Launched out of the Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood social impact incubator, community.lawyer builds software to help networks of attorneys meet the legal needs of their community.
Every year millions of Americans confront high-stakes legal matters like eviction, deportation, and child custody without the assistance of counsel. Yet study after study indicates that quality legal assistance often means the difference between success or failure, between keeping a family in their home or not. That's why community.lawyer is committed to developing technology to break down the barriers of cost and complexity that separate everyday Americans from quality legal help. Every choice we make as a company, every product we design, every partnership we form — we measure against that standard.
To formalize this commitment, we’ve incorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation (“PBC”) and, in our company charter, enshrined our mission to promote access to quality legal help. PBCs are new kinds of social enterprises that are legally required to think beyond their bottom lines. We are proud to join the less than 1% of American corporations that are empowered to place mission and sustainability before profit.
In industry after industry, new technologies are transforming traditional service delivery models and creating both new challenges and opportunities. Over the last decade alone, software has produced radical changes in the way Americans shop for goods (Amazon), obtain transportation (Uber), and visit new places (Airbnb). With the growing prevalence of marketplace technology, the legal profession stands at a crossroads of its own. People with legal needs increasingly expect to search for, evaluate, and purchase legal services online — an expectation that commercial marketplaces have sought to capitalize on by positioning themselves as digital hubs for legal services.
As more commerce migrates onto the internet, such marketplaces threaten to displace established legal networks like bar associations and other groups of local attorneys. This trend poses acute risks for both legal consumers and private practitioners because, unlike established referral networks, commercial marketplaces often lack deep understanding of local communities, as well as the duties imposed by professional rules. The result is marketplaces that are designed with profit maximization first, leading to high transaction costs, fixed prices, and ethically impermissible practices like fee splitting.
We believe that embracing technology should not require the legal profession to compromise either its autonomy or its ethical obligations. Rather, the right technology can unlock new opportunities for bar associations and other networks of attorneys to — in the words of former ABA President Hubbard — “deliver justice, not just to some, but to all.” Instead of a central digital legal hub, our team envisions a future where consumers can access an ecosystem of local, trusted networks. This ecosystem would ensure that the legal service models of the future are authored by the legal profession itself, rather than imposed from outside. In this way, technological innovation can be combined with respect for professional standards to deliver quality legal help to more Americans.
Community.lawyer developed our free and ethical technology to deliver on this vision and empower networks of local attorneys to amplify their impact. In October of 2016, we launched a pilot of our technology — an online directory of vetted, affordable attorneys — in partnership with the Court Square Law Project, a modest means law firm sponsored by the New York City Bar Association. With the help of a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation’s accelerator program, our team continued to hone our technology and, as of February 2017, began offering it to networks of attorneys across the country. Marrying modern design principles with rigorous attention to ethical compliance, our new portal technology enables networks of attorneys to operate branded, consumer-facing portals of their own. As community.lawyer looks toward the future, our goal is to develop a 21st-century toolkit to support networks of attorneys and the communities they serve.
Scott has spent his career at the intersection of law and social impact. He served as an attorney and policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and an intern at the Human Rights Institute and the Legal Aid Society. His past advocacy includes work on cases involving police reform, freedom of speech, and property rights.
Nicole is a product manager with a background developing interactive experiences for mobile devices. She led the Experimental Formats team at BuzzFeed. Prior to BuzzFeed, Nicole created branded games for various NBCUniversal properties and worked as a game designer on hit mobile game SongPop.
Before cofounding community.lawyer, Michael spent two years developing software at Thoughtworks. He’s contributed to and led various open source civic technology projects in Chicago and New York City. He also publishes Strangerware, a data visualization blog.
Thomas is a self-taught designer and front-end developer with a legal education. Thomas was a UX Designer at FoundationLab, a Boston-based development agency specializing in legal tech. He has a LLB from the University of Edinburgh School of Law and an LLM from Vermont Law School, magna cum laude.
Do you have questions about how our services work? Do you work with people who have unmet legal needs and a limited budget?
We’d love to answer your questions and hear your feedback.