The trend of creating tech solutions for everyday problems has finally come to the legal world. These recent innovations signal a new model for providing legal services. One where saying, “There’s an app for that,” can truly change a person’s life.
One example is an expungement program developed by an attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Matt Stubenberg., as reported in the New York Times. Even though, “as many as one in three Americans have some type of criminal record,” many are unaware that they may qualify for expungement, the deletion of their criminal records. Some may not be able to afford a lawyer to help them expunge their records.
On MDExpungement.com, users type in a case number and the program determines if a case may qualify for expungement. The program even automates and fills out a form for filing.
Beyond making expungement available and affordable, Stubenberg also developed CLUE – Client Legal Utility Engine. Used by attorneys during client intake, this program will search for expungeable records, public utility records, and documents filed by banks to help the attorney determine whether a client is also at risk of losing their home for failure to pay water bill or foreclosure. The program is unique in that it works toward solving one of the greater problems with access to justice: a person who comes to an attorney with one legal problem is likely to have another legal problem that does not get addressed.
Technology for legal assistance is new territory, but now the Maryland Judiciary has launched the Maryland Law Help app. This app helps users find a court, access forms, locate statutes, and get connected to legal assistance in the Judiciary’s law libraries and self-help centers through their mobile devices.
Civil Justice, Inc., a Maryland non-profit legal services organization, will soon release an online referral program called JusticeReferrals. Meant for attorney’s working for Maryland pro bono, reduced-fee, and legal services organizations, it helps those seeking help get effective legal representation in one place. First, a client’s answers to intake questions gets input into the system. Next, statewide attorneys and member organizations who handle the client’s type of case will be notified and determine if and how they may be able to help the potential client. This data driven, inter-agency referral process should help find the client the best fit for their legal concerns. It is also meant to solve the frustrations many people have when interacting with legal service providers: the feeling of being bounced from one referral to the next without knowing why and without getting effective assistance.