5 Ways Medical-Legal Partnerships Can Help the Mission to #LegalHealth

Last month, Juris started a movement, the legal health movement. There are many factors that go into improving access to justice, including making the law more accessible through legal apps, but the involvement of people other than lawyers is crucial.

Legal health is a new way of looking at how people interact with the law in order to gain access to justice. It’s about understanding the rights you have under the law and being able to exercise them to protect yourself before you even need them. And it empowers people to access justice and understand that the law exists to protect them.  

Medical-legal partnerships (MLPs) are a crucial piece of the legal health puzzle. When physicians and lawyers work together, they’re able to better identify patients’ needs and determine how the law can help meet them, often leading to overriding policy solutions that advance legal health for communities at large.

Studies have shown the efficacy of MLPs. In a 2016 survey of MLP programs nationwide, 86% of health care organizations reported that MLPs improved patients’ health outcomes, 64% said MLPs improved patients’ compliance with medical treatment, and 38% found that MLPs improved clinicians’ ability to provide the best possible service.

Medicine and law intersect in a wide range of areas that impact people’s lives and rights on a daily basis. MLPs have important implications in areas such as landlord-tenant disputes, utilities and housing matters, immigration cases, tax matters, public aid cases, health insurance issues, and family law matters, just to name a few. Given the prevalence of these legal issues, more MLPs are needed to ensure that people are able to access the justice they need and deserve.

Building a Better System to Help MLPs Promote Legal Health

MLPs have great potential to help the mission of legal health, but they can only do it if they have the tools they need to spot legal problems early and handle them efficiently.  With the right tools on hand, here are five ways MPLs have the ability to promote legal health.

  1. Diagnose Substandard Housing. Substandard housing is a problem across the United States and, in addition to impacting quality of life, can have significant health implications. For example, lead paint can lead to lead poisoning and open the door to potential legal remedies, as can conditions that cause asthma. Physicians can proactively screen for these issues and, in cooperation with lawyers, alert patients to potential exposure and the accompanying legal rights they have to remedy the conditions before they develop severe health problems.
  1. Food Security and Access to Care. Many Americans cannot afford to feed themselves or their families without the help of benefit programs. Unfortunately, though, not everyone knows what benefits are available. MLPs can help direct patients to the right resources to identify which benefits, such as food stamps or other programs, apply to their individual situations. They can further help to ensure that patients continue to get access to the medical care they need through their insurance companies.
  1. Student Truancies. Every year, children across the country miss school due to medical issues. As these absences add up, they can lead to legal action for truancy, even though the absences are due to circumstances beyond the student’s control. Take, for example, the student with chronic asthma who lives in housing plagued by cockroaches and mold. Without help, the student’s family must deal with a truancy action on top of unacceptable living conditions. With the help of an MLP, however, the family is able to have their cockroach and mold conditions fixed, make sure their insurance benefits are in place to get their child proper asthma care, and get the school to understand that the absences are medically excused and drop the legal action for truancy.
  1. Unlawful Evictions. It’s not uncommon for tenants to face unlawful evictions for issues that are medically necessitated. For example, families who have children with asthma are often advised by pediatricians to use air conditioners to help manage the asthma. Certain landlords, however, oppose the use of air conditioners and threaten to unlawfully convict tenants for using them. MLPs can help these tenants to find legal remedies for the unlawful evictions and can even find additional leverage to force landlords to make other improvements in living conditions, resulting in overall health improvements for the children involved.
  1. Advocacy Work. After addressing enough issues, MLPs start to uncover patterns in patients’ needs that present opportunities to advocate for widespread policy solutions. In the past, MLPs have significantly improved patients’ lives by successfully advocating for continued access to care for chronically ill patients, the elimination of barriers to enrolling newborns in benefits, removing requirements that life-saving medications be filled by mail, requiring state Medicaid directors to reimburse for in-home ventilators for children, and working on bills that require lead inspections of federally assisted housing units.

By working together, physicians and lawyers can wield an incredible amount of power in improving patients’ quality of life. MLPs help patients to understand the legal rights that impact their health issues and how to exercise them to prevent the worst form happening. With the right automation tools that simplify intake and expand the reach of their services, MLPs can make an even greater impact on advancing #legalhealth for everyone.

