6/4/2015 12:43:44 PM
AALL President Holly M. Riccio Reflects on the ABA National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services
Earlier this year, ABA President William Hubbard established the Commission on the Future of Legal Services to improve the delivery of—and access to—legal services. The Commission published an Issues Paper, requesting that key stakeholders submit written comments, which AALL did. The Commission also held hearings at the ABA Midyear Meeting in Houston, in February, and I was able to attend on behalf of AALL and testify—along with other bar leaders, judges, law firm practice managers, and legal service providers—focusing my remarks on libraries’ integral role in expanding access to justice for all individuals and communities.
The culminating event for this Commission was the invitation-only National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, which took place last month at Stanford Law School, assembling 200 participants, all proven leaders and innovators in the legal profession.
AALL was invited to participate in this event, convened to “challenge thought leaders both from within and beyond the legal profession to...spark fresh thinking about the delivery of legal services and to find new, actionable ideas that are not constrained by traditional models and are rooted in the essential values of protecting the public, enhancing diversity and inclusion, and pursuing justice for all.” The two-day event—packed with inspiring keynote speakers, panelists, and TED-style mini-lectures, and combined with ample time for breakout sessions organized around the key areas identified in the Issues Paper—was not only a great opportunity for AALL to start developing richer relationships and collaborations with the ABA in the access to justice arena, but also reflective of the commitment by the ABA leadership to bring about real change in the way we define and deliver legal services.
I can’t possibly condense everything that I heard or learned into this blog post, but I will share some of what I considered to be the highlights.
Sunday morning kicked off with a panel of innovators from outside the legal world, including Judit Rius Sanjuan from Doctors Without Borders, Ron Dolin from Stanford Law’s Center on the Legal Profession, and innovation and design strategist Denis Weil. Sanjuan told us that “9 out of 10 lawyers are trying to maintain the status quo” and that the most creative thinking has to come from those working in other professions. Dolin focused on metrics, telling the audience that the legal profession is not really running on quality metrics. “General counsels want to see return on investment,” he said. “Law firm reputation is just a stand-in for ROI metrics, but it is not a good one.” Sanjuan echoed this sentiment by stating that “corporations don’t want to stop legal spending, they just want to quantify what they’re getting.” Weil, formerly Corporate Vice President, Concept and Design, at McDonald’s, argued for focusing on leading indicators (customer satisfaction), not lagging indicators (ROI metrics), and urged lawyers to stop “backcasting” and start forecasting. “Teaching innovation is not enough,” said Weil. “Lawyers have to find comfort with ambiguity…and be serious about giving clients choice and control.” The panel got a round of applause when Dolin said he didn’t know why we are still producing court opinions and contracts without XML markup. The panel, while inspiring, was also realistic about the challenging road ahead, with Dolin stating that “we have an ecosystem of barriers” to overcome.
The next panel addressed some of the challenges to innovation. Moderated by Deborah Rhode, Summit Co-Chair and Director of the Program in Law and Social Entrepreneurship at Stanford, it included two professors, USC’s Gillian Hadfield and Marshall Van Alstyne of Boston University/MIT, and the founder and CEO of Avvo, Mark Britton. Van Alstyne emphasized the need to create an innovation ecosystem and encouraged openness to allow outsiders to come in and innovate, solving the legal profession’s problem of having “a homogeneous pool of potential innovators.” He also talked about platforms, arguing that platforms beat services almost every time and that “platforms drive innovation through openness, modularity, and enabling of third parties.” Britton organized his remarks around three things the legal profession needs for future success: the right mindset, the right support, and the right rewards. He encouraged the audience to be opportunity-focused, think big, accept and reward failure, share knowledge, cultivate innovation, and create rewards that are personal, qualitative, and quantitative. His goal is “to make a legal check-up as regular as a medical check-up.”
What followed these two panels was a series of short, rapid-fire presentations focusing on the client and illuminating disparate experiences with the legal system from a variety of client perspectives. A few of the highlights for me included:
- Rebecca Sandefur, associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, shared many illuminating and enlightening statistics, including that when the general public is asked to explain why certain problems happen in their lives, only 9 percent think of these problems as legal. She suggested that bridging this gap could be solved, or at least improved, by advertising: connecting problems to law and people to legal services. “We need to be timely, targeted, and trustworthy,” she said, “and meet them where they are.” Sandefur suggested a few solutions where law libraries could play a role: colocated services that can extend our reach and “human handholding” with the use of Internet and technology legal resources.
- The executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid, Alex Gulotta, made sure no one in the audience was dozing off, as he wore the passion and commitment he has to access to justice issues on his sleeve. “We need a single point of entry to the legal justice system,” Gulotta stated, “but there are hurdles to overcome, the first of which is fear.” Echoing what others speakers had shared, Gulotta said that we need to find ways to incentivize the creation of such a system, then left us with one final thought: mere access to the justice system does not equal justice.
