Despite America’s 1,335,963 active lawyers, the majority of moderate-income individuals and most individuals living in poverty do not receive legal representation. One source reports that nearly one million individuals seeking civil legal aid are turned away because of inadequate resources. In New York City, 99% of tenants are unrepresented in eviction proceedings.

For years now, legal aid and pro bono programs have attempted to remedy the unmet need for legal aid. Though invaluable, these efforts are not enough. This is because some services are limited to providing legal aid to individuals within a narrow income threshold.

Established by Congress in 1974, the Legal Services Corporation is the largest  funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans. However, moderate-income individuals do not qualify for subsidized legal aid with the Legal Services Corporation and other like programs. Accordingly, millions of individuals are left with one of three choices: (1) abandoning their legal issue; (2) representing themselves; or (3) paying for inadequate representation.

Legal innovators have been using AI and other “disruptive technologies” to fill the void of unmet legal needs. For example, some legal tech programmers have partnered with legal aid groups to help tenants identify substandard housing conditions and prepare responsive legal documents. In turn, tenants use these documents to advocate for themselves and, if necessary, represent themselves in court.

Thus, the full-service “robot lawyer” that threatens job security is a myth for lawyers and law students who misunderstand the role of AI in legal practice. As it stands, computer programs do not have egos or the capacity to experience emotions—like pride—when prevailing against humans. What they are capable of: reducing the amount of time and money spent on litigation. This can help attorneys allocate resources more efficiently—thus working better, faster, and cheaper.

Legal tech is making the legal system available to those who need it most. It’s time for more attorneys to put the AI in legal aid.

Reem Blaik

 

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