Too Small to Matter?

You’ve probably heard of the “robot lawyer” that has overturned thousands of parking tickets in New York and London.  That same technology has been adapted and is now being used to help refugees claim asylum

I was recently at a conference where this example was brought up as an innovation in legal service delivery.  An immigration lawyer interjected and said something like, “Parking tickets are one thing, but immigration matters can be life or death and we shouldn’t leave it to chatots to solve.”

That got me thinking…how small is small enough that we’re willing to risk imperfect tech solutions in order to advance access to justice for a larger group of people?

My boss is a former public defender and as a result I’ve learned and thought more about the criminal side of things than I ever have.  One area of criminal law ripe for innovation is fines and fees.  People are being held in jail (at a monetarily high cost to the government and high social cost to the prisoner) over ridiculously small amounts of money.  Or, alternatively, they’re forced to live on the edges of society because they have a large fine hanging over their head. This recent article about fines reductions describes the situation well.

So, you see, for some people a parking ticket isn’t just a parking ticket.  It could be a gateway to a life altering, snowballing fine judgment.  There is no such thing as law small enough to not matter.  That’s not to say that we shouldn’t take risks in legal innovation, just that we should always take the legal issue that we’re trying to solve very seriously.

Photo Credit: miss604 Flickr via Compfight cc


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