Integration, Analysis & User Experience: Neota Logic Server 7.5

In our Expert Thinking blog, we write mostly about the world outside the walls of the office. But from time to time, we have inside news.

We are very pleased to release today Neota Logic Server 7.5, the latest edition of our unique platform for the automation of expertise and business processes. In this version, we have focused on three themes – integration, analysis, and user experience.


In the networked world, “everything is deeply intertwingled,” as Ted Nelson wrote a long while back. Neota Logic Server (known to its friends as “NLS”) builds applications that automate expertise, improve processes, and generate documents—but apps don’t stand alone. They talk to everything—ERP, CRM, CMS, DMS, Salesforce, SharePoint, SAP, and other tigers in the IT jungle.

Sure, anyone who has a friendly programmer at hand to write custom code can program integrations among any set of systems, given enough time and money. Our goal, however, in this as in all aspects of NLS, is to enable people who are not programmers to make these links, and to do so quickly and cheaply.

NLS includes three key integration tools:

  1. Structured Data Editor—Big systems these days speak xml (and sometimes JSON), so we have a tool with which data from an NLS application can easily be packaged as XML (or JSON) for consumption by those systems. The Editor understands xml schemas and can also work from examples.
  2. Web Services Editor—Big systems speak REST. NLS does too, via the Web Services Editor, which introspects the sometimes intricate interfaces of REST web services, presents a clear view of inputs and outputs, and enables an author to map NLS application variables to those inputs and outputs. Presto! A logic-driven data connection to almost any application or system, from Google Maps to SAP.
  3. DB Operations Editor—Sometimes an NLS application needs to work with data directly, not through an application having a REST API. For those cases, the DB Operations Editor is the ticket. Again, no code.

The database administrator (that’s a DBA) creates a SQL Stored Procedure to provide or receive data. The app author uses the DB Operations Editor to define a connection to the database and map NLS variables to the stored procedure’s inputs or outputs. The stored procedure is responsible for all direct interaction with the database tables, which makes DBA’s happy: they don’t like people or programs messing with their carefully schema’d and permissioned DB’s.


NLS is designed to model and automate expertise—the knowledge and judgment of human experts about:

  • Legal and business policy and practice—on these facts, in these circumstances, what is required, allowed, useful, harmful, optimal?
  • Business process—how should the work be done, by whom, in what sequence, with what controls?
  • Text—what language will best communicate the advice, reasoning, rights, obligations, and work to be done, in documents ranging from memos to contracts?

NLS is founded on a hybrid reasoning engine precisely because no one mode of analysis is sufficient for the full range of challenging problems presented by law and business. If/then rules, decision trees, decision tables, mathematics, and other reasoning tools are all at hand, and are automatically integrated in both development and deployment.

One mode of reasoning essential to effective modeling of judgment, the highest-value product of expertise, is weighing multiple factors simultaneously. Courts, legislators, regulators, and business decision-makers very often state decision criteria in this form: “when deciding about X, we consider factors A, B, and C.” With the NLS Weighted Scoring Editor, authors and subject matter experts can represent this form of reasoning correctly, and can test scenarios to confirm the validity of the results.

In Version 7.5, we have significantly enhanced the Weighted Scoring Editor. First, it’s easier to use: the interface has been remodeled. Second, and most important, key aspects of the analysis can now be dynamic, driven by the specific facts of the case at hand and by other logic in the application.

Which factors to include, the weight to be given to and the scoring scale for each factor, the score for each value of each factor, and the scoring method can all be set dynamically by application logic. In this way, fine-grained and precise representations of experts’ reasoning can be created, in a form that is transparent and testable.

User Experience

As always, our work at Neota Logic is guided by two imperatives.

The policy and process problems of consequence to people and organizations:

  • Require solutions that are flexible, subtle, precise, integrated, and often complex—therefore our software must deliver applications with all those qualities.
  • Outnumber programmers — therefore our software must enable people who are not programmers (e.g., lawyers, tax professionals, business analysts) to create those applications.

Of course these two goals are always in tension—power to build the most useful applications vs. simplicity to enable the widest possible community of creators, power to deliver very complex applications vs. simplicity to make using those applications easy.

We confront the tension in every design decision, and continue to examine and re-examine every aspect of NLS from this viewpoint. Is the user experience as simple as possible, for both novice and expert authors and end users? Is every feature useful, logical, learnable, teachable, complete, necessary?

Two examples in Version 7.5.

Complex, nested data structures are essential in many applications. For example: details about Properties covered by Insurance Policies issued to Subsidiaries of Companies. For authors, there are new tools to simplify construction of data entry forms. For users, those forms have built-in smart navigation.

Asking many questions in a sequence that is coherent and efficient for users, but context-aware, is a prerequisite of good user experience in the sort of big applications we often build. With the new Question Flow Editor, authors can easily and graphically define the sequence of forms and/or questions, using logic of any necessary complexity to define the transitions from one to the next.

*   *   *

That’s it for inside baseball this week. Please contact us at for a look at this newest version of Neota Logic Server. We are already hard at work on the next one, which continues to advance the themes discussed here. Stay tuned.

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What’s Wrong With Law Practice?

One of us Neota Logicians had the great privilege last week to attend the College of Law Practice Management Futures Conference 2014. The College is unique among legal industry organizations in bringing together exceptionally experienced and engaged people who see many dimensions of legal services—law firm lawyers, the full range of other law firm professionals (COO, CKO, CMO, CIO), law school professors, legal marketing professionals, alternative legal services providers, consultants, software companies, and others.

There’s been excellent coverage of the Conference as a whole: Jordan Furlong, Five For The Future; Liam Brown, Old Dog Learns New Tricks;  Ron Dolin’s blog Think Outside the Bar; and Storify’d tweets and other resources at Robert Richards’ Legal Informatics Blog. (If we missed others, please let us know so we can update this post.)

Friday morning began with three fast, focused talks: Ron Dolin of Stanford Law School, Carla Goldstein of Bank of Montreal, and Neota Logic’s Michael Mills, who essayed an eight-minute answer to the question What’s Wrong With Law Practice?

Here’s our answer:

Let’s start with a diagram—the revenue and cost lines of the profession.

revenue cost flat

What happened to these lines in the Great Reset?

First, the top line was shoved downward by cost-conscious general counsel.

No surprise, law firms cut costs—mostly support staff and space—to push the cost line down and preserve margin. Alternative legal services providers, from Axiom to UnitedLex, did the same, just more aggressively.

Second, we got process engineering, the Disciples of DMAIC. And we got project management.

With these tools, we have the least-cost people doing only the stuff the client really needs, in the right order, with minimal handoffs and rework. And we shoved that red line down again.

Keep in mind … this analysis applies to not-for-profit organizations too. Change “revenue” to “funding” and “profit margin” to “cash cushion” … and then squeeze the lines much closer together.

So, this is better, but not good enough. What’s still wrong? The straight lines.

The cost per unit of output has shifted downward. An hour costs $600 instead of $800, and that hour produces two-tenths of a contract rather than one.

But when quantity climbs, total costs climb at exactly the same rate. Every unit of output costs the same as the last one.

That’s not how the big boys do it.

revenue cost curve

The great engine of Microsoft is that the marginal cost of delivering another copy of Windows is close to zero. Not zero, there’s lots of R&D for the next version. But the average unit cost declines as quantity rises, so quantity is a good thing. Economies of scale, as Henry Ford taught us.

Alas, quantity in legal services is not necessarily a good thing. We have the diseconomies of scale—internal coordination costs, quality variation—but not enough of the economies, other than marketing. In short, we missed the industrial revolution.