At Documate, we’re a no-code document automation software company that lets lawyers build no-code apps to automate legal documents. We offer our software to legal aid organizations to build the expert systems they need to discover legal problems earlier and expand their work. Learn more about Documate by watching our videos here or reading our client case studies. Talk to us about what legal health means to you by tweeting @documatelaw or emailing hello@documate.org.

How long can my landlord keep my deposit after I move out?

After you move out it takes a little while to get your security deposit back. This is allowed because it takes a landlord a little while to look at the property and determine if there is anything that needs to be repaired.

But unless they have a claim to make against it, they have to give it back eventually.

The question of how much time there is before the deadline will depend on the laws in your state, which you can Google pretty easily. The good news is that if your landlord missed this deadline, or doesn’t get you a good explanation of why you aren’t getting your money back, including an itemized list and contractor invoices, you are entitled to get your money back under the law.

Even if your state doesn’t have a strict deadline, most of them require the money to be returned within a reasonable amount of time. If it has been a couple of months, this isn’t reasonable any more (even if the landlord has a story about why.)
The good news is, If it’s been too long, or you didn’t get a good reason (and an itemized list) from your landlord, we can help. Our DepositLetter virtual assistant will get your deposit back, especially if that deadline passed.

Droids Not Robots – How most legal market automation numbers miss the point.

Like all the best posts, this also starts with a chat on Twitter:

Scary Headlines

There, I was tweeting about a CNBC piece talking about how technology is changing legal work, and how law schools are responding. The crux of the piece is a statistic from a McKinsey report predicting that 23% of “legal” occupations could be automated. The rest is about how law schools are shifting what they teach in order to compensate. 

The point of the CNBC piece is right on. Automation is coming, and professional schools are adapting to the changing professional landscape, as they always have. But, they’re missing the point on that 23%. Which is too bad for them, because 23% feels way too low. (They could have had a much higher number in that headline. Yay clicks!)

What they’re missing starts a step further back from the number a the question, “why do we care?” No one cares that automation replaced my hand saw. We care because these are jobs numbers, and that is important to acknowledge. Viscerally, these are numbers about how people feed their families. But broadly they matter because people want to understand the business landscape so they know where to look (or train) for jobs. Because of this, scary headlines work really well, as does my saying that number should be higher. 

Well, I’m happy to say that the lawyers reading don’t have to worry, because that “23% of lawyer jobs getting automated” idea doesn’t really say much about the business landscape that the schools are adapting to. That landscape is about law firms, and ultimately about the people they help, not just “lawyers.” And while that automation number should be way higher if they meant to portray the whole picture, the volume of work is only going to increase because of this type of automation.

The Business Landscape

It’s clear from the McKinsey study that when they say “legal occupation” they only mean lawyers, so right off the bat this isn’t any sort of representation of the actual legal market. This is literally just people who get paid to be a lawyer, and 23% of what they do can (arguably) be replaced. Anyone who has visited a law firm, even a fairly small one, can see that there are many more people in that building than just the lawyers. That same McKinsey study has office and admin staff sitting somewhere around 85% automate-able. How much of the firm is that

When we look at the firm structure, and the gap between that 85% and 23% we realize that the whole mental model here is kind of broken. It’s a fair model. Sometimes technology works like this. It comes and takes jobs from people, and in many fields those people have nowhere else to go. But, more often, technology creates more jobs than it takes. And in a legal market where ~200 Million US Citizens aren’t getting the legal help they need, we at Juris believe that legal will play out like this: technology will take some jobs, but it will grow the pie so much that even at 85% automation the legal services sector will create more jobs and earn more money than it ever has.

But this isn’t about The Terminator, it’s about R2D2. Because of the nature of the law the human element simply isn’t going anywhere. Which is why we get to talk about centaurs before we get to droids!

This game has centaurs. (How D&D is that?)

Law is complicated, which means what lawyers do all day is complicated. Within the law there are rules, but there are also a lot of moving pieces. You know what else is complicated? Games like Go and Chess. (Sorry Starcraft, don’t have time to explain that one to them now.)

Let’s start with Go. It’s a strategic game that is 1 million trillion trillion trillion trillion times more complicated than Chess. We can run those numbers because the game boards are finite. We know how many “possible moves” there are. This many moves makes Go more “strategic”, whereas Chess is more “tactical”. Across games, as the number of possible moves increases the balance between strategy (what you should do) and tactics (what you can do) shifts toward strategy. But they’re both there. Always. Where there are rules there will be tactics. Computers are really good at tactics.

