How did you become involved in legal tech?
I became involved in legal tech while serving as the Executive Director of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission. Mississippi is the poorest state in the nation, and we rank 48th in providing legal assistance to people in need. Among its core goals, the Access to Justice Commission is responsible for developing and implementing strategies that will expand civil access to justice. It’s no secret that technology is driving nearly everything about our world, and I believe civil legal services should be no exception. When I was at the Commission, I worked closely with a number of technologists who helped us design applications and other platforms to help bring the Mississippi civil legal services delivery system into the 21st century and, in doing so, reach more of the 600,000 residents who live at or below poverty level and qualify for legal aid. I believe legal tech can and must play a role in transforming service delivery so that those who lack the means to afford attorneys can still obtain some form of effective assistance. I left the Commission in February to join Bradley Arant Boult & Cummings, LLP as pro bono counsel; however, I remain deeply interested in exploring ways to leverage legal tech to close the access to justice gap.
What projects have you been focused on recently?
I am continuing work that I started at the Commission on a mobile app to assist self-represented litigants in Mississippi with legal matters in the state’s civil courts. It is my hope that the app will provide litigants with the forms and information they need to be able to more effectively and successfully access our courts. Among other things, the app will allow litigants to ask questions directly of attorneys as they prepare for court and at the conclusion of the legal proceedings.
Is there a legal tech resource of any kind that you find yourself returning to or that was particularly formative for you?
There are so many! The resource that I find myself returning to the most is Access to Justice Author (A2J Author). The Commission’s first foray into legal tech started with A2J Author. We used the software to create legal forms for self-represented litigants with civil matters. I like staying up-to-date on A2J Author projects and events. Nonprofit legal organizations and self-represented litigants alike have greatly benefited from the A2J Author software.
What technology do you think lawyers could look at in a different way that would benefit society?
I think lawyers need to look at technology as a whole in a different way and learn to embrace it more. I’m often disheartened when I meet attorneys who are threatened by technology and innovation generally. I think we do ourselves and the profession a disservice when we are not open to exploring how we can use technology to enhance legal processes, grow our businesses, and contribute more richly to society-at-large.
What advice would you give to other women who want to get involved in legal tech?
I am grateful for how welcoming the tech community has been to me. I would like to think that what I lack in “tech know-how,” I make up for in the ways in which I have embraced legal tech as a way to facilitate access to justice for all. My advice to other women who want to get involved is not to be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Even if you do not have a technology background, you certainly have ideas for ways that processes and systems can be improved. I got involved because I was frustrated with how slowly things were evolving with the Mississippi civil legal services delivery system. Rather than complaining, I connected with people who could help me do something about it and, in doing so, found myself immersed in legal tech in ways that I would never have expected.
Give a shout-out to another woman in legal tech who you admire or have learned something from!
I have to shout-out Irene Mo. Irene asked me to be on a panel last year when she was a law student at Michigan State University College of Law titled, “Legal Technology for Access to Justice.” I sat on the panel with three other women in legal tech. It was important to Irene to have a diverse panel and to feature women who were utilizing legal technology to increase access to legal services. Earlier this year, Irene reached out to me again when she was assembling a panel for ABA TECHSHOW titled, “Mentoring Women and People of Color in Legal Tech.” Irene is on the fast-track to becoming a star in the legal tech community and, arguably, already is one. She is an inaugural NextGen Fellow of the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation where she is creating tools and training to help eliminate the “digital security divide” by reducing privacy and data security risks for marginalized and low-income persons. Irene has kept me plugged into the legal tech community, and I’m sincerely grateful to her for her support and for her intentionality around diversity and inclusion in the legal tech space.
Feature image by #WOCinTechChat