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Speaker Series: Tanina Rostain, Georgetown University

  • When: October 24, 2018, 12 pm
  • Where: ABF Woods Conference Room, 750 N. Lake Shore Drive, 4th Floor, Lakeside, Chicago IL 60611

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Techno-optimism and the Access to Justice Landscape

A wave of techno-optimism has swept over the access to justice field.  With the advent of digital technologies, ATJ activists have enthusiastically been building a range of tools to facilitate access to the civil justice system.  Many of these tools are self-help tools intended to help their users to diagnose their problems, understand the applicable law, and produce file-ready pleadings and other documents.  The ambitions for these tools are high:  They will allow users to solve their legal problems for themselves, educate them about the legal system, and motivate them to pursue their rights and seek positive political change. These apps may go a ways to helping people, but they are not likely to fulfill the hopes of their creators.  In particular, they overlook the cultural, material, and educational hurdles low- and moderate income people confront when attempting to find legal assistance. A more promising approach, as yet untested, might be to create apps for people in positions of trust — such as social workers, librarians, and health care providers — so that they might function as intermediaries between the individuals they serve and the justice system.  

Digital technologies offer not jut the possibility of access, but also the possibility of knowledge.  ATJ activists are operating mostly in the dark about the extent and type of legal problems experienced by low and moderate income people, and whether approaches to address these problems are successful.  Data and information science, which is beginning to be applied in the ATJ field, may provide a “legal epidemiology” that maps the incidence and distribution of legal need and the efficacy of interventions.  While these efforts are still in their nascency, they may be able to illuminate the hidden world of unmet legal need.


Courtesy of Georgetown University

Tanina Rostain’s current scholarly and teaching interests focus on access to the civil justice system and the function of legal technologies developed to bridge the justice gap.  Her research explores the opportunities and limits of digital tools to provide information about and access to the legal system.  Rostain’s work also considers how data science can be used to produce knowledge about legal problems and the efficacy of interventions to address them.  Recently, Professor Rostain launched the Justice Lab at Georgetown, a research center dedicated to studying the various modalities emerging to address unmet legal needs.  The Lab’s initiatives include studies of “low bono” law firms and legal “navigators,” and a national multi-county investigation of different forms of assistance that are provided to self-represented litigants.  Rostain’s research interest in technology and access to the civil legal system dates back to 2012, when she created a course in which student teams work with non-profit legal service providers to build apps that increase access to the legal system. 

Professor Rostain’s earlier academic work explored the ethical challenges that arise in corporate and tax practice and focused on the influences of organizational context on professional misconduct.  In 2014, she published Confidence Games: Lawyers, Accountants, and the Tax Shelter Industry (MIT Press).  Co-authored with Professor Mitt Regan, Confidence Games examines the role of major accounting firms and corporate firms in the rise of the tax shelter industry at the turn of the 21st Century.   Rostain has also authored articles on tax and corporate law practice.

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