Every day technology plays a bigger and bigger role in people's lives, including those of legal aid providers and clients. Through its Technology Committee, the Texas Access to Justice Commission explores and recommends technological solutions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of legal services delivery. These initiatives are a joint effort of private and public interest attorneys along with experienced information technology professionals working in both private sector law firms and legal aid offices.
The inaugural effort of our Technology Committee addressed the problems that many legal aid providers had with out of date and unreliable technology and software. After conducting a survey to gather data on what each program needed in terms of equipment and software, the Commission and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation made a one-time bulk purchase of hardware and software valued at $680,000 to ensure that each provider had a baseline level of technology. In exchange, providers promised to regularly update and replace their software and hardware.
In addition to helping programs upgrade their equipment, the Commission has worked with experts to educate providers on technology management best practices and provide technological support. A model IT Guideline and Business Continuity Plan was also created for legal services programs to assist them in emergency planning and preparedness so that programs can stay in business when disaster strikes. Additionally, an IT Help Desk, supported by Norton Rose Fulbright’s Houston technology team, provides free technical support to legal services staff 24 hours a day.
The Technology Committee offers resources and tools for legal aid organizations to maximize efficiency through the use of technology and develop innovate methods for delivering legal services.
Technology Training Program & Update Presentations
Training for legal services staff is provided to ensure the legal aid community is up to date on the latest technology developments. Having easily accessible technology training allows legal aid staff to become more proficient in the software and tools they use on a daily basis, which increases their efficiency and helps them to serve clients more effectively.
Through a generous offer with UniversitySite, online training courses are offered in a variety of software programs. Legal aid staff can access these online courses at any time to become educated on the intricacies of Microsoft Office programs and other helpful topics.
During the summer of 2014, the benefits of the online training courses were expanded with the provision of live trainings across the state to legal service staff. These trainings cover Microsoft Office and allow staff members to get in-person instruction on program features to better assist them in their work.
Periodic webinars are also offered on current technology trends and information that is important for the legal aid community to know. Past webinar presentations have covered cyber security, bringing your own device, and Texas’ mandatory E-filing system.
Because each LSC program is responsible for providing services across a geographical area the size of Colorado, many rural Texans have limited access to a legal aid office and are left with almost no options for legal assistance. Videoconferencing technology makes it possible for attorneys to assist rural self-represented litigants in our state. This innovative new technology is one way to increase access to legal assistance across the state and move closer to closing the justice gap.
Beginning in 2012, the Technology Committee partnered with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid to provide self-represented litigants with a pro bono attorney via videoconferencing. The project matches rural self-represented litigants with urban volunteer attorneys to assist litigants with handling their simple divorce cases. The first pilot case paired a litigant in Uvalde County and a volunteer attorney in Harris County. Overall, the pilot was a success and the Committee is currently looking into the best way to expand videoconferencing to more counties.