Forget about billable hours, alternative fees, self-regulating self-protecting monopolies, partnerships, ABS’s. The problem is constant cost.

So how do we fix this?

Law doesn’t need blast furnaces or warehouses. We’re the pure digital product—lightweight, malleable, portable, computable.

Ray Kurzweil’s graph shows computers getting way smarter, long before we get to the Singularity.


Thanks to Moore’s Law, we’re nearly up to mouse brain level. Fortunately, that’s more than enough for lawyers.

What should we do with these electronic mouse brains? We should think about law as code.

Traditional lawyers see law as text.

Moses Presenting the Tablets of the Law

Untraditional lawyers see law as rules and many other forms of rigorous expression.

rules text

And that’s a form in which the law can be worked by a computing engine.


It’s true that in the software world “Artificial Intelligence is whatever hasn’t been done yet,” but AI is a fertile field in many disciplines—robotics, machine learning, and expert systems among them.

We lawyers don’t build cars, so we don’t need physical robots.

Robots at car factory

Classification, one of machine learning’s big tricks, is taking over e-discovery, indeed would have taken over entirely but for the Luddite resistance of many lawyers and clients. And companies like KMStandards, Diligence Engine, Seal, and eBrevia are doing creative work with machine learn algorithms in areas other than e-discovery.

ml-cluster analysis UI

Prediction, another of machine learning’s tricks, is making ground fast in law with Lex Machina, Dan Katz, and others.

BigML employment law dtree

Maybe, as IBM’s general counsel said recently, Watson will pass the bar exam in a few years. (Or perhaps before Watson signs up for his bar review course, the profession will finally concede that the exam is a worthless measure of fitness to practice, as Watson’s ability to pass it would prove.)

Machine learning is truly a marvel in all its many manifestations—from giving vision to robots to helping oncologists at Sloan-Kettering devise treatment protocols. However, machine learning’s probabilistic answers and dark algorithms don’t do the job when people want to know:

  • precisely
  • what to do
  • now
  • about this problem
  • under these circumstances

Lawyers are at heart skeptics and determinists, and clients are busy and result-minded. For those sorts of problems and people, we need expert systems. Here’s a practical definition:

expert system

There are precedents. Lawyers like precedents, don’t they? So here’s one that’s 3,700 years old.


In this 13-foot-long Egyptian scroll is a set of rules for diagnosing and treating battlefield wounds, probably written for surgeons in the Pharaoh’s army.

Expert systems, in case you haven’t noticed, are everywhere.

In the pocket of your doctor’s white coat:

epocrates iphone diagnostic

Doing your tax returns.


Expert systems aren’t much help in the high-touch, high-EQ parts of what lawyers know—counseling, negotiating, and advocacy.

But in the rest—law & policy, documents, and processes—expert systems (including their offspring document automation and computable contracts) are true force multipliers.

How is the knowledge of experts captured, encoded and delivered?

Law can be devilishly complex. Here’s a flow chart of the law on medical benefits for veterans discharged with less than perfect disciplinary records. (That’s a lot of veterans.)

midas framework

No wonder the VA makes wrong decisions so often.

But a team of Georgetown Law students built an expert system called MIDAS that mastered this morass of law for veterans’ advocates.

Here’s one among the students’ many decision trees.

MIDAS dtree

We can code the law. Why should we?

Yes, to fix the cost line, to bend it down into a happy curve.

But also because, despite the much talked about surfeit of lawyers and law students, there is a vast unmet demand for legal services.

Yes, even in big organizations. Every day thousands of decisions that have legal dimensions and create legal risks are made without legal guidance. General counsel are as cost-pressured as their outside counsel, and they can’t be everywhere.

office cubicles -shutterstock_148105850

Those folks can and will take care of themselves.

But the millions of people who cannot afford a lawyer to guide them through the perils of housing court, domestic violence, immigration, and even simple contracts mostly cannot take care of themselves.

This image is from Nigeria, from the organization known simply as Access to Justice.

a2j nigeria

As Stephen Mayson said at the College Futures Conference a year ago, to assure the “legitimate participation of citizens in society” is a fundamental purpose of law. And as Ron Staudt said this year, technology is critical to narrowing the justice gap.

There is work to be done. Go forth and invent! Like these folks.

inventors like these

Do not be frightened. It’s an exciting future. There is no need to light matches.

Edison Electric warning sign

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Expert Systems in Legal Services: Challenge & Opportunity

One of us Neota Logicians recently joined Georgetown Law Professor Tanina Rostain and Littler Chief Knowledge Officer Scott Rechtschaffen to talk about expert systems in the law. The forum was ILTA 2014, this year’s edition of the vast and collegial conclave of IT, KM, PM, ED, and other mavens from around the country and the world.

The organizer of our panel, Ginevra Saylor, Dentons National Director of Knowledge Management, set us the question: are expert systems a threat to or an opportunity for traditional legal services?

Unlike moot court or a debating society, where participants are assigned to advocate both sides of the proposition, ILTA panels generally line up with the speakers’ true views. So the three of us, all of whom are active practitioners of the expert systems science and art, debated against an empty chair. We had hoped to have noisy skeptics in the audience with whom to joust, but none stood up.

This post sets forth the case we made. Expert systems are:

  1. More powerful than the software tools commonly used in legal services.
  2. Ubiquitous in other industries.
  3. Practical and effective in legal services.
  4. Good for clients (better, faster, cheaper services), for law firms (revenue, reputation, and quality assurance), for law students (analytic rigor, client savvy), and for consumers (affordable guidance).

Say What?

Because the title of the panel includes the words “expert systems,” and ILTA is a conference filled with both experts and systems, we thought we should start by explaining what we meant by those words. Expert systems are:

  • A mechanism
  • With which one can acquire the expertise of one (or more) people who know a lot about a subject a/k/a experts
  • And structure that expertise so it can be delivered to other people (tens or thousands of them) who know less about the domain, but need a solution to a specific problem within the domain.

Oh, you mean an e-book?

Jeff Bezos

No. Books don’t help much with acquiring or structuring.

Well, then, how about a search engine?


No again. Search engines are great at gathering, which is a form of acquiring, but mostly not good at structuring or specificity of answers, though they are getting better at both.

How about the Edwin Smith papyrus? That marvelous artifact is the oldest known medical diagnostic system, from 1700 BC and apparently recording knowledge acquired 1000 years earlier.


Now we’re getting closer. Because if you happen to read hieratic, the Egyptian cursive form of hieroglyphics, you will discover in this 13-foot-long scroll a checklist of differential diagnosis, treatments, and prognosis, probably written for military surgeons.

  1. IF the wound is in the head
    1. AND has penetrated the bone
    2. AND there is bleeding,
  2. THEN apply meat to stop the bleeding
    1. AND then suture the wound.

Let’s modernize this and write the diagnostic advice in a programming language. Your choice: Python, C#, Java, Swift, or any of a hundred others.

computer code example

Nope, still not an expert system. Why? Because the expert’s knowledge and the tools for working with it are all mushed together in code. And only a programmer can read this stuff, write it or, most important, update it.

Instead, expert systems separate the knowledge and the tools into two parts:

knowledge base

The Knowledge Base, which holds what the experts know, using a range of methods to represent that knowledge, including:

  • If/Then rules
  • Decision trees
  • Decision tables
  • Formulas and other mathematical expressions
  • Multi-factor weightings
  • Spreadsheets
  • And other reasoning methods

The Inference Engine, which links together the various bits that the experts know and links those bits to the problems that users present. It will:

  • Automatically apply the relevant reasoning, by pursuing goals and backward and forward chaining.
  • Drive interactions with users and external systems.
  • Explain itself.

With the programming languages listed above, every step from beginning to end and every procedure for executing the steps must be specified by a programmer. That’s traditional “procedural” programming.

