In an article published on the website Elder Law Review authors Ries, Johnston and McCarthy* talk about the advantages that information and communication technologies can have for the delivery of legal services to seniors.
They draw heavily upon research carried out in relation to the delivery of health services by means of online capabilities such as videoconferencing. They suggest that this research can have lessons for and assist the development of similar systems for the delivery of legal services to senior citizens.
They draw attention to the fact that senior citizens often live remotely, sometimes in isolated circumstances, and sometimes without access to technology. They draw attention to other barriers in accessing legal services. For example, senior citizens may not recognise that a problem is a legal problem capable of legal resolution, that they may be more willing to put up with problems, and that they may even perceive that lawyers are not interested in their problems (at this firm we are!).
They draw particular attention, contrary to widely held belief, that senior citizens are increasingly using internet and new technologies and quote research that online activities of older people are no different from other age groups. They also quote a report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority in 2015 that people 55 years of age and over demonstrated the largest percentage increase across all age demographics in downloading app digital resources.
They note that the rollout of the National Broadband Network across Australia is a key strategy to support technology enabled service delivery to regional and remote communities.
Nevertheless, to access online services the senior citizen must have access to a computer, and, importantly, be able to use the software that will deliver these services. The software must not only work (as obvious as it may sound) but it also must be easy to use. I say that if the senior citizens not have his or her own computer, community centres, libraries and suchlike should increasingly provide access to the technology and have the capabilities of teaching the senior citizen to use it.
They talk principally of technologies that are available on computers, tablets and smart phones such as videoconferencing, web conferencing and Skype. With these technologies senior citizens will be able to communicate with the lawyer either from home or from a community centre, a particular advantage for those living remotely and without easy access to a lawyer.
The authors go on to say that it is also up to the legal profession itself to experiment with such technologies and perhaps form partnerships with community organisations that are more likely to have first contact with the senior citizen with a legal problem.
It is hoped that in the not too distant future technology will enable senior citizens, no matter where they live, to have ready access to specialised legal services dealing with the problems they commonly encounter.
*In an article entitled “Technology-Enabled Legal Service Delivery for Older Adults; What can Law Learn from Telehealth?” Elder Law Review: Vol 10