A critique on Report by UN Commission for the Legal Empowerment of the Poor

Stephen Golub (a Law and Development colleague also affiliated with The Asia Foundation) recently published a critique of the Report by the UN Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor. Many of his critiques resonant with my own responses to the report, and he goes deeper and broader in his article. Published online by Cambridge University Press 10 Mar 2009, in the Hague Journal on the Rule of Law, Stephen Golub article is aptly titled, "The Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor: One Big Step Forward and A Few Steps Back for Development Policy and Practice".

A brief summary of some of his main criticisms (which are also based on three other articles):
  • takes as its starting point the widely questioned and somewhat unproven ideas of Commission co-chair Hernando de Soto;
  • accordingly attaches excessive importance to legal exclusion and downplays the many other legal and non-legal factors that perpetuate poverty;
  • ignores prior research and experience that take broader though more modest views of legal empowerment;
  • pays inadequate attention to gender;
  • proposes a top-down approach to what it nevertheless claims is bottom-up development;
  • implies that rational persuasion trumps political power and self-interest; and
  • adopts often inconsistent assumptions and recommendations
However, Stephen does give credit to the UN, and proposes a focus on lessons learned and channel funding to locally based NGOs:  

Ode magazine article on Patricia van Nispen and Microjustice in Bolivia

WOW! I'm soooo happy to hear from a friend and colleague of Ode's article of microjustice!!! Not surprising, since Ode was founded in the Netherlands by its two journatlist founders-Jurriaan Kamp and Helene de Puy. Dubbed the magazine for 'Intelligent Optimists', Ode serves to counter the current news culture by delivering only positive news, in particular, about people and ideas that change the world. From Ode's website, the vision was to "create an alternative to mainstream publications, a magazine that was open to new inspirations and new visions from around the world." While Ode was published in Dutch for the first nine years of its existence, Kamp and de Puy, who are partners in marriage as well as in publishing, moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 to launch the English-language edition of the magazine.

Anyway, enough about Ode (which by itself deserves high marks for innovation and positivity!).  I wanted to point to an article about Patricia and Microjustice Bolivia (update: the aticle is now live online. I urge you read and inject a smile to your day!

Regional Dialogue on Legal Empowerment of the Poor – Bangkok, Thailand 3-5 March 2009

I was not able to attend the Regional Dialogue in Bangkok last month, but I  ame across these Draft Talking Points for Olav Kjørven, UNDP BDP Director and Assistant Administrator:


• UNDP has long been engaged in supporting national partners in issues that are substantively related to legal empowerment, such as access to justice, gender, land related reforms, income generation, public administration etc. Recently, we did a mapping of our activities and found that there were 55 active projects in 33 countries, which has broad legal empowerment objectives. This is very encouraging and we are excited to learn that the largest projects are in Indonesia, China and India.
• These projects, and many before them, offer us a good foundation of knowledge and practical experience to promote the legal empowerment agenda.
• Legal empowerment is an inherently complex issue which cannot be accomplished overnight. There is no short cut and there is no alternative to strong national ownership. A regional dialogue, such as this one, can help us not only a common regional understanding of the issue, but also pave the way for national ownership.
• Encourage the participants to use this opportunity to identify the legal empowerment challenges that are most relevant to the region and possible priority areas for action.
• Wish a very productive round of discussions on legal empowerment of the poor.

Summary of "The End of Lawyers?" webcast by Richard Susskind 4/22

Following Richard Susskind's presentation at Harvard yesterday, I summarized some of his observations on the disruption of technology on the legal industry. I'm sure some traditional laywers, if they have watched it, would be rolling their eyes. Most of his points really have already happened or are already happening in other professional fields (all adopting and adapting at different rates, depending on how flexible the particular industry is, and definitely spearheaded by the IT industry.) Law of course, as part of its historical culture, is one of the slowest to change. You can view the hour-long webcast through http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/events/lawlab/2009/04/susskind

Below is my summary of his presentation:

1. Starting Point needs to change to: "What do Clients Need?" 
  • -This should be the starting question, which is more crucial as current technologies continue to disrupt current patterns of consumption. Lawyers, as a unique breed within the service industry, seldom ask what the client needs- we tend to do things as they have been done, through tradition. However, to cope with the fast changing world right now, this is a critical question, and a starting point for responding. 
  • Clients:
    • Need our "knowledge"- in particular, structured, not haphazard
    • DO NOT need one on one interaction per se
    • Find us too reactive: they don't want problem solving, they want to PREVENT the problem in the first place ("legal risk management)
    • Want more for less: less expensive, better knowledge, better service