Here’s a procedural recipe for chocolate cake. Start at the beginning, follow the defined path to the end, and you’ll have a nice cake.

algorithm chocolate cake

In contrast, expert systems software tools are “declarative.” Declare the system’s goal—a delicious chocolate cake. Or, to be more lawyerly, is a stock transaction a disposition under Internal Revenue Code Section 306?

Define the rules, often many of them with multiple inputs and relationships. Then the expert systems software can automagically organize the relevant rules, ask the necessary questions, determine the answer, and present it to the inquiring stock seller (more likely, her accountant), accompanied by explanations of the reasoning.

To round out the expert systems toolbox, we need to add:

  • Editors, for creating and modifying rules and other constructs.
  • Extractors, to pull rules from Word, Excel and other sources.
  • Verification & Validation tools, because experts, lawyers especially, want their systems to be truly expert, to be correct.
  • And integrations so our expert systems can talk to other systems like document management and HR.

They’re everywhere!

Expert systems—rule-based systems—are used in dozens of industries, from medicine to mortgages, including the government side of the legal industry. They don’t advertise the technology under the hood, they just deliver useful answers. Here’s one example, on an iPhone pulled from the white-coat pocket of a busy emergency room physician:

epocrates iphone diagnostic

And here are a few more among the many:

In Law Firms

Scott Rechtschaffen outlined three contexts for expert systems in law firms.

The first is business development, exemplified by Littler’s Health Care Reform Advisor, which is available without charge on the firm’s web site:

“Employers can use Littler’s Healthcare Reform Advisor, an innovative online system, to determine whether they may be at risk of having to pay a penalty under the ACA’s “pay or play” mandate.”

littler hcr

The second context is quality assurance. Littler’s CaseSmart–Charges, “an integrated solution to managing administrative agency charges,” incorporates expert systems to guide lawyers through a comprehensive factual and legal analysis of each claim.

The third context is revenue generation. Clients welcome initiatives by law firms to productize expertise. Expert systems on a subscription model can deliver on-demand answers to frequently occurring regulatory questions far more cost-effectively than traditional legal services on the hourly billing model.

For example, whether a worker is best classified as an independent contractor or an employee is a question asked and answered millions of times each year across the U.S. workforce, and is a question having significant enforcement consequences if answered incorrectly. The analysis is intricate, multi-jurisdictional, and fact-specific, and cannot be done by traditional legal services methods at high volume cost-effectively, rapidly, and accurately. An expert system, however, can do the analysis easily all day long. And when the specific circumstances are unusual or sensitive, the system routes the question to lawyers for evaluation.

In Law Schools

In Tanina Rostain’s Technology, Innovation & Law Practice course at Georgetown Law, now in its sixth semester, student teams build legal expert systems in partnership with not-for-profit organizations and government agencies that serve as both subject matter expert and client.

As the Legal Service Corporation reports, “Demand for legal aid far outstrips the resources available. This is known as the ‘justice gap.’ Recent studies indicate that legal aid offices turn away 50 percent or more of those seeking help.”

Student applications have dealt with issues such as domestic violence, housing, health care, family law, and financial exploitation. They serve to narrow the justice gap, following the Legal Services Corporation’s call to apply technology to deliver legal services to “everyone, anytime, anywhere.”

At the conclusion of the course, students present each application to a panel of invited judges in the IronTech Lawyer competition. Examples of the applications:

There are excruciatingly complex rules that govern the impact on a veteran’s claim for health benefits of the terms of the soldier’s discharge from service.

midas framework

That complexity can be captured efficiently in expert system decision trees, which then deliver a simple question-and-answer user experience to the person trying to apply those rules to specific facts for a specific person.


What do students learn from building applications? Many things, many of them not taught in other course. They learn:

  • Rigorous legal analysis. Sure, all courses teach that. But writing an exam answer or a paper doesn’t require the same rigor. If you don’t know the law from the trunk of the tree all the way to every leaf, you can’t write the rules, or apply the normalizations and sometimes simplifications necessary to deliver a useful answer.
  • Clear writing. Maybe some courses teach that. But writing for real people who are seeking specific answers to questions of real consequence is a challenge for lawyers. Clarity, brevity, and simplicity are essential.
  • And finally the students learn teamwork (with colleagues and clients), project management, a systems approach to problems and practice, user experience design, and even some software engineering. All skills essential for 21st century practice.

How are these things built?

Building expert systems requires people, in addition to software. An expert, of course. Usually multiple experts, because in any complex and interesting domain, several heads are likely better than one, even if it’s this one.

alexander_the_man_who_knows_1920 copy

And a “knowledge engineer,” a technically savvy person, though not a programmer, who understands expert systems and is adept at helping the domain experts to:

  • Understand expert systems concepts, such as rules, and the software’s capabilities.
  • Organize their knowledge in a systematic way so it can be encoded in the software
  • Anticipate what users will want to do, so user experiences are well-designed, clear, and coherent.
  • And is facile with one of the expert systems tools, so the KE can build and test the system.

An anecdote from the history of expert systems.

Digital Equipment Corporation, a sadly departed computer company of an earlier generation (a case study, by the way, in Christensen death by disruption), built an expert system to configure its big, multi-part computer systems for customers. Like the expert systems you see on car company web sites – if you order option A, you can’t have option B, and so on. DEC’s system was big, useful, and used for a long time.

One of its original creators gave a talk about the system’s construction and was asked how it came to be named R1. He said, “When I started the project, I didn’t know what a knowledge engineer was, and now I are one.” Hence, R1.

Here At Neota Logic

We develop Neota Logic Server, a uniquely powerful software platform with which law students, lawyers, and other people who are not programmers can build expert systems.

We collaborate with pioneering firms like Littler to build expert systems for their clients.

And we collaborate with Georgetown Law and other schools to teach knowledge engineering and, by providing our software, enable students to build and organizations to deploy applications that help to close the justice gap.

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Technology & The Future of Law: A Forecast in Four Acts

One of us Neota Logicians recently joined compatriots from the innovation wing of the legal tech industry to talk (and even think) about the likely effects on law practice of what we all do— build smart and potentially radical software. The forum was ILTA 2014, this year’s edition of the vast and collegial conclave of IT, KM, PM, ED, and other mavens from around the country and the world.

Our compere, Ryan McLead of Norton Rose Fulbright and the Three Geeks & A Law Blog, brought us together under the banner Do Robot Lawyers Dream of Billable Seconds? We don’t read much science fiction here at Neota Logic, but we do go to the movies and know what Los Angeles will be like in 2019.

Our fellow troublemakers were: Joshua Lenon of Clio (@JoshuaLenon); Noah Waisberg of DiligenceEngine (@DiligenceEngine); and Stuart Barr of HighQ (@HighQ).

Each of us had a rather different viewpoint, perspective, and forecast, so readers should read these terrific posts: Stuart’s What Will Law Firms of the Future Look Like?, Joshua’s Four Visions of The Future of Law, and Noah’s More Efficient Future, Fewer Lawyers?. There is also a Storify roundup of the session thanks to Robert Richards, @richards1000.

So, what’s Neota Logic’s view?

Well, yes, in some future robots will have taken their seats in our offices, frictionless communication will have us wired to our clients in symbiotic synapses, and dumb jobs will all be done by smart tools.

Here at Neota Logic, we write software with which lawyers can build their own robots. (Other legal process applications too, but we’re talking Android Dreams today.) You might say our business is building robots and destroying dumb jobs—the ones lawyers don’t do cost-effectively at scale, and really don’t or shouldn’t want to do.