- What Pima County (Ariz.) Superior Court Judge Charles Harrington is doing to bring the courts to the people is a great model, one that I see as being ripe for law librarian input and collaboration. Because the Grand Canyon cleaves Mojave County, Judge Harrington explained that residents on the north side have to drive great distances to get to the county courthouse on the south. To address this, the Superior Court set up the North Canyon Kiosk, an automated booth at the Mojave County DMV that allows users to file papers, speak with court clerks, and pay fines…all remotely. (I could easily see county law librarians providing input on ways to incorporate links to their resources for self-represented litigants from these remote kiosks.) Another project originating from Judge Harrington’s court is a collaboration between University of Arizona English majors and law students called Simpla Phi Lex. The two groups worked together to create an easy-to-use workflow around common court forms and also provide easy-to-understand explanations and form language.
This took us to the first of two sessions with our assigned breakout groups. I was in one of the two groups focused on access solutions for the underserved, and in our first session we were tasked with identifying the challenges that stand in the way of providing better access to justice, and then prioritizing our ideas to come up with the top five challenges. When we came back together later in the day, we took those top five challenges and brainstormed together to offer some possible solutions. Based on what came out of our group alone, there are definitely some areas for AALL to partner and collaborate with the ABA as these solutions take more shape and become a reality.
In between our two breakout sessions, we enjoyed lunch and another keynote presentation, this time from author and legal consultant (and the AALL Annual Meeting keynote speaker in 2012) Richard Susskind, who focused on how technology can make the legal process quicker, cheaper, and better. Susskind spent quite some time describing the recently launched Online Dispute Resolution project he developed for the ODR Advisory Group of the Civil Justice Council. Echoing what others had already shared, Susskind described the ways in which our legal system is outdated and urged us to embrace technology from a customer’s perspective. His PowerPoint slide that got the most laughs? The one that said, “It is not the purpose of the law to provide a living for lawyers.”
Following lunch, there was another series of TED-style talks, this time focused on real-world examples of programs that are bridging the justice gap. As with the mini-presentations in the morning, the presenters shared a plethora of innovative programs and inspirational stories. The common denominator among all the programs is that these individuals saw a problem, challenge, or deficit and came up with a creative, proactive, and often no- or low-cost solution.
- In Oregon, Judge Aiken created a re-entry program that employs wearable technology that can track whether individuals show up for appointments and other court-required activities. The program has resulted in a 16 percent decrease in recidivism, and Aiken estimates that the 160 re-entry court graduates have saved Oregon over $1.6 million. “We don’t take services away when they fail,” Aiken said. “We increase them.” Her motto for the program: truth, transparency, trust, and trying.
- Judge White started her talk by sharing some startling statistics: 1 in 75 Louisianans is incarcerated, twice the national average. “Louisiana can’t arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem,” she said. White launched a re-entry program that matches felons sentenced to terms of 10 years or less with prisoners serving life terms, the latter acting as teachers of professional trades as well as social, spiritual, and personal mentors. Judge White monitors the former inmates for five years after their release from prison and requires monthly visits to her office to check on their progress. She screened a video of the program for the audience and, when the video ended, concluded her talk with a “mic drop” moment, leaving us with the following as she prepared to exit the stage: “This program receives no funding and costs the taxpayers nothing.” (Some of you may remember Judge White’s name, as she was a speaker when the AALL Annual Meeting was held in New Orleans in 2007.)
The day concluded with a reception at the Stanford Faculty Club, where attendees were encouraged to learn more about the novel approaches to access to justice being taken by the exhibitors in the Innovators Showcase. At dinner we were treated to an emotional and inspiring speech from NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill, fresh off her appearance on Face the Nation as part of the panel “Searching for Solutions in Baltimore.” Ifill called on lawyers to help preserve democracy and fix a broken legal system, stating that “whether we deserve it or not, people look to lawyers to be leaders.”
Monday took us into the home stretch, starting with a hot breakfast and more speakers from both inside and outside the legal profession sharing their advice and insight, kicking off with ABA President Hubbard in conversation with Richard Barton, founder of Expedia, Zillow, and most recently, Glassdoor. Barton told the audience that he sees “an information asymmetry” between the consumer and the services being provided. He urged lawyers to give “power to the people to bridge the information gap,” inciting a sense of urgency by adding that “transparency is an efficiency generator.”
What followed was a stellar panel, moderated by Monica Bay, now a fellow at CodeX at Stanford, focusing on innovations from within the legal sphere. One of the most intriguing presentations came from Margaret Hagan, a fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession and lecturer at the Stanford Institute of Design, who is leveraging both her law and design school education to devise better ways to provide access to legal services in a mobile environment. She is taking the design process, which is focused on how to generate new solutions, and applying it to law. If we could get Hagan together in a room with legal hackers and law librarians, I can only imagine the kinds of platforms, apps, and portals we could develop.