2. Technology's Role and 10 disruptive legal technologies to watch for:
  • IT in legal world has two related impacts:
    • AUTOMATION- doing current things more efficiently
    • INNOVATION- different way of doing things, new way of delivering service
  • Lawyers, to the extent that they do, are focusing on the first, but the real impact will be via the second. 
  • Ten Disruptive Tecnologies
    • closed client communities
      • sharing of knowledge peer to peer
    • online dispute resolution
    • embedded legal knowledge into processes (eg legal compliance built into current systems)
    • e-legal market place (e-surance, price comparison)
    • expert vs. routine work: new ways of outsourcing the routine
    • access to law will change from the traditional Rolls Royce, one on one model via:
      • document assembly
      • online legal advice
      • open sourcing of legal materials
      • communities of experience
      • FAQs, flow charts, decision trees
3. How should individual lawyers change? (= Learn from medical and other fields already learning to cope)
  • Outsource the routine!
  • Deliver service through the internet
  • Focus on issues that need deep expertise, complex communication
  • Notice that in all areas direct contact will decrease
  • Learn hybrid, multidisciplinary skills: eg
    • legal project manager
    • legal risk manager

4. How should the law business change?
  • Continue to increase efficiency through automation, but more importantly, through innovation. We do much routine/repetivitve legal work repeatedly, and at high costs. Let's think about new ways to be efficient, and perhaps thinking about the ways that clients can collectively share the costs so that cost per transaction decreases. 
  • Legal practice will have to transform, catch up with IT, and think about business possibilities: eg Online community, IM, blogging, mass collaboration, social networking, twitter, virtual pets
  • Think of legal service like assembly line, do multi-sourcing (farm each task out to most efficient source, includes IT) (Note: "The Singularity is Near" predicts that by 2020, average desktop machine will have processing power of human brain, by 2050 more than all of humanity)
  • Some possible business models follows, ranging in a spectrum from traditional one on one (high transaction cost) to full commotization (off the shelf, low cost). 
    • Customized solutions (one-on-one traditional way of doing law)
    • Standardized solutions, for example:
      • process- checklist, manuals, methodologies, pre-articulate the steps
      • substance- templates, standard form documents, precedents
    • Systemization- more automatic standardization
      • automatic document (answer a series of questions on software)
      • automatic workflow
    • Package knowledge
      • provide software to clients (via license), eg tax software by deloitte
    • Full commodotization
      • remembering that law information, craeting an 'information world' online service
      • creating more open competition: more than one law firm offering service in one marketplace
  • Advantages as we move this listed spectrum:
    • Note marginal costs of delivery reduce 
    • Easier to fixed fee (hourly billing not attractive to clients)
    • Cheaper
    • Quality

Guide to Website Design for Paliaments

Websites (external) should only be one part of an integrated information and communication system for legal bodies. Other ICT tools might include: social networking sites, mobile phones and SMS/web applications, TV and radio, phones (such as an infoline) and of course good old print materials.In addition, websites (like an intranet) and these other tools can be used for internal information and communication as well.

On external websites, the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, a project of the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, has updated their "Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites"  The document has a full copyright with all rights reserved, so I'm not at liberty to reproduce any part of the report. (I wonder why? For the mission of the Centre, it would have been better to be able to share this freely under a Creative Commons license.)  While its titles specifies the websites of Parliaments, the guidelines can be adapted for the other two branches of government - the executive and (less so) the judiciary.

Aside from recommending open standards like XML, the guidelines point more to design than web development (referring to the technology itself). It does not talk about security layers, the use of CMSs, best tools for development, etc. Rather it talks about content, functionality, accessibility and oversight, using the following framework and suggestions. Read "Guidelines for Parliamentary Websites" for details of each suggestion.


General Information about Parliament
  • Access to parliament 
  • History and role 
  • Functions, composition, and activities
  • Elected leaders
  • Parliamentary committees, commissions,and other non-plenary bodies 
  • Members of parliament 
  • Political parties in parliament
    Elections and electoral systems
    Administration of parliament
    Publications, documents, and information services
  • General links to websites 

General information about legislative, budget, and oversight activities
  • Legislation 
  • Budget/Public Financing 
  • Oversight (Scrutiny) 
  • Activities of committees, commissions, and other non-plenary bodies
  • Plenary activities and documentation 


Finding, Receiving, and Viewing Information
  • Search engine 
  • Broadcasting and webcasting 
  • Alerting services 
  • Mobile services 
  • Security and authentication 

Communication and Dialogue with Citizens
  • General feedback 
  • Communication between members and citizens 

  • Usability
  • Accessibilit
  • Languages 
  • General design elements 

  • Authority and support 
  • Strategic vision and planning 
  • Roles, responsibilities, and coordination 
  • Management of documentation and information 
  • Promotion 

Berkman Center Series: Law for a Flat World 12 April 2009

Law for a Flat World: Building Legal Infrastructure for the New Economy

Opening up the mechanisms for producing law and legal inputs to a greater role for market-based solutions is a central challenge for legal infrastructure development in the 21st century. Gillian Hadfield, professor of law and economics at the University of Southern California, talks about how and why our legal infrastructure is outdated and ill-suited to the new economy, and what we can do about it.