In particular, they have made little effort to create the kinds of libraries particularly needed by advocates for the poor and low income people.Thus there are no libraries of TANF plans and caselaw, no eviction databases (other than the standard systems buried in the case reporting system), and certainly no special administrative law reporting systems for the kind of administrative decisions that are critical to advocates for the poor.
Moreover, the traditional legal content providers may be somewhat inhibited from targeting the direct information provision market by fear that they will be perceived by their own current primary clients (attorneys) as undercutting those clients primary market.While there is every reason to believe that in fact providing information will increase the market for legal services, it may be perception rather than analysis that is driving these decisions.In any event, the structure and business model of the traditional content providers is ill-suited for this market, and the vendors face no compelling reason to change.
However, these conclusions do not exclude the possibility of highly productive partnerships with the traditional content providers in terms of technology, sponsorship, and the development and support of legal information data structures.Content relationships are more likely in the attorney area than in the client area.
The Hot-Line Fee for Service model, essentially a commercialization of the AARP hotline model, which is itself now being widely deployed within legal services, charges individuals who call a phone number a flat rate per call.The services employ contract attorneys who are paid a fixed rate for the call.Of particular interest for potential partnership with legal services, these groups have build (at substantial investment) and employ some form of electronic database that summarizes the law of the jurisdiction, making the advice giving process very easy for the attorney.The systems also use technology for record keeping and supervisor review, representing that they thereby guarantee quality of the advice.
The second model, the free on-line information model, is best exemplified by FindLaw.FindLaw, accessible through several gateways such as Excite, depends on advertising revenue for its business model.A Findlaw user can quickly find very simple general statements of law, not customized by jurisdiction, and links to other free legal nd related content and services.Equivalent is USLaw.com. and Thelaw.com.
The third model, the content-based fee model, is perhaps the most stable economically for the private sector.However, this model does least to leverage the massive distributive power of the Internet.Under this model, a content provider, such as Nolo Press offers substantive legal materials over the Internet for sale.The content can either be downloaded over the Internet, or delivered in hard copy like a traditional book.In either case the consumer pays for the content over the web using a credit card.This is classic “e-commerce”.Under this model, the content provider makes available “teaser” material free over the Internet.This teaser material brings the user to advertisements for the for-fee material.In a modification of this model, the user can purchase a subscription for long term access to the information.
The Center for Poverty Law, previously known as Clearinghouse, for example, already operates a web site that brings together a variety of sources of legal information and is described in more derail in Paper Three.Similarly, as described in that paper, most of the old support centers operate web sites.Moreover,many state courts and bar associations operate web sites that provide a wide variety of information about law and legal rights; some provide access to legal forms.
A number of organizations are talking about creating national gateways to legal content.For example, the ABA currently has pending before OSI a proposal for a simple legal content site aimed at providing initial legal information and then electronic referrals to counsel, when needed.Similarly, the National Center for State Courts has obtained funding for a gateway to pro se sites.More specifically, the IMAG group of the Project for the Future of Equal Justice has developed a mock-ups of how such portals designed separately for the client and advocate populations might look.Finally, by far the most work has been performed by the Legal Information Institute of Cornell Law School.LII focuses most intensively on primary materials, but has been experimenting with cross jurisdictional content, including law student-written general law summaries, a national library of legal ethics, and materials for K-12 students and non-legal professionals.
More generally, the AOL Foundation has announced a “non-profit portal” with apparent ambitions to provide a gateway to any and all nonprofit content on the web.There is substantial skepticism within the nonprofit community about the practicality and the politically monopolistic effect of this initiative.
The relationship of all these sites to each other, and to the constantly changing general gateway market remains to be seen.
Similarly, those who have access to low and middle income people in legal need might offer on or off-line referrals to potential clients in return for use of content.
Secondly, for the private fee for service organizations, maintaining ownership and control over content is likely to be a critical part of their business agenda.While an access to justice information initiative may want to respect this interest, it may be hard to actually structure access to Internet sites in ways that adequately protect this interest.
In some ways this is the model for revenue most likely to be pursued by the legal services community.By eliminated charge for service, it avoids the need for distinction in service delivery between “income eligible” and non-eligible.
However, this very similarity of the model to the possible legal services model might create substantial barriers to cooperation.Since there would be natural competition between the private providers pursing this model, and a legal services entity providing such services, it is hard to imagine how mutually beneficial cooperation would work.