However, today, we’d like to back away from the edge and reflect a bit on where the profession (yes, it’s still that, in part) is today, where it aims to be tomorrow, and why getting from here to there is so hard.

The Averages of Law

Despite all that the many, many creative minds at ILTA have done, are doing, will do soon, the profession, on average, across the board, is just here:

Man and woman secretary

—except the secretary has been deaccessioned, or reassigned to attend to five lawyers.

Two data points.

In the year 2012, the American Bar Association’s Committee on Ethics 20/20 announced with great fanfare a new rule of professional ethics—computers exist, email works, lawyers should know these things.

To maintain the requisite knowledge and skill, a lawyer should keep abreast of changes in the law and its practice, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology, engage in continuing study and education …. (emphasis added)

Even ILTA, in its recent and excellent Future Horizons report, isn’t seeing very far ahead. These are the tech futures the profession is told to attend to:

  • cloud solutions
  • social media tools and analytics
  • personalized displays
  • collaborative document and knowledge management
  • courtroom dashboards
  • gesture recognition
  • finger tracking
  • the intelligent Web
  • remote presence
  • 5G communications

If these are the future of legal technology, then what’s an iPhone, which already does all these things? Except courtroom dashboards.

Alas, the profession on average is here—just discovering that “leverage” can mean more than the ratio of partners to associates:

man, lever, fulcrum

And the profession is here—puzzled by the new-fangled inventions of the hard-working inventors all around ILTA, unsure whether to flip a switch or light a match.

Edison Electric warning sign

The profession would like to be here, if only for the sake of style.

smart watch on droid

(No, that’s not a bootleg photo of an iWatch.)

As D. Casey Flaherty (@DcaseyFlaherty) and others have asked, why should this profession be immune to the forces that have transformed far bigger industries?

Robots build cars. Robots drive cars. Computers win hard games. And their power is accelerating and their cost decreasing. Unlike those of lawyers. Last month’s example: IBM’s Neurosynaptic Chip: 1/10th of a watt, 4096 cores, 256 million synapses:

IBM True North

Why is this profession so slow?

We are indebted to Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana Maurer Law School (@wihender) for introducing the legal profession to the Rogers Diffusion Curve, which grew, so to speak, out of research on how, why, and how rapidly the use of hybrid seed corn—invented in Iowa—spread among farmers.

Rogers Diffusion Curve

Professor Henderson has some well-researched, economics-based explanations for the legal industry’s generally weary climb up and along the diffusion curve. We leave the hard stuff to him, and encourage you to read his work.

A theory about the void

But we do have a theory, though it may not meet the Niels Bohr test—“Your theory is crazy, but it’s not crazy enough to be true.”

Capital, taxes, and partnerships are the usual suspects. Firms can’t raise capital, taxes are at income rates on current earnings, and partnerships force distributions.

We think the suspects are innocent, or at least only accessories after the fact.

Legal services innovations are not capital intensive by the standards of most industries. Choose the most innovative legal service idea you know of—for example, the projects that law firms submitted for the ILTA Innovative Firm and Project of the Year awards—and count up the investments. A little software, maybe a little marketing, and certainly a lot of brain power. But no trucks, towers, or turbines.

And when law firms do want to invest—as they do on a generous scale when building offices, opening branches, and acquiring laterals—they have no difficulty rounding up the cash.

Nope, capital isn’t the problem.

Next defendant: law firms don’t innovate because the partners’ income is taxable when earned by the firm. No retained earnings to plow back into the business. No capital gains.

True, but taxes as a barrier to innovation is a reworking of the capital argument. And we don’t buy that.

And last: law firms don’t innovate because they are partnerships.

Now we’re getting closer to the bone. And right at the bone, after you scrape away the fat, muscle, and blood with your scalpel, is the partnership’s method of dividing profits, often called “the compensation scheme.”

Here’s a taxonomy of schemes, which one management consultant to law firms said is exhaustive: every firm does one of these, perhaps with a wrinkle or tuck.

  1. Equal Shares
  2. Lock Step
  3. Modified Hale & Dorr (the Finder, Minder, Grinder Formula)
  4. Simple Unit Formula
  5. 50/50 Subjective/Objective
  6. Firm + Practice + Individual
  7. Eat What You Kill

All have their pluses and minuses, as the cliché has it. However, and essential for the discussion today, all but two of these, all but the first two, are tightly tied to hours … yes, to billable hours.

Out of fashion, some say. Certainly the pundits say. And some clients too. But ask your pricing director (or general counsel) friends, over a beer, for an honest answer to the question, “What percentage of your firm’s revenue (or law department’s spend) is on work that is priced on a basis that is unrelated to hours worked?”

As to “alternative fee arrangements,” the acronymic AFA’s, all of them except the first and last … are still based on hours:

  • Fixed
  • Phased
  • Collared
  • Holdback
  • Blended Rate
  • Contingent
  • Value Based

Here’s the traditional method of calculating what is for partners the magic number, the one that shows up in the AmLaw 100 and 200 lists. This is David Maister’s old formula, which was engraved on a gold tablet and bolted to the wall at the ABA headquarters in Chicago.

NIPP = (1 + L) x BR x U x R x M

Net Income Per Partner =
(1 + Leverage)
x Blended Billing Rate
x Utilization: Average Hours Per Lawyer
x (Realization: Revenue/Standard Value: Posted Rates)
x (Margin: Total Profit/Revenue)

Notice the critical factor Utilization—average hours per lawyer. The more hours worked, the higher partner income. Simple.

But, the elephant in the room is stamping and snorting and must be heard:

Innovation destroys hours.

Now, that’s bad wherever the majority of lawyers’ revenue is rates x our hours. Every hour saved is a dollar lost.

But it’s especially bad for law firms, and that is almost all of them, whose partner comp schemes set the income of individual partners with a formula that counts the individual partner’s hours, or the hours of her team. Because then she knows that she will be personally penalized for her own innovations.

Firms with equal or lock step comp (among the Global 100, that’s just a handful) are better off. They can make collective decisions to innovate, to step away from the bar (one step at a time, not 12) away from addiction to the billable hour—and let partners experiment.

The root cause, of course, is the billable hour. But, our crazy theory, which as Niels Bohr said may not be crazy enough to be true, is that partner compensation schemes are a critical obstacle, and one that can, by creative tinkering, be dealt with. For example, by properly accounting for the costs of revenue. What law firms tend to do, instead, when they get what they (and their accounting systems) still regard as “unusual revenue,” whether it’s a fixed fee for a transaction or a subscription fee for an online service, is to flail around and end up under-compensating the entrepreneurial partners.

Innovations, after all, are intended to produce more profit, not less. That’s how real businesses look at it:

marginal revenue vs cost

Software companies and publishers look for high volume and decreasing marginal costs. Law firms built on billable hours, and constrained by the limitations of the human species, are stuck with constant marginal costs: the next hour costs as much to deliver as the one before it. So volume doesn’t increase margin. (Associate/partner leverage does, but in most BigLaw that can be pushed up only to a diminishing limit.) Indeed, some would say the law firms’ revenue per unit actually declines a bit to the right, so the picture is even worse.

Moreover, again constrained by the species, lawyers cannot work around the clock every day all year long. Airlines look to keep all the seats filled, all their assets earning, at all times. Imagine if airlines said those gigantically expensive airplanes would only be flown during “normal working hours.” Why should law firms leave their most valuable asset—the expertise of their lawyers—unused for two-thirds of the week?

So, we suggest to law firms that a useful, innovation-driving business goal should be:

Leverage without associates
& bill without hours.

That’s the view from Neota Logic. And that’s what we enable lawyers to do.



