The first Virginia Supreme Court Pro Bono Summit in 2010 identified issues facing the state’s legal aid organizations. One of the major problems was a technology gap that made it difficult for lawyers to find pro bono cases without physically visiting legal aid offices. At the summit, John Finneran, general counsel of Capital One, committed on behalf of the company to find a solution to the problem, which was something that also had been brought to his attention by one of the attorneys in his department.
The problem was one ideally suited for an in-house legal department to tackle, Finneran says, “because we’ve got the capability to bring all of the resources to bear. We’ve got a large information technology organization within Capital One that knows how to design software and platform solutions.”
The solution they came up with was Justice Server, a case management system that allows lawyers to identify their whereabouts and area of expertise and pings them whenever a legal aid organization posts a relevant case. After accepting a case, the program also keeps track of all communications and case status updates.
A primary team of 20 to 25 people has committed their time for free in order to develop the software. The team includes not just Capital One employees, but also representatives from McGuireWoods, the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society and the Greater Richmond Bar Foundation.
Brent Timberlake, assistant general counsel at Capital One and the legal department representative on the Justice Server project, says that what makes working on Justice Server so rewarding is the inclusiveness of the program and the potential to help a wider range of people than is usually possible with pro bono projects.
“It’s one thing to take a case and go into a courtroom; that’s a great feeling in and of itself,” Timberlake says. “[But] this program was unique in that it wasn’t tied to one individual. It allowed us to use different disciplines to come up with a solution that would help people on a much broader geographical scale.”
Justice Server is currently in beta testing with a small pilot group of legal aid organizations and law firms. A large portion of the testing is importing existing information into the database. The software is expected to be in its final version and rolled out across the state of Virginia in late 2012 or early 2013.
After that, the team hopes Justice Server will be adopted elsewhere. Timberlake says he has already received interest from organizations in several other states and in Australia. At the second Virginia Supreme Court Pro Bono Summit on April 24, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said “I’m going to consult with the National Association of Attorneys General about promoting Justice Server to all states.”
A representative from one of the legal organizations likened their old system to a plastic knife, Timberlake says. “Any time that you put pressure on it, it wobbles, and if you put too much pressure, it breaks. [With Justice Server, the legal aid organizations] just wanted a solid knife to be able to cut and do the work they needed to do. They asked for a solid knife, they got a Bowie knife.”