Democratizing Legal Access - Name Changes for All
July 16, 2020

Democratizing Legal Access - Name Changes for All

A simple issue

Your name is one of the most important things about you.  It reflects your identity.  It is how you see yourself and how others see you.  But for many people their name does not reflect who they are.  It does not instill the identity or sense of belonging that is essential to us as human beings.

Legal name changes are a key issue for the transgender community.  They are also important for people that are recently divorced and for children looking to identify as part of a family.  Whatever the reason is for someone wanting to change their name, it is usually quite important to them.  And you would think that society would make the process easy for them.

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

A complex system

Like many legal issues, name changes are complex and difficult to understand.  They can be expensive if you want professional help.  And difficult to navigate on your own if you do not qualify for legal aid.  This is where many people find themselves and their needs are not being met.

I feel for anyone in this situation.  Legal processes are hard to understand, information can be difficult to find, and forms are intimidating to fill out. At times it can seem like the system itself is designed to confuse and keep people from doing what is best for themselves or their children.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Change for the better

That is why I am a big believer in using technology to create guided tools that walk people through the process of helping themselves.  Over the past four years, I have had the privilege to work for several organizations that create easy to understand do-it-yourself tools for the public.  Two of these have been name change tools in Florida and Colorado.

Right now, access to justice is one of the key areas the legal community is focused on.  There is a large push to try to better meet the needs of people using plain language forms, triage portals, court reform, and many other initiatives. 

In pursuing these efforts it is important to not overlook the impact that simple do-it-yourself tools can have.  Creating a website like Colorado Name Change that educates people on a single legal process, walks them through guided interviews, and generates completed legal documents are an essential part of providing access to justice.  Tools like this are incredibly cost-effective to build and can help many people that would not be helped otherwise. 

Photo by bongkarn thankyakij from Pexels, edited by Scout Batz

In the first year that Florida Name Change was active, more than 1,000 people created legal name change documents. As a technology developer, it is gratifying to see that something I contributed to was helping so many people.  It also proves how a small investment in technology can greatly multiply the amount of legal help the funding creates. 

Guided do-it-yourself legal tools fill a great need in the community.  Many people would like to be able to complete simple cases like a name change on their own.  They just need to be able to find the information and be guided through the process of helping themselves.  It is that simple and can really help democratize legal access.

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