Legal Services Corporation Launches Legal Access Portal Project

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) released a Request for Proposals to identify potential participants in a pilot project for implementing access to justice portals. The legal access portal concept emerged from the 2013 LSC Technology Summit as one of the key recommendations for achieving 100% access to justice. Microsoft Corporation is working with LSC and Pro Bono Net, committing at least $1M in technical development.

Some states are already experimenting with legal portal solutions. For example, the Florida Legal Access Gateway launched in late October, offering individuals a central point from which they can locate free or low-cost legal help. The Gateway is a pilot project, initially limited to divorces and evictions in Clay County. Following an evaluation of the pilot, the court will determine whether a statewide triage gateway should become part of Florida’s access to justice solution.   

Legal portals are among the many recommendations HFI proposed from the Cases Without Counsel: Experiences of Self-Representation in U.S. Family Court study findings, and the IAALS Court Compass Project is attempting to assist in the implementation of portals that will help domestic relations parties navigate their legal rights and responsibilities, and access the courts seamlessly. IAALS' Court Compass project consultant, Riyaz Samnani, is beginning by creating an inventory of projects already in place.

Portals are also included in the recommendations that were recently adopted by the Conference of Chief Justices in July. In the adopted report, Call to Action: Achieving Civil Justice for All—Recommendations to the Conference of Chief Justices by the Civil Justice Improvements Committee, the recommendations highlight the importance of providing superior access for litigants.

“Courts must take all necessary steps to increase convenience to litigants by simplifying the court-litigant interface and creating on-demand court assistance services.”

The recommendations note that courts must simplify court-litigant interfaces and use portals to facilitate litigant access to court services.  

According to Richard Zorza, founder and Coordinator Emeritus of the Self-Represented Litigation Network, a state successfully implementing the portal project will have “a radically transformed access to justice system in which all players work and manage projects together, in which those needing help have a much more seamless process, and in which resources are far more efficiently used.”