By Linda C. Ashar, J.D.  |  01/05/2024

legal entrepreneurship


Access to justice is a fundamental principle that holds immense importance in our society. Access to justice embodies the idea that every individual – regardless of socioeconomic status, background, or other characteristics – should have equitable legal protection, the benefits of the legal system, and standing in the community.

The U.S. Constitution provides the right to legal representation, legal advice, and the assistance of legal counsel for criminal defense to ensure everyone has equal access and equal justice in the court system. If you cannot afford a lawyer, the court will provide one for you to help you resolve your legal problems.

An equivalent right, however, does not exist for civil court and administrative matters. The legal system does not ensure that all individuals with a civil legal problem will automatically get equal access to the courts or obtain legal aid when they need it.

For low-income people without adequate financial resources or a knowledge of the legal system, there is a considerable chance that they will not be able to afford counsel to assist them with litigation or other necessary legal matters such as a will, power of attorney, advice for health care, or the myriad other issues that can arise in daily living.

There are some sources of help. Many law schools have legal clinics that provide free services for certain types of issues, notably related to constitutional rights. An example is a recent First Amendment case filed by Case Western Reserve School of Law's First Amendment Clinic against Cleveland City Council alleging violation of their client's constitutional right of free speech when Council shut off his microphone in a public meeting.

Another source of help are nonprofit legal services organizations, which typically provide free or low-fee services (according to client income status), usually in the civil law areas of eviction, domestic violence, discrimination, immigration, and government benefits. These are in line with the American Bar Association's stand that legal representation is critical in "adversarial proceedings" involving "basic human needs" such as "shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody."

These are vital services, but they limited in scope and resources. Their focus is issue-driven for the lowest income population. Moreover, they are only part of the picture. The idea that access to justice is an issue reserved for a low-income statistic is a misnomer. In 2021, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law conducted a U.S. Justice Needs survey of a broad demographic/economic range of Americans about their satisfaction with access to justice, Notable in the survey report is that access to justice is a "problem that is impacting people from all walks of life, with serious social, legal, economic, and political consequences." The need for fair resolution of legal issues exists across multiple groups. 66% reported at least one legal problem within the last 4 years, and only 49% of those problems resolved.

The Survey concludes, "With 120 million legal problems not reaching a fair resolution every year, it is clear that there is a broad societal need for reform." Clearly more lawyers is not the answer. The problem is more complex than that. A concerted effort in new thinking by the legal profession, the courts, and nonlawyers, though, just might be making a difference. This is where the spirit of entrepreneurship, with the aid of technology, can shine.

Historically, the justice system and law schools have not overtly responded to social need, because the court system is traditionally mired in centuries of ritual and formality. The hushed demeanor and conventions of the legal system have created a certain rigidity in the manner of study and practice of law. But the advent of the internet, the rapid advance of artificial intelligence, and a worldwide pandemic have combined to change all that, giving more low-income people equal justice, helping to ensure increased access to the legal system, and offering a fair outcome for disadvantaged people.

Virtual meetings were not a new concept in the justice system before the COVID-19 pandemic, but they were not common in the halls of justice or conference rooms. COVID-19’s mandate for social distancing required a change in conducting meetings, and the idea of using virtual meetings to help resolve legal problems took greater hold in the legal field and court system.

Technology tools met this demand, allowing video conferencing as a part of the legal system. With virtual meetings, courts and practitioners discovered more convenience and efficiency. That change also allowed legal entrepreneurship to take hold by expanding access to justice and helping people – especially poor people – to navigate the judicial system.


What Is Legal Entrepreneurship?

Legal entrepreneurship refers to the creation of innovative and technology-driven practices to meet the needs of individuals and businesses more creatively. Law firms and court systems are changing their business and practice models in response to evolving social demands, market dynamics, and technological advancements.