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The Fastcase 50 at 4—An ecosystem of innovation in law

With two of our co-founders among the Fastcase 50’s (Michael Mills 2012 and John Lord 2014), we decided this morning to have a fresh look back and around at our 198 colleagues among the Fastcase 50 since its inauguration. The four classes of the Fastcase 200 are here: 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

The tour is inspiring, humbling, and provocative.

The Fastcase 50’s are, in the language of the encomia and in alphabetical order: courageous, interesting, and provocative … entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders, techies, trailblazers, and visionaries.

Lively adjectives and active nouns aside, who are they? They are a remarkably wide-ranging (and free range) collection. Again in alphabetical order, the Fastcase 50’s are:

  • academics, advocates, authors, bar leaders, and bloggers
  • commentators, computer scientists, editors, and engineers,
  • entrepreneurs, general counsel, inventors, and journalists
  • judges, justices, lawyers, and librarians
  • government officials, professors, and programmers
  • publishers, regulators, and reinventors
  • students, technologists, thinkers, and writers

And often they wear more than one of those hats. We’re not given to exclamation here at Expert Thinking, the Neota Logic blog, but … what an extraordinary gathering of talents!

More than any other honorary assembly that we know of, the Fastcase 50’s reach across law for the poor, the middle class, and the corporate class; law for those with lawyers and without; and law for citizens and those who might become so.

If the flood times come, Fastcase can build an ark (perhaps digital rather than of gopher wood) and the 50’s will climb aboard 2 by 2, all species represented, to refound the profession.

Noah's Ark - Walters Art Museum

Walters Art Museum

What are the Fastcase 50 doing? Most notably, they are doing and doing different.

No free riders or sliders or hangers-on, no passive watchers. And all, each from a different vantage point, are pushing and pulling the profession (and, yes, the industry) to serve its many and varied clients and constituents better.

They champion transparency—in lawyer/client relations, in government data, policy, and practice, in judicial proceedings, and in legal education. They advocate for access—to the law itself, and to justice. They build structures, systems, and tools for access, quality, economy, and efficiency.

They also collaborate. Our tour of the four classes found time and again 50’s who are working together across organizations and projects, who influence and inspire one another.

Neota Logic’s graph across the network is small but illustrative.

Class of 2011

Beth Noveck, former Deputy CTO of the US and leader of the Open Government Initiative, now director of  The Governance Lab at New York University. With students in the Lab, Neota Logic built a Crowdsourcing Advisor to improve public participation in governance.

Class of 2012

Tanina Rostain, professor, co-director of the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession, and creator of the Technology, Innovation & Law Practice program at Georgetown University Law Center. Roger Skalbeck, associate law librarian at GULC and teacher in the TILP course. For five semesters, soon to be six, students in the course have built Neota Logic expert systems serving access to justice organizations, coached by adjunct professor Kevin Mulcahy of Neota Logic and culminating in the IronTech Competition.

Mark O’Brien, co-founder and executive director of Pro Bono Net. One of us serves on the board of Pro Bono Net, and Neota Logic is building with Pro Bono Net the Legal Services Corporation-funded New Mexico Triage System and the Robin Hood Foundation-funded Immigrant Justice Corps system. And Mark is now co-teaching with Tanina Rostain.

Michael Poulshock, Stanford CodeX, builder of many production expert systems in law and policy, and inventor of new software tools. His work nudges Neota Logic toward ever-better software.

Richard Susskind, author, speaker, and adviser to firms and governments. His widely known graph of evolution in law practice frames what we do at Neota Logic, and appears on our web site (with permission, of course).


And his first books, Expert Systems in Law and Latent Damage Law—The Expert System, inspired one of us to study expert systems in the first place.

Class of 2013

Matthew Burnett, director of the Immigration Advocates Network (IAN). IAN and Matthew worked with students at Georgetown University Law Center in Tanina Rostain’s course to build the Immigration Navigator, a Neota Logic application. And Neota Logic is working with IAN on the Immigrant Justice Corps system.

Ron Friedmann, consultant at Fireman & Co., writer of the venerable and admired Strategic Legal Technology blog, which today is as much about the business of law as about technology. Neota Logic has been guided in many ways by Ron’s insights.

Bill Henderson, professor and director of the Center on the Global Legal Profession at Indiana University Maurer School of Law. At Bill’s invitation, one of us served as visiting-professor-for-a-day in a very engaged, lively class, and joined fellow 2013 Fastcase 50 Richard Granat in a panel presentation to students.

Jim Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation, which has funded the New Mexico Triage System being built by Pro Bono Net and Neota Logic, and organized the Technology Summit, to which one of us contributed and we wrote about in Access to Justice—Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere.

Class of 2014

And in the latest round, Neota Logic is proud to have two new 50’s as friends and collaborators: Scott Rechtschaffen, chief knowledge officer of Littler Mendelson, and Ken Grady, chief executive officer of SeyfarthLean Consulting.

*     *     *

As these snippets illustrate, from any one person among the Fastcase 200, there are lines linking in many directions to many others. A fermenting brew of, yes, “courageous, interesting, and provocative … entrepreneurs, innovators, leaders, techies, trailblazers, and visionaries.”

Can this wattage (the measure of power, after all) be harnessed? Or multiplied? Perhaps it’s time for the Fastcase Forum, an occasional gathering of the 50’s to  strengthen the network, speed up the exchange of ideas, and spontaneously combust new collaborations. We’ll ask @EJWalters.

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Legal Services Renovation—A report from the job site

Poor old law. She needs to be reinvented, reborn, coded, hacked, futured, normalized, and lifted up by angels.

But … in the meantime, we have work to do.

Think Different

We need to learn how to do the work differently, manage it differently and structure and negotiate different fees—based on agreed and measured value, not on hours. And that we is indeed all—law firms and clients together.

Not familiar, not easy, and in the short run not fun. Like yoga and cross-fit training. But once you get the hang of it, it feels good, improves strength and flexibility, and lengthens lives.

Do By Learning, Learn By Doing

The best way to learn is to do, of course. A first-class opportunity to do without risk—that is, to practice in a realistic but not real setting where mistakes don’t cost dollars and everyone’s a novice—is the Legal Service Management Workshop created by the Association of Corporate Counsel (“ACC”).

The two-day program is a bit like boot camp—up early in the morning, chalk talks to get things started, field drills under simulated fire with instructors coaching from the sidelines, after-action reviews to assess the results. Let’s not carry the boot camp metaphor too far—the workshop faculty are experienced, smart, Socratic, funny, responsive, patient and practical. No drill sergeant hats.

Indeed, ACC has recruited for the faculty an all-star team of legal services management wizards from law firms, law departments and consulting firms: Lisa Damon, Seyfarth; Russ Dempsey, United Retirement; Bill Garcia, Thompson Hine; Devdeep Ghosh, Huron; Carla Goldstein, Bank of Montreal; Ken Grady, SeyfarthLean Consulting; Nancy Jessen, Huron Consulting; Pat Lamb, Valorem Law Group; and Rob Lipstein and Kathryn Kirmayer, Crowell & Moring.

How It’s Done

The first day begins with process improvement and process mapping—how to analyze the root causes of problems, how to deconstruct “matters” into steps that can be simplified, eliminated, systematized, outsourced, automated, and measured.

Next is project management. We have a better process, now how do we assure that everyone is on board and rolling down the right track at the right speed? Define the scope of work to be done? And to be not done? How do we estimate and monitor and communicate about progress?

The result can often be a remarkable transformation.

From this …

Seyfarth process diagram 1

To this …

Seyfarth process diagram 2

[Diagrams by permission of Seyfarth Shaw LLP.]

The second day begins with a lecture on value-based fee structures—from flat to contingent—with specific examples and some sharp war stories to illustrate which structure best fits what situation.