Within the last few years computers have surpassed the human ability to play Go. A couple decades ago a computer beat Garry Kasparov, the world Chess champion. We haven’t beaten them at Chess since. Not sure where we are on Go, but if you followed the link above, you’d know that the world champion retired, proclaiming AlphaGo unbeatable. 🤷‍♂️

(Not in a rush? watch this:)

Humans still play chess, But, they play what’s called “hybrid” chess. (Or sometimes called Centaur Chess, which is way cooler.) They play with a computer by their side offering tactical suggestions all along the way, and the human makes strategic decisions as to the application of those tactics. You’d think that this would collapse into boring and repetitive games, but it doesn’t. Even chess is complex enough that as long as there are humans, there’s strategic variation.

So, lets ramp up to max complexity. Real life conflicts.

The gameboard for the legal professional is human life. We have rules. We’ve written them down. We call them laws. So, we have a gameboard, with rules, which generates a number of possible moves in any given scenario. Lawyers call those “fact patterns” and we study the shit out of them in school to understand how to decode them and respond.

Because there are so many moves, it’s easy to say “this isn’t Chess.” But, it might be Go. There really are only a finite number of moves under the law a lot of the time. Either way, it does boil down to the same dynamics: tactics and strategy. Games like Chess and Go teach us these things, and in turn we’ve used them to teach computers. And computers have gotten really good. Call it an iPhone, an app, a robot, or a droid, it sure seems like this ends with a computer sitting next to us.

If the future is hybrid lawyers, what does the legal market look like? 

The New Legal Market, and Pie for Everyone

Let’s get to the real questions you’re here for: who is going to lose jobs? Who is going to need to shift skillset? How do we teach the next generation? Let’s look back to the numbers from the study, it’s only 23% of lawyers, but it’s 85% of “office and admin” staff. This means somewhere in-between is a look at what actually happens to the average law firm.

At Juris, we don’t think this plays out like robots replacing jobs, we think it plays out as droids for everyone. Droids for normal people for the easy tactical stuff. Droids for professionals for the increasingly complex strategy that comes with escalation. And there are many cool projects working on various prongs of this problem. But, let’s talk about how this isn’t “coming for your jobs.”

Thus far, we’ve really only talked about what this looks like for lawyers, with their little droids following them around in the courtroom. But the reality is that the job of lawyers is to help people with their disputes. This is the real product of the complexity of real life. Normal people need other people to help them, eventually. There is no version of this system without humans helping humans, we just don’t need them all the time. It’s stupid to pretend we do, which is sort of the current charade, and it’s even more stupid to fight as if there isn’t enough work to go around.

In a business where 78% of demand is left unmet in the United States (nevermind global volume) we see a legal system that has not been able to scale. As such, it is manifestly unfair, and unequal. At Juris, our obsession is leveling the legal playing field for the average person, in order to unlock this scale. And the key to unlocking this scale isn’t droids for lawyers, it’s droids for people, and they won’t replace lawyers or law firms.

The people we aim to help with Juris weren’t going to get a lawyer anyway. Your average person is not bringing in a lawyer to help get their security deposit back. By building tools to allow people to defend their rights we are drawing new people into the legal system. They’re not using a lawyer (yet,) but they were never going to anyway. This case wasn’t complex enough. So, no jobs stolen here. But, there will be escalation of some of these cases, because that’s how the rules of the legal system work. Some percent of these cases will move to needing help from other humans. So, there it is, tech just created more work for lawyers. Out of thin air, I guess? 

The main point: see how the pie grows for everyone if we focus on people first and build tools that scale? This isn’t the industrial revolution version of robots coming for our jobs. This is the version where scale unlocks more jobs than ever.

Want to see a legal service droid in action already? Use our DepositLetter to get your security deposit back and think of it as a cheerful little blue droid chirping at you pleasantly to help you with your legal problems.

Do I need to send my demand letter via “certified” mail?

Sending a letter via “certified” mail, or an equivalent, means that the mail carrier will knock on the door and get a signature as evidence of delivery. But it isn’t always the best answer.

In court, it’s nice to have that signature if someone is saying that “I don’t know, I never got your letter.” So, it’s a thing that lawyers, and sometimes the laws, will often say you need to do. “Send it via certified mail.”

