Stagnation v. Innovation

By Shantelle Argyle

This month I had the opportunity to attend the American Bar Association’s National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services and present about our business model. The goal of the summit was to discuss Access to Justice and try to come up with potential solutions to the many problems in the delivery of legal services to the public. As Dan Spencer and I walked into the opening social, we started seeing name-tags with things like “Harvard Law” and “Supreme Court of State X” and”Avvo” and “Legal Zoom” and “Department of Justice” and on and on and on. So many great legal minds filled the room, and we felt a little bit like nerdy legal groupies. It also did not escape us that the two of us, a GED recipient and a state school grad, had been invited to a select event to talk about how WE were helping reshape the legal landscape. At Stanford. 

Whoa. That is a lot of responsibility on our young shoulders, and we did not take it lightly. The commission put us to work that weekend, discussing real problems and presenting ideas and possible solutions (some theoretical, some already in practice). There were hotheads and apologists, innovators and “luddites”, optimists and pessimists. We were all crammed into rooms, and facilitators drove the conversation (as best as possible). I was really worried about what sorts of infighting we would see, because ultimately everyone thinks they have THE solution. In the end, fixing the Access to Justice issues will require many and diverse solutions. None of us can solve it on our own. 

Our little nonprofit can help. Others like us can help. Technology can help. Rule changes can help. Who knows what combination of changes will have the biggest impact? Only time and effort and commitment will tell.

I was struck by my fellow presenters at the conference. Such amazing ideas were discussed, and what felt even more exciting was hearing my own words echoed back to me. My instincts about problems in Utah do in fact hold true in Mississippi and Louisiana and California. Language access issues are prevalent. Discrimination. Lack of resources. Lack of technology. I felt myself stand up when Sherrilyn Ifill said that prosecutors absolutely have to start complying with discovery rules. I wept when she talked about the riots in Baltimore, her home town. When Mark Britton said “For us to innovate the status quo is always suspect and we have to blow it up” I wanted to shout out loud “YES”. 

When I got back to Utah I began to relay things I had heard to the Utah Bar’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. Discussions are happening within the Bar, the courts, and the legislature that are very exciting. Now is the time, and innovation truly is the way forward.

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