except for two that were in-person, actually.
So that was a way to say, OK, you're doing some learning, which is great, but we also want you doing some pro-bono. So throughout the week, we offered opportunities and each of our ten offices for lawyers to actually engage in pro-bono work in partnership with the legal aid organization.
What a great week, honestly, that that's so incredible. And you know, you mentioned the ABA and how grateful you were that they honored such a week. But there is also an Ivy and International Bar Association, which again, in this discussion, you know, the realization that access to justice is an international issue. It is. It is everywhere. And so the IBA is sponsoring an event coming up, and I was hoping you could share with our audience about it because they too have access to it.
Absolutely. You're so right. It is an international issue. You know, the other hat that I wear is as co-president of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel, and APBCO really provides support to the law firm pro bono community not just in the U.S., but across the country. And we have global members from many different countries. And I can assure you they are facing the same challenges as we are in the United States. So it is truly an international issue that we're all working to, to find solutions for and to make better.
But on December 15th, the International Bar Association is is hosting a panel that is titled Creativity and the Pro Bono Sector a response to international crises. And it's going to feature panelists from the United States, from the U.K., from South Africa and from Australia. And I'm honored to be among this group sort of talking about some of the challenges we've seen in the United States in particular.
And so in this panel, in this discussion, in this event, you all will be collaborating and sharing solutions, correct?
That's correct. That's correct. It is, you know, the focus of this panel is really 13 strategies innovation, inter and intra law firm collaboration and pro bono association. And the idea is for each of us to talk about how we've used one or more of those strategies to sort of deal with access to justice issues. So it's our opportunity to provide perspective from our country on what we have found to be solutions, to access to justice, to facilitating access to justice.
So in that innovation topic? Any aspects of it dealing with technology specifically or worse?
And my remarks, I think, will focus less on the innovation aspects and more on sort of the law firm collaboration and pro bono piece. However, we've had a planning call, so we've got some of my colleagues who are going to talk specifically about how they have utilized technology, how they utilize platforms to connect individuals with need to attorneys who can help them.
So definitely so meant so much room for innovation in this space in the pro bono world, and we utilize it as much as we can to really connect people without resources to organizations and individual attorneys and law firms who can help them with their situations.
So in the Changing Lawyers Summit that we had a year ago, this was one of the panelists comments was that we all should keep watch on the area of access to justice. The. Areas of pro bono counsel assistance in this, because the technologies will will emerge from there, if you will, perhaps quicker than it may emerge from other aspects, but that these tools that will be leveraged for it. They're just going to be able to incubate faster and they're going to be able to show results faster. And of course, the need is so great that it will bring diverse talent to it.
So I'm just curious your experience with that. Your thoughts on that?
Well, it's I agree with that wholeheartedly. You know, I think what is made technology and the access to justice space successful is because it's often driven by the people who need it the most. What I think we are very intentional about in this work is not forgetting the people that we serve. It's really easy to sort of sit in conference rooms and our law firms and think among ourselves about what people need from us as pro bono.
But if you're not communicating with the people who are going to actually be served through these technological means, then you're really not. Not thinking about it in the right way and not really making sure the people who actually are going to access it or who are going to accept are going to use it. And that that is going to be productive and effective for them. So you have to be you have to be very intentional about how you're engaging community and developing these projects. And I think that's what we do really well in access to justice and pro bono.
We really try to keep community at the forefront of what we're doing because if they can't get to it, it's not going to matter. You can spend all this time and developing these great forms and these great platforms. But if people can't access it, it's not going to be good or if they can, and it doesn't still solve the issues that they're seeing in their daily lives. It's not going to be successful. So I do think there's some real value in learning from some of the things that have come out of access to justice leaders who have worked very closely with legal technologists and others to develop things that really are successful in helping people and reaching those who need it.
And I'm very curious, just sort of the oh, I don't know the quite the right word, but just that the makeup of this in terms of leveling the playing field somehow or of of really making collaborations like, like you say, so completely concentrated on the people. And like even the pandemic, right, we've all been able to talk like this in and meet so many other people and hear so many other accents as you were sharing with me. It just it hasn't been the great facilitator. Much to Bridget's point.
Yeah, I think it has. And I think, you know, you can and we all have seen this period in time and been incredibly frustrated at points. And we're human and that's going to happen. But I do think the whole making lemonade out of lemons out of lemonade idea has been crucial for really advancing some things in this process. You know, collaboration, like you said, more of us are hopping on these video meetings and coming up with ideas and approaches and strategies that are changing lives. And we could always do this, you know, it was always sort of available to us, but we are utilizing these opportunities to come together with people from across the globe to really affect change in ways that I don't think we've ever done before.
So I do think there's been some real value in seeing this disruption as Justice McCormick said, as a real opportunity to come together and think strategically about how we can make the delivery of legal services better for everyone.
And I think that that's the next question I had for the lawyers helping in this, for the legal counsel helping in this what sort of impact have they seen? Is it that they can do more? Is it they can reach more? What are the impacts for them?
I think that's absolutely what they're saying. You know, we have been able to do a lot virtually, and it has not inhibited our ability to be engaged in service, to work very closely with legal services organizations who quickly reach capacity and need that pro-bono support to really supplement what they're doing. So it really has allowed people to plug in to opportunities in ways that they just haven't really contemplated before. So I do think it has increased the impact of not just law firm pro bono, but pro bono in general. More people are plugging in because we all sort of recognize that there's this need that is not going away and it's only been increased because of the pandemic. [Text Wrapping Break]
So if if anyone from our audience, you know, regardless of whether they're a lawyer or a technologist, just someone who is very drawn to serving, if they wanted to get involved, if they wanted to find ways to connect and and help, where might you send them? I first would say, follow you and follow Bridgette on Twitter. That was my first. My first. But what else?
You know, it's such a good question. There are sort of statewide legal aid programs everywhere in the United States, and those organizations are always anxious to connect with lawyers and others to be able to serve the people who call their offices, who come to their offices, who are applying for services online all the time. You know, those organizations don't have the funding capacity to do the things technologically that they would love to be able to do. So having a legal technologist contact them to say, Hey, I've got this skill, you've got this need. Let's work together. They would love that. Absolutely love that. Because I can assure you, every executive director of one of these programs has some idea, some way that they want to infuse technology into their work and they don't know where to start.
And that's where the minds of these technologists can be so huge. It has helped me in prior positions to connect with legal technologists to say, Listen, we know you've got a mission. We know you have a passion for this work. How can we help you make some of these things happen? That's what I would say. You know, Legal Services Corporation sort of lists all of their legal aid programs on their website, connect with one of those organizations in your state and see how you can help them.
My goodness. Tiffany, you have amplified so much of this topic for us today. Thank you so much for sharing your time and for sharing your knowledge. And oh my goodness, I am tuning in to the International Bar Association event. That sounds like, just again, a kind of sonar event for all of us to see how we can help facilitate this international world wide issue.
Absolutely. I appreciate the opportunity to share. I think my passion for this work is obvious.
And, you know, I always enjoyed learning from others and finding ways to work together to advance justice.
Thank you so much and thank you for the work you do.
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