Legal Innovator of the Week: Shantelle Argyle

This week’s legal innovator is Shantelle Argyle.

Shantelle is the executive director and co-founder of Open Legal Services in Salt Lake City, Utah. Open Legal Services is a sliding scale nonprofit serving low and moderate income clients in family and criminal law. It is open to people who don’t qualify for free assistance, but who can’t afford huge legal fees either.

It’s an exciting new model for how to get legal help to a broader part of the population — the elusive middle class legal market. You can read more about Open Legal Services’ model here at The Atlantic, or at The Affiliate.

Shantelle grew up in a low income family and went to law school with the intention of helping people like herself who could not afford help when they needed it but also weren't eligible for public assistance.

We talked with Shantelle about her own path to creating a new business model for legal services, and her agenda for the future.

How did you get interested in mixing design and law?

I noticed that people were satisfied with the idea that lawyers are not good at business and that they didn't want to improve business practices.

I wasn't satisfied with that. I love evidence-based practices and wanted to employ them in law. Design, implement, test, repeat sounded way more appetizing than accepting the status quo.

Open Legal Services’ website

If we gave you $5 million to work on improving legal services, what would you spend it on?

I would form a national low bono association to create industry best practices, evaluation tools, and resources for those running organizations like mine or who want to serve low and moderate income clients in better and different ways.

What projects are you working on right now?

We just opened a second office to serve northern Utah, and we are working on getting the word out about the new location.

I am also working on a committee for the Utah Courts' to design and implement an online dispute resolution portal.

On top of those, I am traveling all over the country talking about our nonprofit's sustainable model and what we have learned since forming 3 years ago. Spreading the low bono revolution is my favorite part of the job.

Shantelle’s office

What strategies do you have to get lawyers to appreciate new ways of working, or delivering services?

At our core, most lawyers really do want to help people. Filling the justice gap is a big challenge and one that young lawyers seem particularly excited to tackle. We just give them a place to get started.

When it comes to traditional lawyers, showing them how to streamline their practice and make money while charging lower fees inspires them. They can feel good and their business can succeed at the same time.

What would you recommend lawyers and others interested in legal innovation be reading?

There is so much out there it can be really overwhelming. I try to keep up on the access to justice blogs and Twitter feeds for many states, the Equal Justice Works HuffPo blog, Lawyerist, and anything ABA Futures puts out.