One problem for the average person can simply be finding a source of appropriate legal advice. In response, entrepreneurial legal practice innovations are expanding access to justice in several ways. Their focus is the creative use of technology, innovative practice design, nontraditional solutions, virtual presence, and global reach.


Leveraging Technology Lowers Costs and Expands Client Communications

With technology and automation, entrepreneurs have implemented ways to reduce the cost of legal services to make them more affordable and improve communication channels with clients at the same time. An example of such technology is a client portal system that enables secure, direct communication between attorneys and clients.

Dennis Dimka of Lexworkplace explains that the portal software system is “the ultimate solution to streamline … operations, boost productivity, and improve client satisfaction.” The client portal system provides clients 24/7 access to case information, organizes communications to eliminate missed emails and lost phone messages, and creates a system for responding to cold call inquiries.

Similarly, website chatboxes for questions and answers and chat-schedulers assist communications. They also perform routine administrative functions, offer instant assistance to clients, and handle routine inquiries.


Online Platforms Offer Alternatives to Traditional Services

Recognizing the facility afforded by technology and the internet, Janette Novak of Forbes asserts that “many business legal matters, including business formation, can be handled via trustworthy online legal service providers.” These entrepreneurs expand equal access to justice in the legal system and promote legal awareness by providing information, tools, and resources that help individuals and start-up businesses navigate legal issues on their own. Platforms recommended by Novak include:

Such entrepreneurial business models use artificial intelligence (AI) to guide users through the process of creating essential documents and forms such as contracts and estate planning documents. While these platforms do not completely remove the need for an attorney, they provide guidelines, templates, and basic tools that empower people to take more control of their legal matters at a low cost.


Virtual and Decentralized Law Firms Are a New Entrepreneurial Practice Model

These platforms have not cornered the online market. Some entrepreneurs have established full-service virtual law firms online, delivering legal services at a lower cost than traditional firms. The virtual model is accessible to clients who are unable to visit a physical office and provides the full range of individualized services beyond the scope of the form-based generic informational platforms.

The virtual firm is regulated by the same ethical rules of conduct as a brick-and-mortar firm, but its lawyers and other staff function solely online with portal software. An example is Axiom Law. Another is Avōkka Virtual General Counsel, a unique niche practice offering general counsel services to mid-size businesses.

A related approach, self-styled a disruptor to the traditional law firm model, is the virtual practice supported with strategically sited small offices. Rimôn Law, claiming more than 6,000 clients worldwide, embraces this hybrid model.

According to Rimôn Law, “Our attorneys can work from anywhere in the world, with very little equipment — a smart phone can be enough. Email, mobile devices, and video conferencing allow our clients to communicate directly with our attorneys at any time. Even support staff can often work remotely, which allows us to attract talented and experienced people who are looking for greater flexibility in their working lives.”

Rimôn’s model also has an attainable fee structure for clients, especially marginalized groups living below the federal poverty guideline. In this way, accessibility, efficiency, and affordability expand access to justice. Rimôn also claims that this model proves a happier and healthier lifestyle for its attorneys and staff.

Correlating with the virtual model is a different approach from the traditional hourly billing rate and burdensome collection goals required of lawyers to keep their jobs. Instead, the model is value billing for clients and flexibility for attorneys.


Alternative Dispute Resolution Platforms Provide Efficient Alternatives to Costly Litigation

Litigation can be a lengthy, expensive, and emotionally stressful process, involving a difficult navigation through the complexities of the judicial system. An entrepreneurial option of access to justice is alternative dispute resolution (ADR). ADR businesses, including online ADR platforms, offer this way to avoid traditional litigation.

Some examples are and JAMS. These internet platforms provide fully online mediation and arbitration services to help resolve the access to justice problem. The American Arbitration Association also is on board with virtual hearings, that can provide legal aid for clients who need it.


