What innovations already exist for increasing access to justice?

What are the technologies, policies, and designs that can be used to increase access to justice? Our team at Stanford is mapping out the space of innovations so that we can understand:

  1. What existing solutions already exist, to prevent replication or new projects that are not needed
  2. Where we need more innovation, to address problems that people have, and where there are not enough solutions for them.

Use this inventory by browsing through the posts, each of which profiles a different category of access innovations and which gives examples and links to the projects in that category.

The Justice System User’s Needs

For each stage of a person’s journey through a justice issue, we have listed out the core functions and needs in the stage. We have listed out existing solutions — ideally that can be replicated — to help a person deal with this stage.

For each of these steps, we should also be thinking about simplification (as well as improvement). We recommend that any network or institution that is thinking about innovation in the justice system ask itself these questions, at this Blueprint Level:

  • What steps are the biggest dysfunctions? Where are people most often getting confused? Or taking actions that are harmful or non-strategic? Where are people dis-engaging from the process?
  • What steps can be removed, combined, or co-located? Where are there opportunities for reducing complexity? By making it easier for a person to get through it, combine steps, or avoid it altogether?
  • What steps do we already have innovations for? As we are documenting on this site, there are already a number of technologies, services, and policies that can improve the system. Make sure that you are drawing from existing resources, rather than starting from an (artificial) scratch.

Awareness & Triage

How can we help people with possible legal issues to know that they have legal options, that there are legal services that can help them, and convince them to engage with the justice system? The key of this stage is being able to name their life problem as one with a legal dimension, and then making the decision to try to resolve it.

Triage can also diagnose a person’s best type of service path — so not about the legal issue, but rather about whether the person should best receive service via tech, in-person consults, unbundled interactions, or otherwise.

Innovations to Promote Awareness of Legal Needs

Medical Legal Partnerships

Lawyers are placed within a hospital, and medical professionals are trained on how to spot possible legal issues among their patients. If they spot an issue, they can refer them to the in-house lawyer, to help them figure out what their options and next steps can be to resolve the legal issue. It’s motivated to have lawyers help address structural problems at the root of health problems :: https://medical-legalpartnership.org/

Water Bill Scraper/Data-Spotting

Using government administrative databases (like those of overdue water bills) to spot when people might be having financial and legal problems. Advocates can look at these databases for their clients to spot unseen problems, and to proactively get them services. This Water Bill Scraper is open-source code for Maryland, from Matthew Stubenberg of Maryland Volunteer Legal Services, https://github.com/MVLSLAW/WaterBillScraper 

Divorce Bot

from Nora al-Haider, a bot on Reddit’s legal advice board that provides automatic replies to people posting about their family law problems, to connect them with local legal help :: https://medium.com/@ahnora/the-reddit-divorce-bot-85cf1acdcae8

Legal Barbershop:

in which a lawyer in New Britain, Connecticut opened a Legal Cuts barbershop inside his legal office to listen for possible legal problems among his clientele who were there for haircuts or shaves [though it seems to be closed as of 2016]

  • In-person legal aid counters, centers, store-fronts, kiosks
  • Self-help centers in courts and libraries
  • Online intake portal for an organization, region, state, country

Orientation + Process Navigation

How can we help someone understand the legal territory they’re in? Once they realize they have a problem, now they need to understand the particulars of the language, the options they have, the process they might have to follow, and what services are available to them.


Wise Messenger

Visual Guides


Once a person has been given information about their legal issue, how can they make decisions about what options to choose? How do they deploy this information, to apply it to their specific situation and create a plan of what they will do?

Advocate connection

If a person wants to seek out someone else to help them with their problem, how can they find what people or other services are available? How can they sort through options, find the one that best suits them, and set up the relationship?

Intake Tools: gathering info from your clients

QnA Markup – by David Colarusso, is a simple markup language for people with little or no programing experience. It transforms blocks of nested text into interactive Questions and Answers. These QnAs can be used as stand-alone expert systems or in the aid of rule-based document construction. With the code base here (https://github.com/colarusso/QnAMarkup)

Docassemble, an open source application to create and populate forms, documents, and other legal tasks/paperwork. Advocates and courts can use it to create user-friendly document assembly programs for litigants to use when filling in these official documents :: https://docassemble.org/

A2J Author, a soon-to-be open source application that allows advocates and courts to provide automated document assembly to litigants, by having the litigant answer questions through a visual, conversational interface :: https://www.a2jauthor.org/ 

Get Feedback – an online tool to create image-rich, staged surveys

Typeform – a basic-version-free online tool to create well-designed, user-friendly questionnaires

Form Filing, Evidence, and Service of Process

Once a person has decided to use the justice system to resolve their problem, how can they present their story, arguments, evidence, and witness in ways that are acceptable to the system? In particular, how can they structure their case into a filing with the court, prepare their evidence and witnesses for submission, and ensure their papers are acceptably served to other parties?

