5 Questions with James Sandman, President of Legal Services Corp.

Topics: Access to Justice, Codex, Government, Leadership, Legal Innovation, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Q&A Interviews

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STANFORD, Calif. — Last week’s CodeX FutureLaw 2017 conference, which drew more than 200 attendees to Stanford University, was the definition of eclectic. The day-long event covered everything from an inspiring keynote address given by Prof. Gillian Hadfield, of the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, on how to reinvent law for a complex global economy; to a riveting discussion on The Rise of The Legal Chatbots — tech tools that collect information and can advance legal services, such as fighting traffic tickets, dealing with immigration issues or navigating healthcare.

Among the compelling speakers was James Sandman, the president of Legal Services Corp. (LSC), a publicly funded non-profit that funds and monitors free civil legal aid in the United States. Sandman is no stranger to CodeX FutureLaw — he was last year’s keynote speaker, and his talk ended up on Twitter’s Top 10 Trend list.

This year, Sandman was on the fascinating FutureLaw @5 Lightning Round panel, where five speakers were invited to discuss critical topics in legal tech, offering key points on each topic.

Following the theme, I reached out to Sandman after the conference and asked him five questions about his presentation.

1. Many people are worried about the status of the Legal Services Corp. after President Donald Trump’s draft budget called for the elimination of LCS’s $375 million annual budget. Is LSC in jeopardy?

I am optimistic that Congress will continue to fund LSC. We have strong bipartisan support in both the House and the Senate, and a 42-year history of funding by both Republican and Democratic Congresses. In each of the last three fiscal years, Congress increased our funding by $10 million, despite a very tight budget environment. But of course, we take any proposal to eliminate our funding very seriously and are working hard with our supporters on Capitol Hill to ensure that doesn’t happen.

For more coverage of the Codex FutureLaw conference, check out David Curle’s latest blog post.

2. How are key organizations — especially state organizations — diving in to help?

Dozens of state and local bar associations have issued statements and published op-eds in support of LSC, pointing out the devastating consequences if our funding were to be eliminated. More than 160 law firms from all 50 states, more than 160 law school deans, more than 185 corporate general counsel, the Conference of Chief Justices, and the Conference of State Court Administrators have all written to Congress in support of LSC.

James Sandman, president of Legal Services Corp.

3. What role could insurance companies play in pushing new legal technology?

Insurance companies are important potential allies in trying to accelerate the adoption of technology in law. Insurance companies that pay their insured’s legal bills have a strong economic interest in reducing costs and increasing efficiency. They are in a position to force law firms whose fees they pay to use technology that would drive costs down and improve results.

4. How can organizations that rate programs (such as The American Lawyer‘s annual assessment of Big Law firms) be a model for LSC and other organizations?

If organizations that rate and rank law firms, like BTI Consulting and The American Lawyer, were to assess and rank law firms on their use of technology, that could have a powerful effect on law firm behavior. It could accelerate the adoption of technology that would improve the firms’ efficiency and effectiveness. It might also stimulate investment in the development of new technology that could benefit users beyond Big Law, such as legal aid programs.

5. How can technology help LSC and other organizations, especially regarding the use of analytics?

The world of law, and particularly the resource-starved world of legal aid, is data-poor and analysis-poor. We don’t have the information and tools we need to make the most informed decisions about what practice strategies are most effective in achieving good outcomes for clients.

Good analysis, of course, requires good data, which is another way of saying garbage in/garbage out, and we need to do a better job of collecting and organizing data. Technology has a big role to play in both data collection and data analytics.

For more on this subject, see 10 Ways to Accelerate the Adoption of Legal Tech, a Law Technology Now podcast available on the Legal Talk Network.