However, after the withdrawal of funding for the support centers, the centers became fully dependant on non-legal services funding.While maintaining their general excellence, the programs and focus of the centers have become somewhat divorced from the legal services community, with linkages being maintained as much by long standing relationships as conscious planning.Thus, while some centers have kept in close touch with field defined need, others have become largely independent.In most cases, day to day support for the field has inevitably become a much lower priority.
Prior to the 1996 changes, Clearinghouse was the premier provider of integratedcontent for the community, funded by the Legal Services Corporation.After the changes, it was able to generate some revenue from the bulk purchase system developed with the Legal Services Corporation, however that system replaced only part of its revenue.This forced a radical reduction in program.Clearinghouse continues to publish, continues to operate its paper clearinghouse, although now on a paid basis, and is building a web presence.
Handsnet has been the other main legal services content aggregator.However, as can be seen by viewing any legal services e-mail list, the role of Handsnet in the community appears to have fallen, overtaken by the huge amount of data on the web, and the ease of obtaining program specific e-mail domain addresses.While the strength of Handsnet is the breadth of its social service reach, relatively little law is maintained on Handsnet (although back-up centers material is automatically trawled for content by WebClipper), and it appears that the community no longer uses Handsnet as the major resource it once did.Unfortunately, the WebClipper project, discussed in technical detail in an accompanying paper, similarly does not seem to be as widely used as a useful resource for the community as it might be, notwithstanding its ambitious reach.It was less frequently mentioned in interviews than might have been anticipated.
There are undoubtedly many reasons for this.These include inadequacies in the work of the content providers.These inadequacies include lack up breadth of reach, lack of detailed local responsiveness, lack of use of technology to provide high quality up to date and well distributed content.
However, it must be noted that there remains a widespread reluctance within the consuming community to “carry the freight.”Many programs regard back-up information as a luxury, and are unwilling to pay for services.Others use informal networks of contacts to get free back-up services.The legal services community has always been weak at valuing the contribution of back-up services.The crisis created by the 1996 changes has not as yet changed this fact.
However, The Community Must Find a Way That The Many Suggesting Beginnings and Potential Content Provider Resources Discussed in Paper Two Can be Used Integrated into a New System.
Given the immensity of the need, and given the huge potential resources, we have to find a way to break out of this self-perpetuating and inadequate state of affairs.
If there is no intervention, there will be slow and incremental improvement.Additional web sites will slowly be developed.The existing web sites will slowly come to include more and more of their organizations’ content.Additional content will be slowly be developed.More and more links between the back-up programs will grow on their web pages.The content aggregators will slowly do a better job of linking to material from their providers.
But none of this will transform a network that is not structured to meet the support and law reform resource needs oflegal services into a system that does provide that information. The key reason is that none of these changes will transform the chaotic and un-integrated relationship between content providers and consumers.The incentives just will not be there on either side, and any improvements will be driven by the realities of funding that do not reflect the needs of the whole system.
Therefore what is needed is more that myriad small incentives for improvement.Rather there is need for a broader transformative vision for integration of the potential resources into a broader system.The implementation of that vision must be grounded in a detailed analysis of the potential and weakness of the provider and aggregator network that we now have.
None of them have gone beyond carrying traditional document to generate web-conceived and web driven advocate assistance tools.The furthest they have gone is to include tools that allow the whole site to be searched for key words.Such tools will not just be downloadable documents.They will be on-line operations that act on documents and other objects to empower advocates in their tasks.
More prosaically, the sites, with perhaps a few exceptions, have only began to evaluate and understand how the technology can be used to meet the real day to day needs of the organizations with which they work. (there is much need for developing tools that will help organizations do so.)They have failed to create the partnerships that outreach that will improve their utilization and thus their impact.
Nor can we ignore that there are significant gaps in the content provider network.Some subjects, such as family law, have effective no support source at all, others such as farm worker law, have almost disappeared, and all the sources – through no fault of their own -- are no longer structured around the needs of the field advocacy community.
·Need for integration with users needs
·Need for market (field unwillingness to pay for or understand importance of use)
·Need for on-line tools that optimize usage and utility – beyond information
·Need for marketing
·Need for understanding what is really wanted by consumers (being driven by pre-existing or funder- driven roles)
·Need for technology skills
·Lack of understanding the potential of technology and the Internet
Each of these inadequacies can be overcome.However, substantial energy and re-envisioning is required.
·Marketing assistance with users
·Marketing and partnering assistance with gateways and portals
·Technology assistance to improve and create additional community building resources
·Assistance in providing support and assistance to other parallel sites.
Such resources may be available pro bono from within the technology communities and from the technology components of law firms.The development of any content consortium will be a major tool for providing this assistance.
Ultimately, however, we must find ways to creating a broad linking strategy that puts all the information – client or advocate – into the right hands.This is not just a matter of building better web sites, it is a matter of creating a new architecture, and a new way of thinking among advocates and client serving organizations.
Most important, because it is conceptualized as a community building resource, is Probono.net.Probono.net offers resources, information, a calendar, discussion and feedback systems and news.It is divided up by practice area, and uses a specially engineered Cold Fusion interface so that each practice area can be maintained by non-techies.The project has been successful at recruiting attorneys in a number of practice areas, and is now expanding beyond its New York base to other cities.
The importance of the model is that it uses content, but focuses on the use of content and resources to build a community.It is that community that holds members, and provides an incentive to content providers to contribute their energy as content managers.We must find ways of building on this kind of model to create far broader and more comprehensive content-driven legal support communities.
However, a number of state support web sites are already functioning.As with the national sites, they vary in quality, level of innovation, and range of features, but all underline the enormous potential of the technology to re-create and expand the legal services community.
In the long term we need to build on this base to find an equivalent model for state support, linking both traditional advocacy organizations and the community organizations that have been less directly involved with legal services or advocacy or services in the past.The states of New Jersey has thus far probably been most effective at using technology to achieve this result.New York and Michigan have made particularly good use of content-driven sites to keep people connected to one information source.
But here again, these models only begin to scratch the potential of the technology to transform the practice, by giving advocates the legal advocacy tools they need day to day to be effective.
We have to find a radically different relationship between the centers, the content aggregators and the field, and we have to find a way of supporting the work of the centers as they provide the content and substance that justifies such a relationship.
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