Innovations to Help People Complete Tasks like Drafting Documents, Assembling Evidence, and Filing/Serving Paperwork

Docassemble, an open source application to create and populate forms, documents, and other legal tasks/paperwork. Advocates and courts can use it to create user-friendly document assembly programs for litigants to use when filling in these official documents :: https://docassemble.org/

A2J Author, a soon-to-be open source application that allows advocates and courts to provide automated document assembly to litigants, by having the litigant answer questions through a visual, conversational interface :: https://www.a2jauthor.org/ 

Just Fixa non-profit tech initiative that helps tenants document their housing problems, prepare evidence to be admissible in housing court, write official letters to their landlord, get resolution with their landlord, and connect with Right to Counsel free lawyers  :: https://www.justfix.nyc/

Upsolve, a tech non-profit with an automated system to help a person file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy :: https://upsolve.org/

SoloSuita free application from BYU Design Lab to respond to a debt collection lawsuit :: https://www.solosuit.com/

Eviction Self-Help guide: a tool in Arizona and soon-to-be Ohio, in which tenants facing eviction can understand their legal defenses, counterclaims, procedure — and can draft answers or counter-complaints for housing court. From Stanford Legal Design Lab :: https://www.azevictionhelp.org/

Massachusetts Defense for Eviction: a free guided interview for tenants in Massachusetts who are facing eviction, to create response documents, get reminders, and find supportive help through videos and legal education. From Greater Boston Legal Services :: https://www.gbls.org/MADE

Process Navigation

As a person is going through the justice system, they need to stay on track with numerous deadlines, requirements, appearances, and other procedural requirements. What can help them manage these many requirements, to ensure that they are done correctly? How can a person understand what the whole process will entail, and be empowered to follow through on it?

Negotiation, Presentation, and Resolution

When parties must present their sides, discuss possible resolutions, show their evidence and support, and make decisions about how the situation can come to an end — what are the possible solutions to help them have these conversations, make these presentations, and come to a resolution?

Innovations to Help People Negotiate their Position, Present their Arguments and Evidence, and Come to Resolution,

Online dispute resolution software, like BC online tribunal, Modria, or Rechtwijzer, that guides two parties through their options and helps them make a settlement

Difficult conversation training, like British Colombia’s 

  • Document capture, analysis, and collaboration
  • Information capture, storytelling
  • Review by a professional mediator, arbitrator, etc.

Other Resources 

In addition to the specific tools listed above, there are other resources you might find useful.

Data Standardization

Efforts in this area focus on how we capture data in the world of legal services — from client data, to information about how services operate, or what services are on offer — in a standard, open, interoperable way. Some of the data to be standardized:

We may also develop standards for:

  • eligibility for services
  • services on offer
  • process steps, legal requirements
  • document & filing protocols

Interoperability Requirements for Court Systems

Can we have a policy and procurement standard that guarantees that court systems can operate with each other, and that other vendors, legal aid groups, lawyers, and public interest technologists can work with.

  • That have Data Fields that are always termed in the same way, and that map to each other
  • With Data Exchanges to other agencies that can verify income level for ‘ability to pay’ and ‘fee waiver’ actions
  • That allow for APIs so that systems can operate with each other

Open Source Tech Tools

Some tech tools that are being built out, that can be useful in legal work, that are either completely free or low-cost to use.

Research tools: Know The Law

Free Law Project / Courtlistener – by Brian Carver & Mike Lissner, with free access to primary legal materials,  & developing legal research tools and supporting academic research. With the Github codebase https://github.com/freelawproject

H2O – by Harvard Law School and the Berkman Center, for creating, sharing and adapting open course materials. With the code base at https://github.com/berkmancenter/h2o

Content Creation

Perma.cc, by Harvard Law School, helps scholars, journals and courts create permanent links to the online sources cited in their work. With the code base at https://github.com/harvard-lil/perma

Office Management: get your work under control

KeePass – a free open-source password manager, which helps you to manage your passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key or a key file.

Trello is a project management tool for to-do lists and team coordination, that lets you lay out and assign tasks in a very visual and clear way. It is free to use (at least in basic ways).

OpenOffice.org is a full-featured office productivity suite that provides a near drop-in replacement for Microsoft(R) Office. Users report that little or no training is required for people migrating from other office suites – everything works the way people expect. License: GPL/LGPL or Sun Industry Standards Source License

GnoTime  is the GNOME Time Tracker, a program which allows you to track the time you spend on any number of tasks and projects. GnoTime also allows you to generate customised reports and annotated logs of these times. License: GPL

Case Reporter is a PHP-based information management system for law firms. The primary focus of this project is to provide a comprehensive yet functional information management information system with an emphasis on the client-case model. License: GPL

MargaretJustice Innovation Inventory