Software giant Relativity held their annual user conference this week in Chicago at The Hilton Chicago.  A total of 1,934 attendees at Relativity Fest ’17 broke down into 148 attorneys, 1,003 litigation support staff, 232 IT & security people, 224 executives, 135 sales and marketing staff, 80 paralegals, 58 developers, 31 academics and 19 members of the press.

A legal track of 11 sessions was organized by David Horrigan, ‎E-Discovery Counsel and Legal Content Director at Relativity and those sessions ranged from a judicial panel to discussions of the Internet of Things and Social Media.  They were all well attended save one.

On Monday afternoon, David moderated a panel called The Future of Pro Bono and Public Service for the Legal Community. The speakers were Monica Bay, a fellow at CodeX: THe Stanford Center for Legal Informatics and James Sandman, the Director of the Legal Services Corporation.  Mr. Sandman gave the best speech on the current state of our profession that I have ever heard.

Mr. Sandman is not a LSC veteran. He has been with them since 2011 and before that practiced law with Arnold & Porter LLP for 30 years, serving as the firm’s managing partner for a decade. He was named one of the “90 Greatest Washington Lawyers of the Last 30 Years” by the Legal Times in 2008 and The University of Pennsylvania Law School has honored him with its Alumni Award of Merit and its Howard Lesnick Pro Bono Award.   He understands the law and lawyers.

He began his talk by discussing what he called “.. the invisible issue in American society”, the underrepresentation of people in civil litigation.  Consider, he said that 15% of Americans live below poverty level and are thus dependent on legal aid for their representation.  Yet 2/3 of all people appearing in a domestic case in the US have no attorney.  And in housing court cases, 90% of tenants appear with no attorney.

Why is this?  Certainly low funding and program concentration in urban areas are issues , but Mr. Sandman set out what he said were ten key barriers to adoption of more pro bono and public service opportunities. They are:

  1. Lawyers administer the system: a self-governing system is rarely innovative
  2. 50 different state authorities decentralizes any attempt to standardize
  3. Insufficient capital, both public and private
  4. Continued reliance on the billable hour
  5. Law firm partnership structure based on billing hours
  6. Malpractice insurance carrier hesitations about nontraditional activity
  7. A legal system based on precedent not forward-looking decision making
  8. A legal education based on outmoded training concepts
  9. A system based on lawyers doing case by case evaluations
  10. The fact that lawyers are predominantly risk averse

Now Mr. Sandman felt that these barriers were not insurmountable and stated that efforts by agents of change such as court administrators and client groups could have enormous influence. And academia could help, he said, by training lawyers to think like clients and not medieval lawyers.

Unfortunately, his message was not heard by most of the 2000 attendees. Unlike other sessions which had overflowing rooms, this session drew 10 attendees. Which, as I noted in a tweet from the session, said everything about the main reason we have an access to justice issue.  It’s not technology, it’s indifference.

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