By: Nicole Bradick
Since the election, I have stood by in horror at the divisiveness in our country. Every day I read the news obsessively and my heart aches with every instance of threats and hate crimes against the marginalized in America. I found some solace in an online Facebook group of lawyers that are concerned about these issues. I feel strongly that lawyers, as a group, have an obligation to uphold the rule of law and civil rights, and that this obligation is particularly acute since November 8, no matter your politics.
I was rather shocked, then, to read a post by Carolyn Elefant in Above the Law this evening that seems to create even more divisiveness when unity is what’s required. As a sidebar, I consider Carolyn a friend and respect her work very much, but this post, entitled “Solos Stand Tall Against Alt-Right; alt.legal Sits it Out” elicited an instantaneous negative reaction from me. Carolyn’s argument is, essentially, that legal technology firms have been looking down upon solos from their high castle while at the same time proclaiming to be the saviors of the legal profession, poised to close the access to justice gap. Carolyn went on to proclaim that while solos are stepping up to the plate (using anecdotal evidence of some solos in the Facebook group offering their help), legal tech is falling silent.
I object wholeheartedly to this thesis.
I spent 8 years as a civil rights litigator, during which time I sat on the board of the Maine Civil Liberties Union and donated substantial time to pro bono cases fighting for the rights of marginalized Mainers. I believe intensely that the law is a cornerstone of our democracy and is a vehicle for assuring equal rights for all citizens.
When I woke up the morning after the election, my only thought was this: What can I do? I thought for about a half a second about going back to volunteer for the ACLU doing pro bono work, but I’m so rusty in the actual practice of law that I quickly realized that would not be where my talents could best be used to stem the impending civil rights crisis. That doesn’t make me less of a lawyer. That doesn’t make me care less. That doesn’t make me less committed to the rule of law and civil rights.
That same morning, my company met to discuss what we could do to help with the skills we have to offer — the development of legal technology. NO, of course, we don’t believe that technology is the answer to everything, nor do we think it can come close to answering everything, but it CAN help. We batted around a number of ideas and quickly came up with some ideas that we really think will help, in the way we can help best. We immediately went to a number of partners at civil rights groups to discuss the ideas and are working on bringing them to life. Not to fill our pockets, not to feel good about ourselves, but to help. Because we are ALL lawyers. And we’re certainly going to need the help of lawyers who are subject matter experts to really deliver tools that can be useful. That’s how this works — we collaborate, we work together. It’s not us (solos) v. them (legal tech) — it’s us v. those who commit hate crimes, those who suppress speech, those who flout the laws that we hold dear.
Carolyn points to the Facebook group as evidence that solos are stepping up. I was one of the first to comment in that group, advising that we are working to create some technology solutions to some of the impending problems and looking for others who were interested. I received dozens of comments from other lawyer-technologists offering their help and support. We are not alone. We are in this together, so let’s stop creating conflict where it doesn’t and shouldn’t exist. I do not doubt that solos and lawyers in firms of all sizes are dedicated to this cause — but please don’t doubt that legal tech is as well. I can’t speak for the big guys in legal tech, but we’re going to do our fair share — we all simply must.