Fellowships for "Robin Hood" hackers to help poor people get access to the law

New York City's Robin Hood Labs at Blue Ridge Laboratories have opening for paid fellowships to develop apps and technologies to give low-income people legal assistance in civil proceedings, like evictions, debt collection, and immigration procedures.

Because these are civil matters, not criminal, there is no right to legal aid, so poor people often end up representing themselves against high-paid lawyers (or they simply default) -- 10% of tenants have lawyers in eviction proceedings, versus 90% of landlords who show up with counsel. Legal aid turns away 8 of every 9 applicants seeking legal help.

The fellowship looks for entrepreneurs, UI/UX experts, full-stack developers, and legal experts to work together to build technology to make it easier for New Yorkers to get high-quality, reliable legal advice and understand their rights, as well as growing the supply of pro-bono lawyers.

Previous fellows have built apps like Justfix.nyc, which builds an evidentiary record of tenants' maintenance problems that they can take to Housing Court; and Propel, for tracking food stamp balances from a smartphone.

There is a staggering need for legal services among low-income New Yorkers, and it threatens to tear at the fabric of our democracy.

The courts are the final line of defense against poverty and inequality — particularly for children, seniors, domestic violence victims, veterans, and immigrants. Having a lawyer can mean a family stays in their home when threatened by an unscrupulous landlord, a hard-working single mother isn’t cheated of her wages, and families aren’t torn apart by deportation. Yet too many New Yorkers lack the support of an attorney when they are forced to fight for their basic rights.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that anyone accused of a crime deserves the right to counsel, but no such right exists for civil cases. As a result, the overwhelming majority of civil defendants walk into court without legal representation.

THE FELLOWSHIP [Blue Ridge Labs]

(via O'Reilly Radar)

Notable Replies

  1. I don't think technology is the barrier to the poor getting good information. Applause for good intentions, but funding your city's library system might make a bigger difference.

  2. Getting the information is not really the major bar for most low level civil issues or even immigration. Its organizing one's evidence and documentation. This is where the technology comes in handy. Libraries are unlikely going to be able to bring up the most current forms or help streamline the document evidence organization task.

    Fast tracking the red tape one has to go through to defend one's self in such situations, especially immigration (a form of law whose notion of due process is literally Dickensian).

    There is a legitimate need for increased access to civil courts for the poor. Too often the only lawyers who ever bother approaching the poor are those in personal injury/class action related issues. Where a lawyer just takes their fee off the top of a large settlement.

    Don't get me started on the asshole predatory lenders who circle poor families in lawsuits with "advances on future judgments".

  3. This is to (respectfully) request an @doctorow article about removing the crazy restrictions added by Congress to Legal Services Corporation grants since the 80s.

    Those restrictions are a big reason for the "unbundled" legal services trend resulting in low income civil litigants lacking adequate representation.

    (No class actions with LSC funds? Really, Congress?)

    And many if not most legal issues faced by low income civil litigants require more --- much more --- full representation and assistance, not apps.

    Send a partner violence survivor into family court without experienced help and support? Give an elderly person with failing capacity a form FDCPA letter? Try to mediate an eviction action against a slum property manager with a pamphlet? No, no and no.

Continue the discussion bbs.boingboing.net

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