With the New Year comes New Year’s resolutions, and we all know what typically goes on that list…

Losing weight, saving money, exercising, work-life balance… all good goals to be sure.

But what if this year, we went a little bigger? What if we collectively moved beyond those typical resolutions and worked together to make 2018 a year of profound and positive change? Not just in what we eat or where we work, but in our neighborhoods, our towns, our country…

What if this was the year we opened the door to justice and equality?

That challenge is at the heart of our mission here at FJTC so, we’ve created a different kind of list. One that not only reflects how we want to grow as an organization, but also supports the change we want to see in the world. We hope you’ll join us in the revolution.

Connect With Our Community

It’s one thing to say we’re working to close the justice gap; it’s quite another to do it. So, what better way to achieve that goal than by connecting with those we seek to help? For us, that means pursuing new ways to share and solicit ideas, whether it’s through the content we create, the technology we build or the partnerships we foster.

Looking at Florida Law Help for example, custody, eviction and divorce were the most sought-after resources for 2017 (see the top 10 here). Knowing this gives us important insight into where our immediate efforts are needed most; reaching out to users and partners in our communities can help us zero in on the best way to address those needs.

This means you can expect to see more of us in the coming year, as we share what we’re doing, learning and discovering. It also means we’ll be reaching out to you as well, asking for input and seeking assistance as we go, soliciting your help to continue raising the bar. Stronger together, united we stand.

Expand Our Horizons

Andrew Perlman, Dean and Professor of Law at Suffolk University Law School, once wrote that the reason law schools struggled to adapt legal education to the “modern legal marketplace” was due to their training. “Lawyers are taught to be backward-looking,” he wrote, “to focus on precedents and the way things were done in the past.” The same could easily be said for how they’ve delivered their services as well.

Where other industries were clamoring to find new ways to use the Internet to their advantage, the legal industry held steadfast to what it knew and loved; the old way of doing business worked just fine and something as specialized as the practice of law couldn’t be adapted to the World Wide Web.

Thankfully, that mindset is finally starting to change.

Today, we see a wide range of examples where law and technology are working together – more importantly, where legal aid and technology are working together – and they’re producing some amazing resources in the process. Most recently, The Florida Commission on Access to Justice launched Florida Courts HELP, a downloadable app that helps self-represented Floridians seeking divorce navigate the Family Law system. Additionally, LawDroid has been awarded a Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation to build a voice-activated bot that can help users access information and complete legal forms.

And in our own backyard:

  • – We’ve just finished testing the pilot for the Florida Legal Access Gateway (FLAG) program, an online intake and triage system that assesses specific needs and provides individuals with appropriate legal services – be it online resources, do-it-yourself forms or referral to a legal aid attorney;
  • – We recently launched UpdateNameGender.org – a website designed to help users update their legal name and gender marker on official government identification; and
  • – We’re partnering with Special Needs Advocate, Michelle Kenney to build a new online, statewide guardian advocacy tool.

And as we continue to nurture the relationship between legal aid and innovative technology, we’re also keenly aware that this partnership couldn’t come fast enough. According to the Justice Index, there is less than one legal aid attorney for every 10,000 low-income Americans who need one. LSC’s 2017 Justice Gap Report reveals that 86% of legal problems experienced by these Americans will receive little to no legal help at all.

Clearly, there’s still much work to be done. And it becomes all the more important that we expand our horizons when seeking solutions.

So, what might the future hold?

Certainly more online resources. More mobile apps and DIY tools, too. But why stop there?

What about education, training and assistance that doesn’t just “treat” the gap, but works to eliminate it completely. Washington recently launched a new Limited License Legal Technician program, training non-lawyer individuals to advise and assist others with certain civil legal matters. Imagine what this kind of program could do to that 1 in 6,415 ratio!

Also think AI triage applications, online voting systems using blockchain technology and smart contracts that guarantee workers are paid what they’re owed or ensure landlords perform necessary maintenance before rent is paid.

The possibilities are truly endless.

Improve Your Experience

Creating new resources is a big step in the right direction, but that step is only as good as the ease with which you can use them. So, in 2018, we’ll continue working to improve user experience.

That means better design and user interfaces. Plain language content and clearer pathways to solutions. It means finding new ways to deliver information and giving users the alternatives they need to make that delivery convenient, be it through downloadable forms, guided tutorials or mobile apps.

It also means testing and monitoring, so that we know what works; streamlining processes to cut through red tape; soliciting feedback and using that feedback to set new performance standards, always mindful of that “better planet” we’re working toward.

Measure Our Impact

Having set these ambitious goals, it seems only fitting that this last resolution would focus on accountability. After all, our success isn’t quantified in profits and sales – it’s in the people we help and the difference we make. And while we think that’s a metric worth noting, it’s not one that’s easily measured.

FJTC is a relatively young and unique organization – founded in 2014 and modeled after the only other statewide nonprofit access to justice technology entity in the country, Illinois Legal Aid Online – so, we’re definitely blazing some new trails here. Our mission is to “increase access to justice through the innovative use of technology” and that gives us a very broad canvas upon which to paint. Our goal is to make sure that what we create is always worthy of the important cause it seeks to address.

So, in 2018, we’re looking at new ways to measure our impact… measurements that go beyond the number of tools we’ve built or websites we’ve managed. For example, do the resources we create add value to the lives of those that use them? Does the information we provide help users resolve their legal concerns?

Those are big questions – no doubt about it – and we’re still working on how best to answer them, but we can share this small hint… we’re looking to the galaxy for guidance .

Have an amazing 2018!