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Connecting Access to Advocacy: A Role for Technology in Legal Empowerment

Cite as: 5 Geo. L. Tech. Rev. 127 (2021)

To date, civil justice tech innovations in the United States have primarily focused on addressing two essential needs for access to justice: (1) expanding access to legal information, services and court systems for individuals seeking help, often without an attorney, and (2) facilitating discrete legal transactions like completing a legal form, filing a document in court, or participating in a remote consultation with a volunteer attorney.1 In this piece, we argue that legal empowerment offers a distinct, innovative, and complementary framework to current access to justice efforts in the US. We also suggest that technology can be an important enabler for legal empowerment efforts that require a distinct set of practices, capabilities, and values.

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Liz Keith & Mark O'Brien

Liz Keith is program director at Pro Bono Net, where she leads national initiatives that provide access to legal help and self-advocacy tools for more than 8 million people a year. Liz has played a key role in Pro Bono Net's program strategy for more than a decade and in 2015, was selected to participate in the inaugural Legal Empowerment Leadership program at Central European University’s School of Public Policy. Prior to Pro Bono Net, Liz managed public interest technology projects at the University of Michigan and coordinated advocacy campaigns on issues impacting low-income women in Maine.

Mark O'Brien is the co-founder of Pro Bono Net, a national nonprofit that brings the power of the law to all by building digital services and fostering collaborations with the nation’s leading civil and immigration legal organizations. Since 1999, Pro Bono Net has built web platforms to support public interest lawyers, enable broad based justice partnerships, and empower people in need to solve their legal problems. He a non-resident senior fellow at the Institute for Technology Law & Policy at Georgetown University Law Center where he co-teaches a practicum on Digital Tools and Access to Justice.