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It’s past time to add “Justice Tech” to your lexicon.

Updated: Jun 18

There have been many terms over the last two decades used to describe using technology aimed at narrowing the access to justice gap:

From streamlining intake at legal aid organizations to helping self-represented litigants navigate the courts, justice tech has evolved well beyond one-time projects at nonprofits or legal tech for public interest / pro bono attorneys (also called GovTech/CivicTech).

Justice tech has opened up a new consumer-focused market providing free, low bono or lower cost legal information and services through innovative new service models and emerging technologies and a massive opportunity for impact and ROI.

The fast-growing sector includes both early stage startups as well as multimillion dollar mission-driven companies with direct-to-consumer solutions built to make justice more accessible, equitable, and responsive. Justice tech companies are empowering individuals to address their legal problems with tech-assisted support, mostly without hiring an attorney. Read more and find examples at the Justice Technology Association, a trade organization that brings together justice tech startups, investors, and the broader ecosystem.

For several years, I’ve managed the Duke Law Tech Lab, an accelerator at the Duke Center on Law & Tech created to support early-stage legal tech companies. Over the years, the Duke Law Tech Lab evolved to exclusively focus our resources on justice tech startups. This is where I first saw the potential of justice tech startups, starting with Erin Levine of Hello Divorce in 2018 and then Sonja Ebron and Debra Sloan of Courtroom5 and Yousef Kassim of Easy Expunctions in 2019. (In 2018, we also worked with a small business focused company, which is a high need as well. Six Fifty’s recent pivot to focus on small businesses is testament to this need.)

The Research

In 2022 we undertook a research project on justice tech, reviewing articles and podcasts and interviewing a wide variety of people connected to the legal system. We asked questions about the challenges justice tech companies are facing, based on what we had learned while running the Duke Law Tech Lab. We spoke directly to dozens of justice tech founders.

Many of the founders had a personal connection to the challenge they aim to solve. Some founders had worked as attorneys helping people deal repeatedly with a specific issue, but many - especially nonlawyer founders - had personally represented themselves and worked their way through the (opaque, complex, built for lawyers) system. We heard the stories of changemakers passionate about access to justice.

Justice tech founders are scaling affordable technology to give access to the legal system to people who legal aid and pro bono aren’t serving or can’t serve. I hear lawyers continually point to public defenders, the courts, legal aid and pro bono as what their profession is doing to support access to justice. (Also - shout out to the law librarians, court navigators, and other nonprofits like DV agencies who don’t get as much attention for their labor.) But the gap has only widened, even as more resources than ever are dedicated to legal aid.

So who is innovating? Justice tech founders. They have a deep understanding of how many people there are to serve, and they are taking the personal, professional, and financial risks to solve old problems in new ways, with new business models and new technologies. Regardless of whether they are incorporated as a nonprofit, for profit, a Public Benefit Corporation, or have a hybrid business model, the core of their efforts are about mitigating consumer harm, prioritizing consumer benefit, and increasing consumer access to the legal system and their own rights.

We talk about justice tech founders as mission-driven mavericks, creating consumer centered, data-informed solutions. Direct to consumer justice tech has a huge total addressable market. Time to pay attention to this growing and promising section of the legal industry. Time to make “justice tech” part of our daily lexicon.

Want to learn more about justice tech? Here are some resources to get you started:

Kelli Raker supports law, tech, and entrepreneurship programs at Duke Law, including coordinating the annual Legal Design Derby and Future of Contracts Design Derby programs. She has served as managing director of the justice tech accelerator, the Duke Law Tech Lab, and published a report in October 2023 about her research on justice tech in From Founded to Funded: Challenges and Visions for Justice Tech. Kelli was a 2021 Women of Legal Tech honoree and is currently serving on the RAILS – Responsible A.I. in Legal Services implementation team through the Duke Center on Law & Tech. She is also a certified mindfulness instructor. Find her on LinkedIn.



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