Access to Understanding

Others Working on This

V. David Zvenyach, Tim Stanley, Greg Siskind, Jennifer Gerstenzang, Sonja Ebron, and Debra Slone


It’s one thing to be able to look up statutes and cases online. It’s another thing to understand what they mean. Law is complex.

Statutes, for example, often contain a section with definitions, but also terms of art that aren’t explicitly defined. Often key terms will be interpreted by judges, and you can’t say what a term might mean for a particular set of facts without reading and understanding the relevant cases.

Traditionally, lawyers are responsible for knowing some of this, being able to research the rest of this, and explaining the law to clients, together with the implications for the client. Anyone with the time and patience can attempt to do this themselves, but as any lawyer can tell you, you’ll probably miss things until you gain some experience.

One approach to getting around this barrier is to use expert systems to substitute for a lawyer. Many legal startups and some court self-help programs are built around expert systems designed to help people solve their legal problems without involving a lawyer. Another approach is to offer limited-scope representation arrangements for the purpose of giving advice only.

Published on January 17th, 2021. Last updated on April 13th, 2021, by Sam Glover.