#Hackcess To Justice: Was Anyone Saved?

Having come down fairly hard on the ridiculous hyperbole of the ABA Journal contest, Hackcess to Justice, it seemed only right to follow-up.  After all, maybe I would be proven wrong, as Bob Ambrogi offered, and they would come up with something so wonderful, so miraculous, so shiny, that it would change everything.

Maybe they would figure out a technological solution that would provide the full panoply of legal representation needed by the large swathe of Americans whose world was bound in legal red tape imposed by a government that commands there be regulation of nearly every aspect of life. but who couldn’t afford a lawyer.  Is that too much to ask?

Well, yes. It was a delusion then, and it’s a delusion now. The problem isn’t that technology can’t offer tools that will help in small niches, provided they’re very well done and very thoughtfully crafted so that they are not merely accurate, but adequate to distinguish between the affirmative help they offer, but recognize the line beyond which they cause harm.

That said, the “hackcess” produced a grand total of six submissions, available here.  The “winner” of the contest is called “Paperhealth,” subtitled, “A quick way to create HealthCare Proxy and Living Wills.”

Big whoop?  Well, yeah.  There are tons of websites that offer free healthcare proxies and living wills now, most of which can be filled out and downloaded as free forms for the masses.

This is built for the majority of people that have no advanced planning for medical emergencies. I believe we can help bring down health care costs with simple preparation.

PaperHealth allows anyone to quickly create and share a legally binding Health Care Proxy and non binding ‘Living Will’.

I believe the app could be used by both hospitals and by average users. A hospital could use an iPad to collect the information and allow the user to share his intentions with his agent or his family. Conversely an average user could be prepared by having these documents on their phone in case of an emergency.

Is there anything wrong with this app? Well, in fact there is.  There is a deep discussion to be had about the choices to be made in the future, which involves unintended consequences and nuances that many people fail to see on their own.  Once they execute a health care proxy, they live with the consequences.  There’s no “never mind” when they learn later, as the plug gets pulled, that they failed to consider various eventualities. Bye, grandma.

But to the extent these are people who would otherwise have no access at all to advance health care planning, it’s likely better to have something than nothing. No, it is not a substitute for sound advice. Yes, it’s a substitute for no advice and no planning.  And that sums up the world where there is a lack of access to justice.

My reaction was that these apps don’t cure cancer, but that “small steps help too.”  I was trying to be encouraging as to the creation of tiny tools that have some positive attributes. I can dwell on what’s wrong with each, and why their creators and proponents ignore (or fail to see) the negatives because they’re so full of the spirit of technology, but as long as tech doesn’t get in the way of more important needs, I try to let it slide.

Which raises the point of more important needs: The ABA Journal created this unduly cutesy notion of this “hackcess to justice” contest as if this would “solve” the problem. The hyperbole, from the silly name to the idea that it would solve a problem of such monumental depth and complexity, was absurd, but that didn’t stop them.

This is part of what scares the crap out of me, that foolish people will take the hype seriously and believe that a very real, hugely disturbing problem is going to be cured by an app.  Should dopes believe such nonsense, then focus is directed away from real solutions (which will be expensive and difficult) and put all their energies into tiny tools that tweak around the edges of the problem.  Real people are suffering, and the ABA is pushing for an iPad app.

But the nature of the submissions is so clearly, so undeniably, trivial as to be incapable of confusing anyone other than the blindest tech lover that it offers any substantive solution.  They offer some potential for harm, but it’s minor.  They offer some potential to help, and it’s minor too.

So these are techs offerings.  Now, maybe the ABA Journal and the legal profession can forget about this nonsense and put their minds to the task of helping all those real people who still have no meaningful access to competent legal representation.  These apps won’t do it. Reddit surely won’t do it.  We still need to achieve a real solution that will help the people who need us, even if it doesn’t involve Bob Ambrogi judging whose app is the shiniest.

5 comments on “#Hackcess To Justice: Was Anyone Saved?

  1. Adam

    The wording of your original post is but a dull memory, so forgive any misunderstanding. I don’t think they were trying to be unduly cutesy with the title. The “hackathon” is a well established format. The basic idea is you get programmers and idea guys in the same room by offering a small cash reward and free pizza, in addition to a low commitment setting. The plan is not that this always produces great products, just that it allows for rapid spitballing of ideas and the time limit forces the prototype out into the public eye at Ann early stage. The format isnt always for a social good; the music hackathon is one I’ve always found fascinating; the blog at echonest catalogs some interesting hacks made with their API.

    In the end, did it achieve much? No, not really. But I’d argue its not as big a waste of ~$5000 to ~$8000 as I think you’re implying.

    (I have no affiliation with hackcess, hackathons, the legal technology industry, echonest, or anyone else with a horse in the race.)

    1. SHG Post author

      Believe it or not, even an old man like me is aware of hackathons. The difference here is that the cute combo of “Hackathon” and “Access to Justice.” Now this isn’t like your ordinary geek get together to see if they can come up with something cool. This is by the ABA Journal. This involves extremely serious issues implicating people’s lives. This was promoted as “the solution.” That’s what takes this out of the “let’s have fun” hackathon category and into the don’t screw with people’s lives category.

      Like the Hack-A-Cure-For-Ebola-thon. Not a good name for a goofy party.

  2. adam kadmon

    Guy #1: Man, my woman done left me
    Guy #2: Damn
    Guy #1: I got laid off
    Guy #2: Shit
    Guy #1: They say a computer can do my job better then I can damn do it
    Guy #2: Motherf##kers
    Guy #1: Man, pour me another drink
    Guy #2: I feel ya

  3. Fubar

    From the Frequently Unasked Questions, “How can Grandpa use this app on his way to the morgue?”:

    While they’re sliding him into the box, he
    Can summon his last ounce of moxie.
    This app’s the bee’s knees,
    He just taps a few keys —
    Instant will, trust and full healthcare proxy!

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