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Law Firms Asked To Help Bring Legal Service Offices Into The Technology Age


American Bar Association President Jerome Shestack

Legal service offices around the country are doing the equivalent of beating their laundry on a rock and leaving it on branches to dry. Many of these programs are practicing law with little or none of the equipment that even the smallest mainstream law firms take for granted.

Legal service organizations, faced with recent funding cuts, are struggling to balance personnel, capital and other costs. When the choice comes to whether to spend their limited money on directly helping people or on technology, clients win out -- at least on the surface. If they are lucky enough to have any type of computers, the machines are generally outdated dinosaurs relegated to secretaries' desks for word processing tasks, and are not being used to manage client loads, perform research, or for any of the other myriad tasks most lawyers now count on technology to help them with so they can best serve their clients.

Three American Bar Association entities -- the Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the sections of Litigation and Business Law -- have launched the "Technology Exchange Project," funded by the Open Society Institute of New York, to help match needy legal service offices with legal firms that are upgrading their systems. Firms are being asked to donate their used equipment to a computer clearinghouse being coordinated by the ABA. The ABA will kick off the project by donating about 400 used computers during the next two years.

Firms are asked to donate equipment that is in good working order and that is capable of using Windows 3.11. A firm that does not have equipment to donate can still help with the project by volunteering time of its information services staff to serve as technical support for legal services programs.

"The Technology Exchange Project" will match equipment donors with needy legal aid programs, assist in arranging packing and delivery of donated equipment, and maintain a clearinghouse of firms willing to offer telephone or occasional on-site technical support.

Donating firms get a tax writeoff for their contributions and the satisfaction of helping improve legal representation for America's poor.

Legal service organizations get equipment they could never otherwise afford.

It's a win/win situation.

Law firms wishing to participate or seeking information should contact the project coordinator: Meredith McBurney, ABA Technology Exchange Project, 1459 Clayton, Denver, Colo. 80206; or telephone McBurney at 303/329-8091; Fax: 303/329-0362; E-mail: [email protected].