Our Work


Looking to the Future

By Lisa Colpoys on February 10, 2015
Hi, Lisa Colpoys here. As Illinois Legal Aid Online's Executive Director I oversee the work of all aspects of the organization, including vision-setting, strategic planning, communications, fundraising, board engagement, and program services. I've got a really excellent job that is (almost) always exciting.
In ILAO's technology transformation project I serve as a stakeholder. I am not involved in the day to day work, but instead I get to provide feedback to the development team. I attend demos at the end of sprints, provide direction and oversight for our business process improvement project, strategize about information architecture, and work to secure staffing and funding for this mission critical project. In short, my work on the "rebuild" project is somewhat hands off, with occasional opportunities to dive in deeper. I am learning to embrace this role, but as someone who likes to roll up my sleeves and get dirty, sometimes it is difficult to step back and not get more involved. Luckily we have an amazing team of highly capable people, so I know our new products are in good hands.
One of the great privileges of my job is that from time to time I get to attend convenings of really smart and creative people from across the country who are trying to solve the same problems as ILAO - providing meaningful legal help to everyone who needs it, regardless of their ability to pay for a lawyer. Usually, I come back from these trips with my head abuzz with new ideas that start my colleagues wondering what the heck I've committed them to now. Hopefully they won't be scared when they read this!
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending my first American Bar Association Midyear Meeting. I am serving as a new member of the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services and as liaison from that committee to the Commission on the Future of Legal Services. The Delivery committee is tasked with a mission of improving access to lawyers and legal services for those of moderate incomes. The Futures Commission was formed in 2014 by ABA President William Hubbard to inspire innovation, leverage technology, encourage new models for regulating legal services and educating tomorrow’s legal professionals, and foster the development of models for delivering legal services that meet the public’s needs. Over the weekend the Futures Commission held meetings and heard testimony from a broad swath of people in the legal community, which got me thinking about how ILAO can help solve the problems that the commission is focused on.
One of the challenges I face whenever I return from such gatherings is distilling all of the innovative, but higher level, ideas swarming around in my head into practical solutions that can be implemented at ILAO. I returned from the Midyear Meeting energized by the people and discussions I encountered. Some of the interesting conversations I engaged in included talk about:
  • technological innovations that allow more people to better access lawyers and information, like online portals to connect people with lawyers, online dispute resolution systems, triage and intake systems, and automated document preparation systems (if I had a dollar for every time I heard "Legal Zoom" and "Rocket Lawyer"....)
  • big data, small data, and just about any other kind of data you can imagine
  • strategies to get law schools to graduate practice ready lawyers and teach students about access to justice issues (i.e., questions about ATJ issues on the bar exam?)
  • recent research finding that many people don't know that they have a legal problem or that a lawyer could help them (again, if I had a dollar for everytime I heard this...) See report here.
  • Limited License Legal Technicians (the legal system equivalent to nurse practitioners)
These are just some highlights - there was no a lack of enthusiasm for innovation and new ideas at the Midyear Meeting! My practical take-aways from all of this talk are reflected in the following short list of solutions that ILAO might tackle in our technology transformation:
  1. Connecting people in need with lawyers looking for work - Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation said that we have a market dysfunction: an oversupply of people who need affordable legal services and an over supply of lawyers, especially younger lawyers. We need to connect these people. ILAO already connects website visitors who qualify for free legal services to legal aid organizations through our online triage and intake system, but we need to expand that to include more legal aid and pro bono programs and more problem types. We also need to figure out how to connect people who don't qualify for legal aid but still may not be able to afford traditional legal fees. This could be through online referrals to branded networks of lawyers, or to individual lawyers who have committed to serving those of moderate income and/or who have limited scope practices. Legal aid needs to get over its reluctance to refer people directly to private lawyers!
  2. Legal Check-up - Similar to a medical check up, which we all should get once a year as part of our preventative health care, a legal check-up helps people make sure their legal ducks are all in a row. Expert systems could be designed to tell people what legal protections they should have in place for issues relating to their family, finances, job, health, business, and future. If they need help to implement solutions, the system can refer them to a lawyer or self-help, depending on how complex the problem is. (H/T Mark Britton, CEO of Avvo, who discussed legal check-ups in testimony to Futures Comm'n.)
  3. Deeper engagement of community partners and consumers - We need to create better pathways for people who are 'first responders' for people with legal problems (i.e., clergy, librarians, social workers, legal self-help center navigators) to more easily recognize when legal problems exist and steer people to appropriate help. A good example is Call For Justice, winner of this year's Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access, which connects people who call 211 to legal resources. We also should engage end users at every step of the way in our process to transform systems. After all, lawyers don't know what people really want or need, so let's ask them.

As ILAO progresses in our tech transformation, I'm excited to bring these ideas (and more) to the table. Through this process, we want to turn good ideas into real solutions to problems people are facing every day. I'd love to hear what you think of these ideas and what other innovations you are thinking about.