Law students, computer coders, lawyers and technologists will come together at Suffolk University Law School Aug. 7-8 for the Hackcess to Justice Hackathon organized by the American Bar Association Journal. The two-day competition is designed to produce new technological solutions that address the crisis of access to legal services known as “the justice gap.”

A high percentage of low- and moderate-income Americans needing legal representation are unable to afford a lawyer and thus forgo legal advice when facing divorce, child support issues, home foreclosure, bankruptcy, landlord-tenant disputes and other legal issues. No more than 20 percent of low-income people with civil legal problems are able to get help, according to the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans and a proponent of harnessing the power of technology to broaden the reach of legal services providers.

“I’m thrilled that Suffolk is hosting this event, because it reflects so much of what we’re trying to do in the areas of legal technology and innovation,” said Andrew Perlman, a professor at Suffolk Law School and director of the school’s Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation. “Suffolk’s Institute is focused on teaching students how to leverage technology to deliver legal services more efficiently and affordably. The Hackcess to Justice Hackathon offers a great opportunity to showcase some of the ways in which this can happen.”

During the hackathon, teams of lawyers, law students, programmers, innovators, and designers will work together to develop new solutions to specific problems of access to justice. At the end of the competition, the participants and a panel of experts will rate each team’s work and select a winner. A total of $3,000 in cash prizes will be awarded to the top three hacks.

Event sponsors are challenging the teams to devise technology-enabled solutions to improve access to justice in the following areas:

  • Legal portals that use an automated triage process to direct people needing legal help to the most appropriate form of assistance and that guide them through the legal process
  • Document-assembly applications that support the creation of legal documents by service providers and by litigants themselves
  • Mobile technologies that reach more people more effectively
  • Application of business process/analysis to legal activities to streamline interactions and improve efficiency
  • Developing “expert systems” to assist lawyers and other service providers

Legal Services Corporation President Jim Sandman will speak at the opening of the competition on Thursday, Aug. 7.

The Hackcess to Justice Hackathon is sponsored by Suffolk University Law School in collaboration with the ABA Journal. The hackathon coincides with the beginning of the American Bar Association’s Magnitude 360 Annual Meeting in Boston.