Legal Innovations Meet Criminal Defense Practice

Last week, legal system experts of all kinds gathered at the Legal Services Corporation Innovations in Technology Conference in New Orleans. Let the good times roll, indeed!  The last time I traveled to the Big Easy was on a firm retreat at my first ever post-law-school job… I had beads thrown at me at 2 p.m. in the afternoon.  Yeah, I was the youngest person in the firm (staff included), and to say that was awkward is a major understatement… But, I digress.

This conference grew out of the LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant Program that was designed to promote technological legal innovations in client services delivery and pro bono assistance. Live streaming a few of the sessions, it’s amazing to see the legal innovations that technologists, court stakeholders, and public and private legal providers are developing these days.

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Technology Helps all Clients

LSC, of course, is dedicated to providing high-quality civil legal assistance to low-income persons. Many of the legal innovations showcased during the conference were designed to further this goal. But the legal innovations and technologies discussed in New Orleans last week aren’t just relevant to people who serve low-income and modest-means clients. As a solo practice criminal defense attorney, I try to stay on the front lines of using technology to serve my clients. And I’m not the kind of attorney who implements fancy new technology that makes my life a whole lot easier but that doesn’t help out the client at all. Sure, I use tools that clients never interface with, but it’s really important to me to have a modern law practice, using all the technology tools that make sense for my practice and my clients.

Simplifying & Creating Client-Friendly Forms

An obvious theme of the LSC conference was creating efficiencies and streamlining the process for people going through the court system. In this vein, I was particularly drawn to the discussion on court forms. Providers both inside and outside the court are creating user-friendly forms for people coming to court. Many of these forms are now online and some help users fill them out through guided interviews and instructions. On the back end, these tools can also assemble the documents for the users.

Forms are a sticking point for me in my criminal defense practice. I want to make these process-related tasks as easy as possible for my clients. Doing so benefits me greatly, too. My intake and scheduling form is completely online, and the client’s input feeds directly into my database.

It’s also easy in the sense that the client can understand what I’m asking! When it comes to legal documents and forms, comprehension is a huge issue – and one that is often overlooked by attorneys. Just because we are in charge of our client’s case and guiding it through the court process, that doesn’t mean that the information we do give clients, including relevant court forms and instructions, should be in another language. Legalese is a dirty word, as far as I’m concerned.

Legal Innovation for All

LSC and partners are doing fantastic work to bridge the justice gap and make it easier for people to navigate the court process. Fellow practitioners, let’s also make it easier for our own clients to access us and understand what’s going on in their case.


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