“Hackcess” to Delusion: Tech Won’t Do It

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.
Document assembly.
Mobile applications.
Business processes and analysis.
Expert systems

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.

11 thoughts on ““Hackcess” to Delusion: Tech Won’t Do It

  1. John Barleycorn

    So generious of the ABA journal to offer up 3K in prize money to attract talent.

    Interesting how different guilds value other guilds “value” and what it takes to attract them.

    I am still holding out for all the judges throughout the land to make the principled stand and donate 1% of the expended value of their pensions to PD’s, just to make a point and send a message. Jesus gets 10% and he shares.

    P.S. What is the average hourly wage of a CDL these days? 180-250ish? It’s so hard to hear or figure anything out with all the noise these days.


    1. SHG Post author

      Not sure what average hourly is, mostly because few CDLs charge hourly, but one website offers this info, though it’s unsourced:

      The average salary of a criminal lawyer is $78,500. However, the salary can range from $45,000 to $130,000. Interestingly, private criminal lawyers make the lowest earnings among lawyers.


      1. John Barleycorn

        Damn…I guess I have “overpaid” a time or two.

        I am surprised actually.

        A good chimney sweep with a boom truck could make over 80K back before them gas fireplaces took so much market share.

        WTF is ExCopLawStudent thinking? Hope he got vested before embarking on the thankless journey.

        Fubar, Blake won’t do these CDL’s need some Mr. Fantasy or something.


  2. bill

    SHG, I think they’re actually making your point. Looking at their Financial statements and the prize, they couldn’t say “Each of these subjects, Meh” any louder.

  3. Bob Ambrogi

    No one says that technology is the “solution” or the “answer” or a substitute for lawyers. You are being disingenuous to even suggest that. I am the president of the state bar foundation here in Massachusetts. I see firsthand the severity of the funding crisis. The money is just not there to support the demand for legal services. I wish it were. Funding has dropped dramatically in recent years, even as demand has continued to rise.

    The point of technology is not to replace lawyers. The point is to use technology to enhance access to lawyers. In some cases, that means streamlining the intake process so lawyers have more time to work on legal matters. In other cases, that means using technologies such as Skype to interface with clients in remote rural areas where there are no physical legal aid offices. In still other cases, it means triaging clients online so that they get to the right office providing the right services in the fastest and most efficient way.

    There are all sorts of ways that technology can ease the load on legal services lawyers so that they have more time to be lawyers. If you honestly don’t see that, then you are the one who is delusional. And if you believe some magic cure to the funding crisis is just around the corner, then you are that much more delusional. This is a real crisis in which the majority of people who need legal services are not getting legal services.

    Of course you know all this. Your solution is to let the crisis grow so severe, let the numbers of suffering and desperate people become so large, that the system will “crash down.” If technology is a palliative preventing that, then so is the trickle of legal services we are now able to provide. If you are going to mock technology in legal services, why not also mock the services themselves. After all, every lawyer who helps ease a person’s suffering is just further delaying the crash you hope to see.

    1. bill

      An organization of the size and visibility of the ABA, hosting something with a campy name like Hackcess with a 3rd prize that’s rivals a LegalZoom will in price, deserves scorn. There’s no doubt technology does and can continue to help the legal profession but a 2 day event to help solve any of those problems is so silly, it reads like an Onion article. Scott’s had several posts on the The poor are for practice theme (it’s an internal link so hopefully that’s ok) and this is a perfect illustration of it. This could just as easily be done in a serious format that might have a chance of generating something useful. Day after day this site has posts about poor people getting chewed up by the system, so yes, a impotent window dressing attempt is a ripe target.

      1. SHG Post author

        I think Bill’s addressed it. for the most part. You can’t simultaneously throw parties for tech (and this is one of many, as you know) where people who love tech are flying in from all over the country (anyone from CALI coming?) while disclaiming that it solves anything. Where’s the ABA Hackcess to Justice 2 day extravaganza with prizes for something that might really help people?

        But we also both know that many of the nice folks involved absolutely believe they have a “solution,” with fill in the blank forms or TurboTax for law? Shaving 30 seconds off client intake with a new mobile app will save no one, Bob.

  4. Pingback: #Hackcess To Justice: Was Anyone Saved? | Simple Justice

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