As the bar exam takers this week learned the hard way, technology’s promise isn’t always kept. Sure, it’s shiny and, when it works, can serve as a tool that makes life a bit easier. But when it doesn’t, such as Examsoft’s bar exam failure to allow test takers to upload their answers, it turns into a nightmare.
And yet, those who pray to the tech god as the answer to all the problems mankind can create persist in their belief that somehow, some way, it’s the solution. The ABA Journal will be holding a “hackathon” in Boston next week, this one dedicated to Access to Justice, which is the cute name given the disaster of people who can’t afford legal representation.
The theme of this hackathon is Hackcess to Justice – and there is prize money to be had. A total of $3,000 will be awarded to the top three hacks, with $1,500 to the winner, $1,000 to second place and $500 to third place. (Read more at this Challengepost page.)
As the name suggests, the challenge to the teams will be to develop ways that technology can expand access to justice for those unable to obtain or afford legal services. Applications should address one of the five areas of need outlined by the Legal Services Corporation’s 2013 Report of The Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice:
Statewide legal portals.
Business processes and analysis.
Does technology have the potential to provide tools that can help? Perhaps, just as it does in any application, whether law or otherwise. But put enough people in a room, or on a committee, who adore technology so very much and their eyes are so focused on the object of their affection that they are incapable of seeing reality.
The problem with this “hackathon,” and its very curious “hackcess to justice” offshoot, is that it’s delusional. The problem isn’t that people need mobile apps to get fill-in-the-blank forms, but that people need access to actual competent legal representation they can afford. You know, judgment and discretion, as opposed to aspiring to provide those who can’t afford legal representation with a cool interface and substance that aspire to mediocrity, provided they don’t completely screw it up because people have no clue what they’re doing.
After Bob Ambrogi “announced” this hackathon, we twitted back and forth a bit, Bob didn’t disagree that funding for Legal Services Corporation to provide free or low cost representation was needed, but that since no money was coming, technology was there to “span the gap.” I called bullshit.
Tech is a palliative, deflecting attn from a crisis that needs a real solution. Like offering aspirin to cancer victims.
People need access to lawyers. Competent lawyers, who will exercise the judgment and discretion necessary to give them the guidance and advice to allow them to have a fighting chance to survive our criminalize/regulate everything society. For those who believe that the law must insinuate itself into every aspect of our lives, then forget that the people who endure the law’s mindless pervasiveness need the services of lawyers to navigate the maze of law under which we function.
How are people supposed to pay for it? Well, that’s not their problem. Let’s just pass another law to create our Utopia and we’ll worry about the people living hand to mouth later. Or never. Whatever, since it’s all about creating a law to regulate our every waking moment. Don’t even think of touching that Big Gulp.
But what’s the big deal about holding some inane hackcess to justice hackathon? There’s an image in my head that somebody in the bowels of government is laughing his ass off, telling his pals that as long as these techf00ls keep thinking they’re going to find some magic tech bullet, and gathering their fanboys at meetings with ridiculous names, the government can keep passing laws with the absolute knowledge that the public has no chance whatsoever of fighting back.
They’re laughing at us, Bob. They’re laughing at you for believing that you’re going to fix the problem. They’re laughing because every time someone throws one of these shindigs, they don’t have to deal with the fiasco they’ve created. They’re laughing because they know that if the public ever came to the realization that your tech solution was so wholly and fundamentally inadequate to provide real representation to real people who really, really, need it, they would grab their torches and pitchforks and rush the capital.
That’s the palliative. They believe in the kindly folks who promise a solution without pain, with only a shiny iPad and a magic button, obviating the need to have living, breathing lawyers available to serve the legal needs imposed on the daily lives of living, breathing clients.
So another day, another year, will go by as people continue to suffer from their lack of access to competent legal representation, while a bunch of techophiles throw themselves a party, with prizes, in Boston. And the guy in the bowels of the government continues to laugh, as you just gave him another year when he won’t be held accountable for the burden and misery the government places on citizens by creating its never-ending stream of legal impositions without recognition that a huge number of Americans can no longer afford the legal representation necessary to live, run a business, survive their ordinary, normal lives in this country.
Got an app for that?
Sometimes it’s better to let the system crash down upon a regulatory government run amok than pretend that mobile access to some legal forms and five minutes on Skype with a paralegal is good enough.