On the other hand, because the carrier has to knock and ask for a signature, certified mail is very easy to avoid. You just don’t answer the door, and the postal service can’t stick around forever, they give up after a few tries. (They need to deliver everyone else’s mail too, after all.) When this happens, the letter is just returned to sender, and a few weeks has probably passed. 

So, if it’s more important that you get the demands in your letter to the other person, than it is you have strong evidence of delivery, “certified mail” is not the best way to go. Sometimes it’s a better move to disguise your letter as boring old mail, to make sure it gets seen. 

In fact, this is why Juris DepositLetter works the way it does. We track the delivery process to the last possible moment, to provide updates, and a record… but our letter looks like boring old mail. Because the letter usually works, and you don’t have to go to court, its more important to get the letter through than it is to have a signature.

Clio, Atrium, UpCounsel and why legaltech needs to spend more time looking at their shoes.

This started here, if you want the TLDR:

This started here, but there’s more to say.

It’s been a crazy month for legaltech, with a number of big and well funded players, like Atrium and UpCounsel bowing out or pivoting to a new narrative, with rumblings of more to come. Right now everyone is focused on the efforts that didn’t work, but also recall that before this wave, Clio raised a $250 Million Series D after 11 years of operation. Naturally, all of these headlines come with a rush of hot takes, “legaltech is dead” and “legaltech is saturated” among them. They’re all right, and they’re all wrong, because technology is weird and paradigm shifts are hard.

First, some context: Clio started in 2008, UpCounsel in 2012, Atrium in 2017. We started Juris in 2018, but I’ve been watching from other sectors of tech since 2004. I went to law school in 2013 solely to have the time and academic space to look at what’s happening here, and I started Juris to get building. We’re talking about it because we believe the only way to solve the real problems is collaboration, so everyone should understand the playing field we’re seeing.

Next, I’m not here to talk about the market size, that’s stupid, the market is insanely huge. It’s even bigger than the “$250 Million Opportunity” about which I believe Jack Newton is right on. Clio is still just selling software to lawyers, who in turn help people. Clio is successful because of their focus on this fact of life as a lawyer: you are supposed to be there to help people. But Clio’s customers are still essentially, businesses: lawyers and law firms.

Juris is here to ask: “What happens if we go directly to the people?”

But that demand tho?

Okay, fine, we’ll talk about market size a little, but only because the market is made up of people. The opportunity Clio talks about exists because there is demand for help from lawyers. Lawyers want to build businesses by providing that help, and there is a $250 Million opportunity in giving them the tools to thrive. But, right now, in the United States, 78% of people are unable to access these services, that’s ~200 Million Americans. You don’t need a degree in statistics to see that a gap this wide isn’t simply the result of inefficient lawyers.

Of course, this is what each of these companies, Juris included, talks about up and down as we try to raise money to keep plugging. “This is not a saturated market.” But of course I would say that. So, why is Clio cruising while others are shut down? Because the “technology for lawyers” market is pretty packed. But the “helping people” market is wide open. Clio has kept their eye on that ball, and used it to capture the market for tools for lawyers.

Meeting the demand that is left in the “helping people” market is going to take a drastically new solution. The answer is not going to look much like “lawyering up.” It’s going to look weird. This is why paradigm shifts are hard.

Build products not services.

The market we’re talking about here is literally called “legal services.” It’s a “service” market model. You provide a service, I pay you for your time. Sometimes this is a flat fee, sometimes this is per hour. Supply and demand determine pricing. Lawyers tend to charge per hour, and they tend to be expensive. This is fair. It takes a lot of time and money just to become a lawyer.

When we think “product” we tend to think more of consumables. Stuff you can get off the shelf in a store somewhere. Because of digital tools these worlds are merging. You can product-ify weird things. And the arc of technology merged with capitalism seems to bend toward making more and more things into products, and toward making those products as cheap as possible.

Understanding this distinction is key to navigating the shift that is afoot, especially if we care at all about filling the “access to justice” gap. There are a lot of things that used to be services, and they are being turned into products. This is happening because people want and need them, and because that’s how you make them cheap enough that everyone can get them. Turn them into commodities. Not everyone in the US can get access to a lawyer in the current system, but most people can get access to shoes.

