It’s been a little while since we’ve had the chance to visit our own blog, which, I assure you, we’re very embarrassed about. In the time since we’ve last checked in, we’ve worked with the heroic women of KOFAVIV in Haiti, the brilliant minds of Thoughtworks in Bangalore, and, well, many of you. And we’ll tell you more about that, because we’ve been very fortunate to learn the stories of people doing amazing things for their communities. But, for now, there’s something else we’d like to share:
We were given the opportunity to publish something very important to us in the Innovations Journal. Innovations is a peer-reviewed academic journal that’s co-published by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Governance, M.I.T.’s Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, and George Mason’s School of Public Policy. In this article, we lay out, in long-form, our vision for the reasoning and role of mobile, and SMS, in the evolution of legal services.
The legal divide marginalizes people, communities, and institutions that are unable to engage with even the most basic government services. As a result, billions of businesses, homes, and crimes exist outside the purview of government protections. The UN estimates that in some places, these informal or “shadow” transactions represent as much as 90 percent of business.Perhaps more concerning is that this is most prevalent among those who need legal safeguards the most.
Remote and poor communities, traditionally the people most vulnerable to abuse and exclusion, face additional obstacles to justice. Distance, education, and cost present often insurmountable challenges to accessing institutions or basic services. The increasing cost of legal services has forced these people to rely on overwhelmed publicly supported legal aid, public defense, or administrative service providers. These legal services, where they exist, are increasingly being cut or drastically altered due to budget reforms. Even in comparatively effective legal systems, a shortage of resources in publicly supported legal services results in the functional exclusion of large swaths of most populations. The international community is candid about the fact that after decades of programming and billions of dollars, the rule of law has yet to reach the bottom of the pyramid. As a result, the poor remain unable to defend their rights, livelihoods, homes, and families.
While there are a number of obstacles to accessing legal systems, many of them are the result of barriers to communication. SMS is the world’s cheapest, most ubiquitous data communications channel, in large part because it overcomes many of these barriers. By using simple pieces of open-source software, legal service providers could use SMS to maintain digital records, conduct basic remote intake, and improve client management, all while reducing costs at a time when every cent counts. This article is an exploration of the potential role of mobile technologies in the extension and improvement of access to the rule of law.”