On September 30 the Florida Justice Technology Center effectively shut down. I
worked as a Project Manager then as Dev Team Leader for the FJTC for nearly two
years. I left the FJTC in August to work with the legal research company vLex.
A note about my work - I'm an independent contractor and have been for several
years. I work with vLex as well as Measures for Justice, and do consulting /
development on top of those. I consider myself lucky to have good clients who
pay my bills. There are precious few full-time jobs in legal technology in even fewer places, no
matter what it seems like from people talking about #crushing #it online. (Getting
paid in legal tech would make for a whole other blog post.) I was
an independent contractor for the FJTC as well.
I'm not going into the reasons the FJTC shut down. I'm going to regale you with
my take on what the FJTC did well, didn't do well, and how institutional structure
hobbled it from inception.
**What the FJTC did well:**
The FJTC's mission, paraphrased by me, was to develop technology to deliver access to
civil justice. I'll assume that if you're reading this you're familiar with the
sheer amount of people who can't even begin to seek some sort of remedy in the court
system. The FJTC was created to solve this problem through technology, at least
The FJTC did a number of things well:
1. It was agile: I'm not talking about the 'Agile Method' or 'Agile Development'
but rather the ability to adapt to a client's or user's needs. An example: we didn't
have a specific technology we worked with (i.e. we only worked with Salesforce),
rather we found what fit a client's needs and used that. This also became a drawback,
as you can imagine.
2. It wasn't afraid to try: the FJTC's philosophy (paraphrased by me) was to 'start
with yes.' Got an idea for a whiz-bang thing that does XYZ? Let's figure it out?
In legal tech I think a lot of people start with 'no' as an automatic response, which
shuts down actual innovation before it can, well, innovate.
3. It showed up: the FJTC showed up to stuff, to conferences, client's offices,
legal clinics, Pride marches, etc. The longer I'm in this game the more I realize
the connections you make as an individual, and as a company, by showing up to things.
**What the FJTC didn't do well:**
The things the FJTC didn't do well sort of mirror the things it did well.
1. Lack of an 'institutional tech platform': Not having a standard set of
technologies created technical deficits in the tools the FJTC built, and made
maintenance difficult. One of the many things a group like Theory and Principle
does well is build from a common 'stack', or set of technology. You can waste a
lot of time and energy if you have 'new and shiny syndrome.' One of the things
I had been trying to implement at the FJTC when I left was the move to a standard
group of technologies that could be easily developed and maintained.
2. Hard time saying no: sometimes the right answer *is* no, when it's for the
right reasons. Sometimes chasing down a rabbit trail sin't worth it, and the
FJTC didn't have good institutional guards in place to vet things super early.
3. Remote is hard: having an entirely remote workforce in an inherently creative
business is hard. Maybe this is my personal bias talking, but sitting by myself
in my home office or a rented space with no one to talk to or bounce ideas off of
dampens the creative impulse. All of the FJTC's contractors were remote, in
different states, which really made coordination difficult and physical attendance
4. Independent contracting is hard: especially when you have independent contractors
supervising, reporting to, and delegating to other independent contractors. Don't
get me wrong, independent contracting is great for some roles, but when you need
people to take ownership of some project being an independent contractor is an
The FJTC was set up to compete with legal aid orgs for funding. The Florida
Bar Foundation created the FJTC and was its primary funder. The FBF was also
the primary funder for around half of the legal aid orgs in Florida (others are
funded by LSC or privately), and put the FJTC in the same funding situation as
the other orgs it funds. This essentially meant that the org meant to develop
tech to help legal aid orgs (the FJTC) was also competing with those legal aid
orgs for funding. Not a great system.
The FBF wanted the FJTC to be many things but, when funding time came, reduced it to one.
They wanted to have the FJTC be the tech arm of the legal aids under their purview,
but made them compete with the FJTC for dollars. Dollars that could be used to
hire staff, improve their internal technology, hire lawyers, you get the picture.
This is a tenuous arrangement at best if
the FJTC was dedicated only to developing tools that all the other FBF-funded orgs
can use. But that wasn't the FJTC's mission. This funding structure is, in my mind,
one of the main reasons the FJTC wasn't set up for success.
There are other issues too that I won't go into. But I'm proud, *damn* proud of
the work I did for the FJTC, and I still the world needs a
multi-jurisdictional pro-bono legal tech development shop with piles of funding (if you
know of one please let me know). I'm sad to see the FJTC go.