If we ever want to fill that ~200 Million person gap, we have to think about products, not services. The good news is this: the product that lawyers provide is knowledge. And if there’s one thing tech has proven, from cave paintings to books to Wikipedia, it is the fact that it is really good at turning knowledge into products.

And Wikipedia is a really good place to start if we want to look at this even deeper, because it will help us see why billable hours can’t come along for this ride.

Billable hours don’t scale.

Wikipedia is free, and it is the greatest reference library ever created, serving up 18 billion page views a month. Wikipedia doesn’t sell ads. They collect $91 Million a year in contributions to support the project. So, that’s it, the race to the bottom is already lost when it comes to charging for knowledge. Free to the people, supported by the few. But, Wikipedia is pretty broad knowledge, and so what we end up with is a spectrum of products, and price points when it comes to digitally provided knowledge. Wikipedia is just details about stuff, but there are tools like WikiHow. It’s a different thing, to be sure, but it is a knowledge repository about how to do stuff. They do sell ads, and so they make money, but on some level this also means that the race to the bottom on knowing how to do stuff is also already lost.

It’s totally fair if you’re just sorta confused at this point. The things we are talking about are new tools that live between “product” and “service”. We call them “knowledge products.” AI people call them “expert layers.” Knowledge products behave differently, so you get things like Wikipedia. But they are products nonetheless. They will trend toward commodity pricing, and sometimes that means $0.

But don’t fret, the scale builds from $0, and you start to have knowledge products that actually make money that isn’t from donations. Tools like Stack Overflow, where programmers go when they need help with code, hosts the answers to 18 million questions. And they’re good answers, ask any programmer. There, knowledgeable professionals are helping other people with very technical answers, providing explanations that might take hours to type. This volume of output wasn’t reached by billing by the hour. That just doesn’t scale.

So we think legal knowledge products are not going to look like billable hours. To start to think about what they might look like, I want to talk about shoes.

Direct to consumer, or “how shoes are kinda like lawyers.” 

In the business world we call stuff being sold directly to people “direct to consumer.” It’s not a new thing, but the Internet is allowing it to take hold at massive scale. Before the web, we had to go to stores to get stuff, or we had to order it from a catalogue. Stores still exist, but anything we’d rather not shop for, we get online, probably from Amazon. 

Shoes being sold at “direct to consumer” scale is revolutionary, both for upstarts like Allbirds, and incumbents like Nike. And I like to start from shoes because it’s easy to imagine how a mechanical manufacturing process works, and how it ramps up to millions of shoes flying all around the planet all day. The US footwear market is a ~$15 Billion industry. Even when they were just using stores they were doing great, and with DTC sales the market only grows. It’s big money to scale manufacturing and delivery.

I also like to start with shoes because that’s probably about what a lawyer should cost. By which I mean, that’s probably about what legal help should cost. First, the demand is visceral. Shoes are a big deal if you want to exist in the modern world, and, you know, go in a 7-Eleven. You probably have some pairs you like, you use them regularly until you discard them, occasionally you have to replace a pair. You’d rather they didn’t wear out, but they do. That’s probably the cycle.

Let’s look at how legal help lines up. The demand is pretty visceral. We’re literally fighting with another party, and the law is involved. We’d rather not need it, but we do. And ideally the solutions last forever. Dispute resolved. Decision made. Contract prepared. Whatever. But, they don’t last forever, new disputes arise, because that’s how the world works. And those disputes pop up, what, a few times a year for a non-business owner?

So, maybe we’re shoes. The average price of a pair of sneakers in the US is $58. The average expenditure on shoes in the US is ~$375 per person, per year. We think this is kind of a reasonable average price point for a whole swath of stuff currently handled by lawyers, from which you could get, on average, no more than 1.5 hours of work from for that same ~$375.

If the plan to commoditize and scale legal services is going to work, we think it is going to take direct to consumer knowledge products, that probably cost about the same as shoes. Some will be nice and expensive, some will be cheap and reliable, some will be clown shoes. They are going to look weird to lawyers. Things like chatbots, and A.I. facilitated negotiation. But, they are going to scale, and they are going to unlock an insanely large market, and help hundreds of millions of people.

Want to see what I’m talking about? Check out Juris DepositLetter. It’s like shoes, but built to get security deposits back from landlords who are wrongfully withholding them from former tenants. It’s affordable, it works, and you’ll probably only need it every couple of years.