SAEF Legal Aid: Streamlined Pathways to Affordable Legal Solutions
This article is part of our series featuring the founders of our 2021 Duke Law Tech Lab startups, early-stage legal tech companies with a mission to increase access to justice. Written by Erin Lee (Duke Law JD ’23).
While managing intake appointments for a free legal advice desk in Chicago, Eamonn Keenan realized a core inefficiency within the distribution of legal services. The advice desk, managed by Greater Chicago Legal Clinic, provided legal advice regarding child support and parentage issues to those unable to afford a lawyer.
Despite having resources, it was difficult to provide appropriate service or advice to individual litigants because, as non-lawyers, they lacked professional knowledge to clearly figure out the legal nature of their personal situation. Consequently, Eamonn turned away many litigants due to seemingly resolvable issues such as lack of proper documentation or a general misunderstanding of the law.
Eamonn’s interest in legal technology and civil justice grew from this experience serving first as an intake assistant for legal aid organization in rural Ohio and then an intake manager in Chicago. He strongly believes that non-lawyers can and should advocate for a better legal system. “Non-lawyers have always been — and will be — essential agents in access to justice reform,” said he.
With this goal in mind, he developed SAEF Legal Aid, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, to provide an online triage and screening platform to help those unable to afford a market-rate attorney find local free and affordable legal resources.
While initially focusing exclusively on family law issues in Chicago, SAEF Legal Aid aims to ensure that all those who want to find legal help can find it. The platform starts with a self-help questionnaire where users answer a series of questions written in plain language and receive a substantive diagnosis of their core legal issue. Then, users receive reliable referrals to free or affordable legal resources including pro bono civil legal service providers, non-profits and private firms that can address their particular legal issue.
SAEF expects to achieve both efficiency and justice by referring litigants to the right legal service providers and thereby significantly reducing the time and resources that would be wasted otherwise.