At every stage, the workshop participants—drawn equally from law firms and law departments—divide into teams (sounds like business school, right?) and work together on realistic exercises devised by the faculty. The exercises include: creating a process map for an M&A deal; drafting a project charter, budget and detailed project plan for the deal; structuring and negotiating fee arrangements for corporate and litigation matters; and a comprehensive law department cost reduction.

Teams report back to the full crowd on their findings and recommendations, and although no prizes are handed out, there’s a jovial spirit of competition in the room.

After two hard-working days, the novices are now ready to graduate to the real thing. And they have the faculty’s email addresses and phone numbers, so real-time coaching will be at hand when needed.

ACC offers open workshops as well as private workshops for individual law departments and law firms (who will find that inviting clients is a good thing.) Details from Catherine J. Moynihan at ACC.

Neota Logic?

Why, one might ask, does Neota Logic, a software company, care about value-based fees? It’s simple.

We say to general counsel, Neota Logic enables you to reduce risks and improve outcomes without increasing headcount or outside counsel fees. We say to law firms, Neota Logic enables you to bill without hours and leverage without associates.

So when general counsel and law firms are still measuring value in hours worked rather than value delivered—inputs rather than outputs—they may not get what Neota Logic offers.

However, as they learn to apply value-based fees in traditional legal work, they learn that Neota Logic applications take the next step in driving value—to true automation of routine legal and compliance problems.

That’s why we are a sponsor of ACC’s Legal Service Management Workshop.

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Access To Justice & Technology: Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere

“Eighty percent of low income people have trouble obtaining legal representation or otherwise accessing the civil court system to protect their property, family, and livelihood.” (Brennan Center for Justice, New York University Law School).

People with moderate incomes don’t do much better; a large majority represent themselves, get help from someone who isn’t a lawyer, or do nothing when faced with a legal problem. (American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services).

As Margaret Hagan put it, visually:


So What?

On this question, we’re with English barrister Michael Mansfield:

“At the heart of any notion of a decent society is not only that we have rights and protections under the law but that we can enforce those rights and rely upon those protections if needed.”

And with the often-quoted lines of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, who said to the American Bar Association in 1976 when serving as its president:

“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building—it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists … it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

How Do We Fix It?

Delivering access to justice demands change and action on a very broad range of initiatives—pro bono work by the private bar, fair and adequate funding of legal aid, collaboration among all system participants (clients, lawyers, courts, agencies, NGO’s), legal education (and its financing), e-filing and case data standards, court forms, court interfaces to self-represented litigants, unbundled legal services, virtual law practice, multistate practice, law practice ownership and investment, limited practice licenses, unauthorized practice of law rules, lawyer advertising rules, and lawyer discipline. All of these are hard problems, and some of the most sensible solutions are very controversial.

Technology Does What?

Woven through most of these initiatives is a thread of technology questions.

Can technology improve the efficiency of traditional representation? Enable alternative forms of representation? Substitute for representation? Determine which of these paths is most useful or feasible for a particular person facing a particular problem?

Facilitate sharing of resources, and thereby leverage investments, among organizations? Demonstrate to funders that efficient processes are being applied? Enable exchange of data among disparate systems?

And, from a different perspective: Are clients’ expectations of convenience, responsiveness, ubiquity and cost set by technology in the consumer marketplace now the standard for every service industry, including law? Will the advances made possible by technology ultimately crush entrenched resistance to change, even regulatory resistance, as has happened in other industries, from classified advertising to taxi services?

Many big questions, some without near-term answers: we’ll need to wait and see.

Fortunately, however, some of the technology questions have clear, positive, immediate answers, and demonstrated successes.

At the White House

Recently, the administration convened the second (we hope annual) White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice, led by Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler, Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to the First Lady, Tony West, Associate Attorney General, Jim Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation, and John Levi, Chairman of LSC.

As we have read the reports, there were two highlights of the Forum. First, the Department of Justice and the White House Domestic Policy Council released the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable Toolkit, which is:

“an online resource guide containing useful information about civil legal services, and how those services can help advance a broad array of Federal objectives. The Toolkit will help further engage the legal services community, and will identify for both legal service providers and Federal agencies the program areas where legal service providers’ work can add the most value, including by listing examples from across the Federal Government of grants and activities that engage civil legal aid.”

Second, Glenn Rawdon, LSC’s Program Counsel for Technology, focused the audience on the specific, practical role that technology has in delivering access to justice. Mr. Rawdon’s talk, titled Everyone, Anytime, Anywhere, invoked Bill Gates’s 1999 forecast that “the next step for technology is universal access” and his celebration of “convergence” in order to introduce the recently published report of the LSC Summit on the Use of Technology to Expand Access to Justice.

Legal Services Corporation Tech Summit

As the Legal Services Corporation said when announcing the report:

“More than 75 representatives of legal aid programs, courts, government, and business as well as technology experts, academics, and private practitioners convened at two sessions in 2012 and 2013 to explore the many ways technology can expand access to justice.

’This report is important,’ said LSC President James J. Sandman.  ‘It charts a path to a future where, through the smart and disciplined use of technology, the legal aid community can provide some form of assistance to everyone with a significant civil legal problem—and not have to turn people away with nothing.’

The strategy for achieving this goal has five main components:

  1. Creating in each state a unified legal portal which directs persons needing legal assistance to the most appropriate form of assistance and guides self-represented litigants through the entire legal process.
  2. Deploying sophisticated document assembly applications to support the creation of legal documents by service providers and by litigants themselves.
  3. Taking advantage of mobile technologies to reach more persons more effectively.
  4. Applying business process/analysis to all access-to-justice activities to make them as efficient as practicable.Developing expert systems to assist lawyers and other services providers access authoritative
  5. knowledge through a computer and apply it to particular factual situations.”

Participants in the two sessions defined the summit’s mission this way:

“to explore the potential of technology to move the United States toward providing some form of effective assistance to 100% of persons [emphasis added] otherwise unable to afford an attorney for dealing with essential civil legal needs.”

We add emphasis to the phrase above because it captures a significant change from long-standing practice for allocation of the scarce resources of civil legal assistance, which has been pungently, if a bit cynically, described as “first in, first out, until the money runs out.” Traditional models of personal service cannot meet demand, but effective assistance can be provided nonetheless by smart use of technology (and some of the other means noted above, such as unbundled services, which may themselves be technology-enabled).

Mission and vision are necessary, and powerful. But are there examples of real stuff in the real world? Indeed there are, a great many of them funded by LSC’s Technology Initiative Grant (TIG) program, which, as Rawdon reminded the White House audience, is now in its 15th year—roughly coincident with the rise and revolution of the smartphone.

TIG grants from 2000 to 2013 are a tour of steadily evolving technology and steadily expanding capacity and ambition to use technology. TIG has funded more than 550 projects among 800 applications, a total investment of more than $43 million, beginning with state-wide web sites in 2000 and extending to online intake and triage systems in 2013.

To convey the impressive range and depth of projects enabled by TIG, we reproduce the 2013 grant list in full below.

On the For-Profit Side of the Aisle

Technology innovation in legal services for people of low and moderate income by no means comes only from projects propelled by the Legal Services Corporation and the other organizations listed below under the heading Resources.

Profits can be made, or at least foreseen, and innovators are doing just that. The best known are, of course, LegalZoom and RocketLawyer, but there are many, many others. Have a look at the 470 legal startups on Angel List or the participants in LexRedux organized by Joshua Kubicki and the Law Angel Network, or the companies around NexLaw Partners or David Perla, many of the participants in ReInventLaw, or in New York City alone the 22 companies flagged by Richard Granat. And not-so-start-uppy companies like Fastcase and DirectLaw.

