The Dawn of a New Era: Increasing Access to Justice (and more)

It may come as a surprise to some that there exists in this country a significant justice gap.

But to most this gap is painfully apparent. Some states document an unmet need for legal services of 80% or more. Current data suggests that in New Jersey and our nation’s capital, Washington, DC, a dizzying 99% of eviction defendants go to court unrepresented. The ratio of legal aid attorneys to our poverty population is 1:6,861 compared to 1:525 for private attorneys and the general U.S. population. Serious and crucial issues are in jeopardy, those of housing, of family, of employment, of citizenship, and of incarceration.

This is not a problem. This is a human rights issue.

Human rights are not only violated by terrorism, repression or assassination, but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities. Pope Francis

The United States is one of the wealthiest and most innovative countries in the world. Compared against a global standard of wealth 95% of americans are considered Middle-Income, Upper-Middle, or High-Income with 56% considered High-Income. Whereas 71% of people in the world are considered Poor or Low-Income. The United States ranked third in the Global Technology Index, derived by examining innovations per capita, scientific and engineering researchers per capita, and economic output. For all of this, our country has yet to wield its prowess to provide a basic assurance of justice for the majority of its citizens.

We cannot be free when we are hindered in our pursuits of daily life.

The best road to progress is freedom’s road. John F. Kennedy

I believe the time of this deplorable injustice is coming to an end. In recent years a burgeoning of technological advancements specifically in the area of machine learning/predictive analytics, natural language processing, and expert systems (branches of, and sometimes all referred to more generally as, artificial intelligence) has fundamentally changed what is possible. At significant scale software can engage us conversationally, vast quantities of unstructured information can be used to derive insights into how we think and what we want, and a subject-matter expert can coach software to meet and exceed his or her expertise.

These advances will dramatically lower or eliminate the cost to provide legal services, as clients rely less on humans for work. Analysis of large data sets might reveal patterns of injustice or increase the ability of software to carry out much of the legal work entirely without humans. Analytics about relevant precedent or judicial inclinations, automated legal reasoning, and predictions about case outcomes will reduce uncertainty, time, and inefficiencies that arise when a human lawyer does participate in the work. Low-cost software that works 24/7 on multiple matters, in a manner more accurate than human lawyers, and able to incorporate wisdom gained from seemingly incoherent terabytes-worth of discrete data points will soon be ubiquitous. This is the future, and all should benefit from it.

We are at the dawn of a new era.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Søren Kierkegaard

Now we can finally see a realistic path leading us out from the confines of the past and into a paradigm of humanity in which every one is given a chance to meet his or her potential. In this paradigm all will be liberated by a justice determined not by whether a law firm can make enough money to justify taking on a case or by the comparative resources of opposing parties. Instead, regardless of socio-economic status, native language, geographic location, or individual wealth, justice will be ensured for everyone. This will ease the restraints on freedom for all.

Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which are everything in this world. Blaise Pascal

Now this new era faces many challenges.

We must balance the exponential growth of new technologies with thoughtful deliberation about the potential risks and consequences of an increasingly automated world. I not only refer to the doomsday prophecies of artificially intelligent technologies running amok, but that technology induced job loss will only rapidly increase. Some estimates predict at least 30% work displacement is in our future (maybe as high as 60%). This displacement will hit manual laborers and those who engage in predictable physical work such as food service, manufacturing, and construction the hardest. But as this technology grows and advances, all industries will be affected.

All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual. Albert Einstein

We must educate ourselves about this change, and deliberate about how we all as a society can benefit from this new landscape without leaving anyone behind.

Every social injustice is not only cruel, but it is economic waste. William Feather

A more just society will facilitate a more economically prosperous society. This new era will bring about a fundamental transformation of what it means to work, to live, to earn, and to participate in political discourse. For these advancements do not arise in a vacuum but instead they affect all aspects of our lives. This will be an era of lowered costs of living, technological advances that can reduce carbon footprints, make more efficient renewable energy, and more effectively deploy resources to those in need. Disease and aging will be addressed proactively and preventatively. GDP will no longer be the best measure of economic health, instead indicators might include human, intellectual, and network capital.

This coming age is one of profoundly realizing human potential and valuing individual contributions to make a better world, however freeing the body and mind by ensuring access to justice for all is a prerequisite.