At a time when more than 80 percent of the civil legal needs of low- and moderate-income people went unmet in some states, the American Bar Association (ABA) has tapped Suffolk University Law School Dean Andrew Perlman as a key leader in its national effort to improve the delivery of legal services.

In September, Perlman was named chair of the Governing Council of the ABA’s new Center for Innovation. The Center’s mission is to drive innovation in the legal profession, by means that include spurring better, more efficient models for the justice system and for the delivery of legal services. The Center will be housed at ABA headquarters in Chicago and includes a managing director, governing and advisory councils, and staffers with deep legal technology background.

Perlman led the creation of Suffolk Law’s top-10 ranked legal technology program. The program was named 2016 Pro Bono Innovator of the Year by Legaltech News. He also served as the vice chair of the ABA’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services.

That Commission’s recent report recommended that the ABA open the Center for Innovation as a hub of research and development for the legal field, specifically calling for the provision of some form of legal assistance for all individuals in civil matters. Such legal help might take the form of yet-to-be-created computer applications or hybrid approaches that start with a mobile app and at some point bring in an attorney or another specialist through internet video or chat sessions.

“Industries as diverse as consulting, medicine, and personal finance have invested in research-and-development laboratories to create new service offerings and substantially improve client relationships,” the report stated, calling on the legal field to follow suit.

Perlman said the Center will bring support and increased attention to existing efforts to innovate the delivery of legal services—like online systems that help self-represented litigants find the resources they need. It also will work on new approaches. Just one of its many projects will be assisting the judicial division of the ABA with a court-annexed online dispute resolution pilot project in New York.

The Center hopes to arrange a fellowship program “where relatively recent graduates come to the ABA to work on projects they believe will help improve how legal services are delivered or accessed,” Perlman said. There are plans for a mid-career fellows program “to give lawyers who have been out of law school for quite some time the resources that they need to enhance their practices through technology and innovation.”

The Center’s Governing Council will include leaders from the legal profession and business community, the judiciary, and legal education, as well as young lawyers, legal service innovators, and thought leaders from other industries.

William C. Hubbard, special adviser to the Center for Innovation and former ABA president, said that Perlman is a strong choice to lead the Council. “Dean Perlman and Suffolk Law are leaders in searching for new ways to deliver legal services in ways that are cheaper and more streamlined—and open the doors to moderate-income clients,” he said. “Dean Perlman is inculcating a sense that there’s a new way, a better way, to address the needs of our country.”

The Center is linking great talents from the design and tech worlds with “respected leaders of the bar,” said ABA president Linda A. Klein. “This unprecedented collaboration will assure that out of the Center will come a surge in legal services delivery innovations that will benefit the public for decades to come.”

The Governing Council members, listed below, include former dean of Suffolk Law, Camille Nelson. Nelson is now the dean of American University’s law school in Washington, D.C.

  • Ramon A. Abadin, partner at Sedgwick LLP in Miami
  • Nathan D. Alder, attorney with Christensen & Jensen in Salt Lake City
  • Chad Burton, CEO of CuroLegal in Dayton, Ohio
  • Karl Camillucci, attorney at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP in Chicago
  • Mark Chandler, senior vice president and general counsel at Cisco in San Jose, Calif.
  • Rudy Gadre, angel investor and former general counsel of Facebook, Seattle
  • Margaret Hagan, fellow at Stanford Law School Center on the Legal Profession
  • Dana M. Hrelic, partner at Horton, Shield & Knox in Hartford, Conn.
  • Mary McQueen, president of the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va.
  • Camille Nelson, dean of the Washington College of Law American University in Washington, D.C.
  • Rebecca L. Sandefur, faculty fellow at the American Bar Foundation in Chicago
  • Marty Smith, founding director of MetaJure, Inc. in Bainbridge Island, Wash.
  • Hon. Eric T. Washington, chief judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

The Advisory Council includes:

  • Hon. Ann Aiken, district judge of the U.S. District Court of Oregon in Eugene
  • Lisa Foster, director of the Office of Access to Justice in Washington, D.C. (not serving in her official capacity)
  • Jordan Furlong, principal with Law21 in Ottawa
  • Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass.
  • Janai Nelson, associate director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York
  • Alex “Sandy” Pentland, director at the MIT Connection Science and Human Dynamic Labs in Cambridge, Mass.
  • Daniel Rodriguez, dean of Northwestern Pritzker Law School
  • James J. Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C.
  • Ed Walters, CEO of FastCase in Washington, D.C.
  • Denis Weil, innovation executive in Chicago

The Center will also have three special advisers:

  • William C. Hubbard, partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough and former ABA president
  • Judy Perry Martinez, attorney in New Orleans and chair of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services
  • William H. Neukom, president of the World Justice Project and former ABA president