What connects a law school course run by a Nashville-based eDiscovery software company and a legal expert systems company with a UK report on access to justice? And what has any of these to do with the recruitment of young people into law and eDiscovery?
Those of you who has been with me for the long-term, both on this blog and on Twitter, will have noticed some diversification in what I write about, particularly over the last year or so.
The conventional eDiscovery / eDisclosure topics of rules, increased volumes, new types of data sources, and ever more sophisticated technology remain constant themes; information governance and cybersecurity have become an inevitable component of any discussion about the management of data; the Asia-Pacific region becomes increasingly significant. Alongside these things, however, you will have seen a growing interest in access to justice and in the recruitment of new entrants into the discovery and information governance markets.
The UK has seen an unprecedented assault by government on the delivery of justice, and not only for those for whom it has always been too expensive. It is not just a matter of economics – a nasty, ignorant and dishonest Justice Minister, Chris Grayling, aided by the supine and incompetent paper-shufflers at the Ministry of Justice, has deliberately undermined the provision of justice in both the civil and criminal courts, with a series of measures which have increased fees and reduced facilities to the detriment of individuals, companies and the courts themselves. It is not just social conscience which compels lawyers, eDiscovery providers and others to think how they can help deliver access to justice whilst making a living for themselves, but that has been an important element.
That latter point is important – Grayling may like to think that legal needs can be met through the goodwill of lawyers and others providing pro bono services while he exploits the Parliamentary expenses system, but all these people have to make a living. Furthermore, new entrants are needed both into the legal profession and into technology businesses, alongside developments in technology and changes in rules and attitudes.
All these themes come together in Cicayda, a new but fast-growing eDiscovery software company based in Nashville, Tennessee. Cicayda competes with much larger rivals for substantial cases; it has a newly-unified set of software applications designed to manage large volumes, and it focuses on making the eDiscovery process both affordable and interesting to those who use it (that latter point is important, particularly if we aspire to encourage a wider range of people, and particularly young people, to get involved in the subject).
Cicayda’s work at the big end of the market pays the bills and brings work for a growing number of experts on both the legal and technical sides of Cicayda’s business. There is in parallel a moral streak at Cicayda which appears most strongly in its efforts to broaden the range of people who work in or depend upon the delivery of Justice and in reminding us that justice is the objective of eDiscovery.
That appears from a report Vanderbilt Law Students Build Apps for Access to Justice of a day on which Vanderbilt Law students worked on how to apply the power of legal technology to the problems of access to justice. The session was led by Cicayda’s Marc Jenkins, who is an Adjunct Professor at Vanderbilt in parallel with his role as Associate GC and EVP Knowledge Strategy at Cicayda. He teamed up with Neota Logic, a well-known developer of legal expert applications, to encourage Vanderbilt law students to develop the five public interest projects described in the article, all designed to focus on “providing efficiency to free up more time for lawyers to provide legal advice”.
This hits multiple targets, and not just the encouragement of interest in promising students. To bring the subject back to the UK, have a look at a report called Delivering Justice in an Age of Austerity produced by Justice, an all-party law reform and human rights organisation working to strengthen the justice system – administrative, civil and criminal – in the UK. The report’s authors accept, unwillingly and in a resigned sort of way, that recent reforms have made justice inaccessible to nearly everybody. While expressly opposing the cuts, the report makes suggestions for new and different ways of tackling civil disputes. It brings together suggestions for dispute resolution using online facilitation and online judges in ways which will be familiar to those who have followed the work of Professor Richard Susskind.
Among other things, it suggests simplification of the procedural rules and the appointment of “primary dispute resolution officers” called Registrars who will “identify the relevant issues, the applicable law, the appropriate procedure and the evidence needed to resolve the case”. The authors also emphasise the need for a strong technology component in the scheme (which brings us back to the input of companies like Cicayda and Neota Logic). The report is short and well-written, and I strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the facilitation of justice delivery.
Be clear that in pointing you to this, I am not supporting the government policies which have brought us to this position; nor were the authors of the report, as they make clear several times. It is important to emphasise this – when I tweeted a link to the report, someone reacted by sneering at it as part of an establishment plot to wipe out the legal profession and the principle of justice for all. It is not; it is a recognition that we are where we are whether we like it or not, and that we have to be inventive about finding solutions.
The reduction in the traditional role of legally-qualified people is not what we all recognise as the norm and the proper way to do things, but if we want a part in a changed world then we must accept that this is what we have come to. The imminent election may see a Labour-led government; Labour has done a lot of hand-wringing and whining about Grayling’s reforms, but neither the Labour manifesto nor the pronouncements of its legal spokesmen offer any prospect of an improvement after the election.
That being the case, initiatives like that run by Cicayda and Neota Logic at Vanderbilt are important, not just because they may result in new applications which solve specific existing problems, but because they inspire would-be lawyers and software developers to think, and think urgently, about the role which technology can play in the delivery of new methods of delivering access to justice.
There are some paradoxical beneficiaries here. If we can crack the delivery of affordable solutions – rule changes, advances in applied technology, developments in attitudes and the encouragement of bright new entrants, to small cases, the players in big litigation must benefit too.