Neota Logic

What’s our stake in access to justice? We’re working with Pro Bono Net and New Mexico Legal Aid on a statewide triage program. We’re working with North Penn Legal Services and Start Small Think Big. We build software that tackles head-on each of the five elements of the integrated service delivery system proposed in the LSC Summit Report. We support Georgetown University Law Center and other law schools in teaching their students to collaborate with access to justice organizations to build interactive, online expert systems that guide people through complex legal problems. And, we agree with Justice Powell.


Legal Services Corporation, Technology Initiative Grants, 2013


State Organization Purpose Description
AR Center for Arkansas Legal Services Online Intake This project will develop a statewide online intake system to expand services to low-income
Arkansans and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of staff. Online intake allows
prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web, either at home or at
a library or community center. The online intake system will be integrated into each of the
case management systems of the two LSC-funded Arkansas programs. This saves significant time
and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information
instead of inputting it themselves.
AR Legal Aid of Arkansas, Inc. Medical Legal Partnership Funding will support the development of an online legal assistance system for use in medical
legal partnerships (MLPs) across the state. The system will direct patients in need of legal
assistance to the most appropriate available resources to address their needs. Components of
the system will include a legal needs assessment tool, a personalized online self-help
packet based on the users’ responses to questions, and tools to pre-screen users for
potential representation. The system will be used statewide to assist five established MLPs,
as well as with additional MLPs that will be launched over the next year.
CT Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut (SLS) will produce a library of training videos to
help pro bono attorneys deliver services to clients more effectively. Videos will cover the
basics of divorce law, consumer debt collection issues, and other common legal problems.
This project will complement the newly launched Call4Law initiative, a statewide
program that matches prescreened clients with pro bono attorneys for one-hour legal
consultations by telephone.
FL Legal Services of Greater Miami, Inc. Online Intake This project will allow Legal Services of Greater Miami to develop an online intake system to
expand services to clients. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services
at any time through the web, whether from home or at a library or community center. The
online intake system will also be integrated into Legal Services of Greater Miami’s case
management system, which saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake
staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. The
system will be in English, Spanish, and Haitian Creole in order to serve the predominant
populations in the Miami area.
FL Three Rivers Legal Services, Inc. Library Initiatives This project will increase access to online legal information and self-help resources in
Florida through a statewide outreach and partnership initiative targeting Florida public
libraries. The project will include a webinar series for library staff on free legal
information and resources available to library patrons, development of customized legal
information satellite sites for up to four public library partners, and enhanced technical
capacities that allow librarians and other partners to keep up-to-date on new resources
available through Florida’s statewide legal information website,
GA Atlanta Legal Aid Society, Inc. National Projects Atlanta Legal Aid will create the National Olmstead Website. Olmstead is
the Supreme Court decision that requires states to provide supports to individuals with
disabilities in their homes rather than in an institutional setting. The National
Olmstead Website will raise awareness to three essential populations that legal
services traditionally work with: 1) young adults with disabilities aging out of schools and
aging out of children’s Medicaid; 2) adults who are diagnosed with a disability as adults;
and 3) seniors who are diagnosed with a disability late in life. The site will provide legal
resources for individuals with disabilities and for their attorneys. These resources include
web videos, legal advocacy toolkits and trainings, self-help tools, and guides for creating
accessible website content.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Funding will continue to enhance A2J Author, a
highly successful software application used nationally for delivering web based services to
low income people. This grant will build document assembly capabilities directly into the
A2J software, simplifying the process of creating high-quality automated court forms and
other legal documents. The project will also grow the pool of A2J developers by continuing
to expand law school cyber clinics where tech-savvy students create document assembly tools
for low income people.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Website Grants with National Impact This project will support WriteClearly
, a national initiative focused on ensuring that online tools created by legal
services organizations utilize plain language to effectively communicate information to
users. The project will make widely accessible an application that analyzes text from legal
services websites and document assembly applications for readability and suggests better
language options. Additionally, a plain language expert will help the legal services
community expand its collection of plain language legal resources, including a glossary of
replacement words that enhance readability.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Mobile Technologies This project will develop an enhanced version of the Drupal for Legal Aid Websites (DLAW) template. The
DLAW template powers over 20 legal services websites across the country and is also made
available as a free open source product to any legal aid nonprofit. The upgrade will focus
on improving site architecture, layout, and internal reporting capacities. Additional
trainings and support opportunities will be available for legal services organizations that
have not yet developed a robust web presence.
ID Idaho Legal Aid Services, Inc. Document Assembly This project will integrate Idaho’s statewide case management system with LawHelp Interactive (LHI), a national document
assembly service. The integration will allow Idaho advocates and pro bono attorneys to send
existing client information from the case system to a secure web application that returns
properly formatted drafts of court forms and other legal documents. The automated process
will substantially reduce the amount of time attorneys spend inputting data and drafting
routine documents for clients, allowing them to serve more individuals in need of
IL Legal Assistance Foundation Infrastructure Focused Grants Funding will support the development of a secure, enterprise-level information management
system using Microsoft SharePoint. Critical features include document management, robust
search, and integration with the program’s case management system. The system will allow
Legal Assistance Foundation to better build and maintain institutional knowledge throughout
the organization, resulting in more extended representation for clients and expanded
community outreach to client groups.
LA Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (SLLS) will develop online interactive training resources
for new staff, law student workers and pro bono attorneys in the state. Users will progress
through an interactive training program that utilizes a blend of technologies — including
online video and document assembly — to provide a robust training experience and identify
areas that may require further assistance. These resources will be available to all
LSC-funded programs in Louisiana.
LA Southeast Louisiana Legal Services Corporation Online Intake This project will develop a statewide online intake system to expand services to clients
across Louisiana. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time
through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake
system will be integrated into each of the case management systems of the LSC-funded
Louisiana programs. This saves significant time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake
staff to simply verify user-submitted information instead of inputting it themselves. The
system will also refer users to online resources that can help them meet their legal
ME Pine Tree Legal Assistance, Inc. Online Triage TIG funding will support development of an online legal triage tool for Pine Tree Legal
Assistance (PTLA) in Maine. The tool will help users quickly find the most appropriate
resources to address their needs from PTLA’s collection of over 700 legal information
articles and its statewide network of legal aid providers. The tool will also route
appropriate users to PTLA’s online application so that they can quickly and efficiently
receive assistance directly from the program. PTLA will also partner with Statewide Legal
Services of Connecticut (SLS) so that both organizations can develop versions of the tool
for their client communities.
MI Legal Services of South Central Michigan Document Assembly This grant will strengthen,
a statewide legal information website for self-represented individuals. The project team
will expand the number of automated document assembly interviews available to users. These
web-based interviews present users with a series of questions about a document or form,
allowing them to input the required information in a logical and organized manner. Answers
are then used to assemble a customized document or court form for the user. These additional
online resources will enable more self-represented people to access the justice system, and
will improve the ability of the courts to efficiently and effectively serve these
MI Legal Services of South Central Michigan Use of Data to Analyze Service Delivery and Develop Advocacy Strategies Funding will support the production and expansion of outcomes data related to the new
statewide legal information website,, and affiliated self-help
centers. The project team will conduct an in-depth evaluation to assess how effectively
available resources helped these users meet their legal needs. This evaluation involves both
connecting with users of online legal resources after they have completed their court
process and analyzing data from the public court files. The project will be promoted to the
national community so that the lessons learned will inform self-help legal initiatives