Illustrative of the problems is an analysis of how one possible such cooperation might be structured.In such a model, such a site would rely on the legal services system for its low income content, paying for that content.Such a site would provide its own content for higher income clients.However, the problem would be that the non-legal services partner would probably view such low income content as being of low economic value, since not providing high spending clients.Such a view might lead to endless revenue division disputes.
Under this model, the content provider charges on or off line for content.A free site usually attracts the user stream.It might be that the level of detailed information and tools provided by such a site or sites would be far greater than available on a free legal services system, and the free system could serve as a cost effective and fee generating feeder for the fee for content site.
The advantage of such a model would be clear division of roles between the commercial and non-commercial partner.
The search engine simply runs the users request against a massive index of web pages.The search engine software is constantly expanding itself by going out and following links to index additional pages.
The branching tree model simply provides the user with a set of choices, each of which leads to another choice, until the user eventually gets to an appropriate sites.These structures are maintained by salaried or piece work staff who keep hunting the web and building more and more links.In this model, the content is reviewed, so that the recommended links are seen as higher quality and more appropriate.This model is becoming more popular.
The third model allows users to type in a request in traditional English, and the software parses that into a search, which then runs against an index or a branching system.
In practice, these models are not “pure”.Often the search engine is programmed to make use of branching lists, and branching lists call searches at various points in the assembly of their lists.
The way the market is developing, those portals that are most individualized, those that give the user tools that reflect that persons individual needs and interests, and remember inside the server that persons preferences and history, are the most successful.This is because they are more efficient to use, they produce user loyalty, and they “learn” from the users prior history.
As the structure of content becomes more and more important to success in these markets, and as users come to judge a search engine less by its look and feel and more by the quality and utility of the information that it returns, these groups will gain by partnering with the kinds of content that produces this result.
To the extent that legal services content should be the best, these portals will have a strong interest in such partnering.In return they will bring to the partnership the structuring technology that can be used to manage the information and keep it fully up to date.
Thus this form of partnership is worth extensive exploration.
However, the public information division, which has developed substantial self-help legal content, as discussed above, has expressed interest in creation of a portal to its and other organizations’ self-help content.While the ABA clearly would bring much in a partnership, it is not yet clear what the optimum role for the ABA should be in such a project.
Electronic distribution, and electronic capture of revenue of this content, might well be optimized in partnership with traditional providers.Moreover, given the obvious appeal of this content, it might be used to leverage free legal services advocate access to other content, or support for the distribution of other poverty advocate content.
For the bargaining needed to establish such a partnership, however, legal services needs to have a clear bargaining and coordinating representative that can deliver content, users and brand name.Such a relationship can not realistically be set up with 50 different state entities.The web market is a national (and international) market.
The legal services world also has to have created the credibility that it can actually deliver the content and the relationships that support the content.This credibility will only be established by a solid record.To establish this record, thought should be given to intensive focus on one or two states, and the development of experimental partnerships in those states.
Legal services as a culture is deeply suspicious of the private sector.It fears both being exploited and being taken over.Worse, it fears a fundamental incompatibility of values between legal services and the commercial world.
Similarly, the commercial world regards the legal services world (indeed the nonprofit world in general) as an unreliable partner, unwilling to take the risks needed for innovation, and unable to provide the return on investment that would justify that risk.
The structures for measurement of success (beyond financial return) have not been developed.
Similarly, these partnerships must be conducted in the full light of day, with full reporting to the legal services community.They must be guided by highly respected advisory boards, and their impact on the whole community must be fully evaluated.
Much of the explanation for this far faster spread of medical information systems on the Internet is the huge legal drug market, for both prescription and non prescription drugs.This market provides a huge pool of advertising money and a long history of such advertising.This money has largely driven the Internet medical information system.On the contrary, the consumer market in lawyers (as opposed to that for corporate law) is relatively small and the history of lawyer advertising is both short and limited in its professional penetration.
In any event, there is now a huge amount of branded and un-branded medical content on the web.It is widely used, and effectively organized.It is interesting that the British National Health Service has just announced an ambitions on-line project that will provide pre-diagnostic “do you need to see a doctor” services over the Internet.
As a caution, and as a research opportunity, it should be noted that even the most reputable sites have has already run into serious ethical problems, well worthy of study as highlighting the potential conflicts of interest that may arise with such partnerships.
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