What is Justice Tech?
Most of us have heard of FinTech – new technology developed with the goal of improving or automating the delivery and use of financial services – and probably use many of these new offerings in our daily lives and maybe EdTech or CleanTech (the “techs” defined), but JusticeTech? Yep. You read correctly, JusticeTech. Best defined as technological approaches, applications or services to created and developed to make our civil and criminal justice systems more accessible, fair and equitable.
JusticeTech is not LegalTech – the use of technology and software to provide legal services and support to the legal industry which includes lawyers, law firms and businesses with in-house legal teams – and it is not direct to consumer offerings like LegalZOOM, which is really just another way to deliver legal services from a lawyer to a “client.” JusticeTech is the creation of technological tools that allow people with legal issues to navigate the legal system without a lawyer.
Why is JusticeTech important?
Because most people cannot afford a lawyer, so when they need to deal with issues like divorce, bankruptcy, expungement, debtor creditor issues, they are left unrepresented and often powerless. Not being able to navigate legal issues like these can and does have life-altering impacts on people’s lives, leaving many less able to achieve social and economic stability. The American Bar Association published a report in 2016 that highlighted the average American citizen’s lack of access to justice and gave recommendations for what the legal profession should do about these issues. Embracing technology was called for, but that won’t solve the problem fast enough.
And it is not the just lawyers’ job to solve this problem. It is too big an issue for a single profession to shoulder. So, if the lawyers won’t or can’t figure out how the average person can have the assistance they need to navigate our civil and criminal justice system, let the tech entrepreneurs figure out a way to smooth this access gap. That is what tech does.
The American Bar Foundation undertook a survey in 2019 to determine LegalTech options for non-lawyers that exist here. There are many listed, but most seem to be ways to connect people who need a lawyer with a lawyer – again, the same problem. The lawyers either cannot or will not provide the services needed (and this is an even more complicated issue that requires reflection on the cost of entry into the legal profession).
It looks like JusticeTech is to the rescue. Now, the critical next step is to figure out how to monetize JusticeTech offerings so that investors will be willing to put up the money it will take to build up the JusticeTech sector. Another opportunity for savvy social entrepreneurs to connect the dots between impact and profit.