across the country.
MP Micronesian Legal Services, Inc. Videoconferencing Micronesian Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) serves its remote island communities from eight
client services offices in four different time zones. This project will improve service to
these remote communities using technology. It will build MLSC’s internal capacity to
communicate between its eight offices by implementing program-wide videoconferencing than
will be utilized to enhance staff training and supervision. This project will also enhance
the overall technology infrastructure of MLSC.
MT Montana Legal Services Association Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement This project will allow Montana Legal Services Association to develop an online Montana child
support calculator. This web-based application will guide parents through an online
interview to collect the financial and other information needed to complete a child support
calculation in accordance with the Montana Child Support Guidelines. The resulting
calculation and underlying worksheets can be printed or e-mailed to the parent for use when
filing or modifying a parenting action. This project enjoys strong support from the Montana
Child Support Enforcement Division and the Montana Supreme Court Administrator’s office.
MT Montana Legal Services Association Expert Systems and Triage The Montana Legal Services Association (MLSA) will develop a triage and expert systems tool
for use by intake staff. The tool will allow staff to more effectively route cases and
determine the most suitable legal information or advice for prospective clients. MLSA will
also adapt portions of the triage tool into packaged online guides for use by people seeking
legal information and resources on the internet. The project will explore the usefulness of
these client focused expert guides as a means of providing legal information and resources
for those in need.
NC Legal Aid of North Carolina, Inc. Videoconferencing This project will expand Legal Aid of North Carolina’s (LANC’s) videoconferencing capacity
throughout the state. LANC will adopt a cloud-based videoconferencing system that will
connect all of its twenty-two offices into one integrated system. The system will allow LANC
to deliver more legal clinics in rural areas via videoconference, as well as connect staff
and pro bono attorneys throughout the state.
NM New Mexico Legal Aid Online Triage New Mexico Legal Aid (NMLA) will develop a statewide online triage program for the major
civil legal issues faced by low income individuals and other vulnerable populations. The
system will include both advocate and public-facing online interviews to help identify and
recommend the best source of assistance for a litigant’s circumstances based on variables
such as location, income, language, and other factors. The triage system will encompass
services provided by New Mexico Legal Aid and five other legal aid agencies in the state, in
addition to court, self-help and pro bono resources. This ensures that low-income people are
connected to the resources that will most likely help them meet their legal need, in the
most cost-effective manner possible.
NM New Mexico Legal Aid Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement This project will create a virtual pro bono portal that will enable clients, pro bono lawyers
and legal aid advocates, even when located in different parts of the state, to work
collaboratively and directly exchange legal documents and information in a secure online
space. This project will leverage several innovative components — including a robust
practice management platform, video conferencing, and built-in document assembly – to more
effectively serve rural clients throughout the state and provide volunteer lawyers with a
more convenient opportunity to assist New Mexicans in need.
NY Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Website Grants for Programs This project will expand the legal information resources available to low income users in the
Legal Services of Hudson Valley service area by adding plain language legal guides to the
program’s website as well as the New York statewide legal information website, Materials will be available in both
English and Spanish and will be promoted to the community through a webinar series targeted
to libraries and nonprofits throughout the region.
OH Ohio State Legal Services Document Assembly This project will continue the maintenance and support of LawHelp Interactive, a very successful national
resource that provides high quality document assembly forms to both legal aid advocates and
low-income people representing themselves. LawHelp Interactive delivers web-based interviews
that present users with a series of questions about a document or form, allowing them to
input the required information in a logical and organized manner. These answers are then
used to assemble a customized, properly-formatted document or court form. Funding will also
support a range of expanded document assembly capacities, including integrations with case
management systems and court e-filing. During 2012, LawHelp Interactive was used to complete
nearly 400,000 documents.
OK Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma, Inc. Leveraging Technology to Increase Pro Bono Attorney and Law Student Involvement Legal Aid Services of Oklahoma will develop a technology-facilitated pro bono model to
increase the involvement of volunteer lawyers in expungement cases. Clients in need of
expungement assistance will utilize online guides and an automated interview to create court
forms that are then submitted to pro bono attorneys for review. This automated process will
enable Oklahoma lawyers to provide limited scope legal services over the internet. It offers
a convenient volunteer opportunity for attorneys who do not currently accept pro bono cases
for full representation and allows attorneys to more easily connect with rural clients in
PA North Penn Legal Services, Inc. Expert Systems and Checklists Funding will support the development of an automated “Divorce Tracker” tool that will guide
self represented litigants and pro bono attorneys through simple divorce cases. The tracker
will analyze what tasks need to be done to ensure successful completion of the divorce
process, as well as generate sets of documents for filing and service. Regular workshops
based on the Divorce Tracker and associated resources will enable North Penn Legal Services
to offer legal assistance to more individuals in need.
PA North Penn Legal Services, Inc. Online Intake This project will develop an online intake system to expand services to clients of North Penn
Legal Services. Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time
through the web, either at home or at a library or community center. The online intake
system will be integrated into North Penn’s case management system, which saves significant
time and reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted
information instead of inputting it themselves. North Penn will also pilot an analytical
tool that further assists staff in eligibility determinations.
TN Legal Aid of East Tennessee Client Education Videos and LEP Resources Legal Aid of East Tennessee will improve access to legal information by creating a series of
videos that
provide low income people with on demand guidance on matters such as orders
of protection, foreclosure, and other common legal issues. Videos will be produced in both
English and Spanish, will be captioned for the hearing impaired, and will be accessible from
both standard computers and mobile devices.
TN Legal Aid of East Tennessee Remote Service Delivery This project will utilize Microsoft Lync Server to improve communications with clients and
enhance internal communications among staff. Lync will allow staff across the organization
to easily conduct web meetings, exchange instant messages, and utilize Microsoft’s other
telepresence features. Additionally, Legal Aid of East Tennessee clients will be able to
videoconference with their attorneys either though home computers or mobile devices or at
conveniently-located community access points.
UT Utah Legal Services, Inc. Mobile Technologies This project will allow Utah Legal Services (ULS) to implement the technology necessary to
allow advocates serving clients remotely to securely access all of a client’s internal case
management information, pleadings and other documents as well as external court records and
files. In addition, ULS will create an automated process to obtain electronic signatures
from clients for use with ULS’ client information sheet – making full and compliant intake
screening possible at any location.
VT Legal Services Law Line of Vermont, Inc. Online Intake and Triage This project will develop an online intake system to expand services to clients in Vermont.
Online intake allows prospective clients to apply for services at any time through the web,
either at home or at a library or community center. The system will direct online contacts
to the appropriate component of the legal services delivery system through, whether it is forms, information,
referral, or intake with one of the state’s providers. The online intake system will also be
integrated into the organization’s case management system, which saves significant time and
reduces mistakes by allowing intake staff to simply verify user-submitted information
instead of inputting it themselves.
WA Northwest Justice Project Mobile Technologies and Program IT Infrastructure Northwest Justice Project (NJP) will create a “Texting for Outcomes” system, which will
gather information on the outcomes of limited-assistance legal hotline cases and use that
information to improve delivery of services to clients. Technology developed through this
project will automatically text outcome questions to client who have received limited
assistance and have represented themselves in a legal action. The client’s texted reply will
automatically populate a field in NJP’s case management record so that the program can
easily collect and analyze outcomes data. In order to create this capacity and to promote
sustainability and efficiency in client service, NJP will implement an upgraded call center
as part of this project.
WA Northwest Justice Project National Technology Support Funding This project will allow the Northwest Justice Project (NJP) to continue its successful Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project (NTAP).
The NTAP has three objectives: (1) to support and maintain a core collection of technology
services and resources that play an essential role in the legal services community; (2) to
provide one-on-one support and guidance to LSC-funded programs on a broad range of legal
technologies; and (3) to help programs effectively replicate successful TIG initiatives.
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