Entrepreneurial Combinations of Law and Nonlaw Specialties Broaden Services and Promote Access to Justice

Traditionally, law firms have been restricted by ethics rules from partnering with nonlawyers in law firm ownership and law activities. Similarly, nonlawyers, such as paralegals, are prohibited from performing many routine legal matters because it is the unauthorized practice of law to do so. Writing for Daedulus, about access to justice, Rebecca L. Sandefur advocates for recognition that resolving legal problems does not always require a lawyer, and that " lay people can and do accurately and successfully perform some parts of lawyers’ work." The restrictions on lawyers can be limiting in client services and has a negative effect on people's access to justice when it is needed.

An example where such an arrangement could be desirable is a combination of attorney and accountant. The advantage of the combination is expanding services to clients and creating more useful resources within communities.

According to, two states, Utah and Arizona, have loosened the restriction on lawyers partnering with nonlawyers in practice. This trend signals the expansion of entrepreneurial efforts and challenges for law practices in various communities.

A similar entrepreneurial venture that is helping to address the access to justice issue is the Hogan Lovells law firm’s launch of ELTEMATE, its wholly owned legal tech subsidiary. According to Sebastian Lach, ELTEMATE’s CEO, the venture is “bringing lawyers and tech specialists together, that’s exactly what the clients are looking for because those lawyers together with the tech engineers can solve the actual practical legal problems.”


Creative Entrepreneurial Initiatives Expand Access to Justice to Support Low-Income Individuals

Legal entrepreneurs also create pro bono initiatives and organizations that connect lawyers willing to donate their time with individuals who need legal assistance but cannot afford it. This strategy expands access to justice for those people who seek essential legal aid and fair treatment in justice systems.

Innovative services such as the Mobile Legal Clinic, a project of Marquette University Law School and the Milwaukee Bar Association, exemplify a hands-on entrepreneurial approach to essential legal services. This program seeks to address the access to justice problem by taking legal services into neighborhoods where legal help is needed but is not readily sought or available.

A powerful example of legal entrepreneurship is Paladin, a legal tech company that devised an AI platform “to increase access to justice globally by empowering legal teams to do more pro bono, more efficiently.” Paladin’s system provides a centralized mechanism for volunteers to be matched with pro bono needs in their areas. An example of the company’s association with 250+ legal services organizations and firms is Georgia’s Pro Bono Opportunity Portal powered by Paladin and the State Bar of Georgia.

Recently, Paladin announced its partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Access to Justice. The DOJ Pro Bono Portal involves a centralized, streamlined system for DOJ’s vast number of lawyers to work on creating better access to justice and resolve disputes. It also matches their volunteer time to do pro bono legal work for low-income and indigent people who need legal counsel.

Innovations in legal aid services, driven by legal entrepreneurship, have improved the efficiency of legal aid organizations. As a result, more low-income individuals have gained access to better legal support in the justice systems of a civil society.


Technology Is Advancing Legal Entrepreneurship and Improving the Access to Justice Crisis

Legal entrepreneurship is expanding access to justice by using technology and other innovations to make legal services more affordable, accessible, and efficient. These initiatives seek to bridge the access to justice gap and ensure that more people can effectively navigate the legal system, protect their rights, and resolve any disputes.

It is also good business. Law firms and related services are changing how they practice. Pro bono initiatives are using technology to reach more people effectively. These entrepreneurial models offer a win-win for practitioners and clients alike by helping people obtain legal representation when they need it at a reasonable cost. Where creative use of technology and streamlining services cut costs for basic needs, those savings are passed to clients along with responsive, efficient communication – all the advantages of representation that mean the most to clients in a civil society.

About the Author
Linda C. Ashar, J.D.
Linda C. Ashar, J.D., is a full-time Associate Professor at the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business, teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in business, law, crisis management, and ethics. She obtained her Juris Doctor from the University of Akron School of Law. Her practice spans more than 30 years in Ohio and federal courts. In 2021, she received the Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business Award for Graduate Excellence in Teaching.

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