The morning concluded with a presentation by Renee Knake, professor of legal ethics at Michigan State University College of Law and the official reporter for the ABA Commission, who took all the notes and flip chart pages generated by the 10 breakout groups the day before and condensed them into a series of slides, essentially creating a wish list for the future. The list included a wide variety of suggestions, ranging from permanently altering the law school model, establishing the right to counsel in civil cases (“Civil Gideon”), allowing non-lawyer ownership of law firms, co-location as a means to provide legal services and resources, and the establishment of ABA Technology Innovation Grants, just to name a few.
What followed were comments from a reaction panel moderated by legal consultant and analyst Jordan Furlong. Stanford’s Deborah Rhode stated that “we must open up the regulatory process and change the rules that prevent effective collaboration across disciplines.” Lisa Foster, director of the DOJ’s Access to Justice Initiative, called for each state to develop its own legal help portal, where users could post a legal problem or question and get directed to potential answers. “It’s feasible,” said Foster, “we just haven’t done it.”
The final remarks of the Summit came from Stanford University President John Hennessy and ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services Chair Judy Perry Martinez. President Hennessy reminded the audience that we can’t solve our current problems with the same thinking used to create them. Martinez, who had earlier stated that “access to affordable legal services…has been [something] that our profession has struggled with…[and] we have not been able to make justice for all a reality,” summed up the takeaways from the event in this hopeful remark: “We have to make a difference, and the time to make it is now.” Or, put in a slightly different way by ABA President Hubbard earlier that morning, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you become part of the menu.”
Now, the hard work really begins, with the Commission taking all the inspiration and information from the Summit and creating and prioritizing action items to implement change in the legal profession. Judging from what I experienced in my breakout session and the reports from the other breakout groups, there are definitely possibilities for AALL to partner with the ABA on some of these newly identified opportunities to provide better access to justice.
For additional coverage of the ABA National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services, you can also take a look at the following articles, blog posts, and Twitter roundups:
Posted By 6/4/2015 12:43:44 PM
6/3/2015 1:43:37 PM
Book Review: Collection, Demand, and Commercial Letters for the General Practitioner
Cook, David J. Collection, Demand, and Commercial Letters for the General Practitioner. ABA Publishing, 2015, 329 p., paperback. $109.95. ISBN 978-1-63425-070-2
Collection, Demand, and Commercial Letters for the General Practitioner
is a new title by San Francisco attorney, David J. Cook.
Published by the American Bar Association, this guide provides practical information written in an engaging, off-beat style. David J. Cook, also the author of The Debt Collector’s Handbook, begins this new book by describing the purpose of demand letters, the various means of delivery to the recipient(s), and the expected outcomes when sending these documents. The chapters in the second half of the book provide examples, with commentary, of letters relating to specific business situations.
The author acknowledges that his text is not all inclusive. It needs to be read in conjunction with the Uniform Commercial Code. (Mr. Cook uses the text of California’s UCC in his illustrations and reminds readers to check local law.) In one section, he illustrates a number of sections within the UCC that require that the claimant make either a demand or a request or a notification; all of which can be accomplished by a demand letter. Relief under other sections requires that the claim be made as a written demand, be specific in the relief sought, and ensure delivery to the correct person. Well-drafted demand letters can meet all these requirements.
In addition to using the demand letter to request repayment, the author provides commentary on using the demand letter as a fact-finder. The response received during the demand letter process can provide a chance to hear the other side of the story. Has there been an undisclosed bankruptcy filed? Has the letter been delivered to the party, or was the letter returned “addressee unknown” by the US Postal Service? Did the client provide the full and accurate story, or was a copy of a check marked paid-in-full returned? Information newly acquired as part of the response to the letter can help the attorney decide whether to proceed with the matter.
In addition to sending a message to an opposing party, the demand letter can begin the chain of notification to third parties. Insurance companies can require notification by the insured by the language of policies when a demand letter is received. Auditors will see the letter in business files. Regulatory agencies may also require reporting.
Mr. Cook stresses the importance of any demand letter being well-written -- professional in tone and demeanor. Not only does a carefully composed letter send a message of competency to an addressee and the client, it may become a public document if it becomes part of the court record in the future. The demand letter, and its receipt by the respondent, is an element of the cause of action. The language will be read by the judge or reviewed by a jury. The attorney should forgo the use any threatening or insulting language as it may reflect poorly on the attorney and the client.
The final chapters of Collection, Demand, and Commercial Letters for the General Practitioner are the sections which may be of most value to reference librarians. Here, the author provides examples of and commentary on letters written for specific types of business transactions.
- Demand for money paid by mistake or fraud
- Claim of infringement of title
- Contract for exclusive supplier
- Demand for accounting in a trust or estate
- Demand for unpaid legal fees and costs.
The information in this title is practical not pontifical. The light-hearted writing style makes the author’s advice easy to follow. This title would make a good addition to any legal transaction collection.
Nancy McEnroe /Reference Librarian /Alameda County Law Libraryfirstname.lastname@example.org
Posted By 6/3/2015 1:43:37 PM