A Little Rock attorney is attempting to launch a smartphone application that would connect subscribers with attorneys during a police encounter.
DispatchJustice, founded by estate planning attorney Elizabeth Richardson, would let attorneys give subscribers legal advice in real time during the encounter. It would be launched in Pulaski County before expanding into central Arkansas.
Drivers who are stopped by the police would click on the app, which would create a screen with a red button. Pressing the button would send a text message to an on-call network attorney with a link. The attorney would click on the link, which would open a video conference that would be recorded to the cloud. The attorney would guide the subscriber through the stop.
While the majority of dispatches are expected to occur during traffic stops, they also could occur during other police encounters, such as protests.
Richardson said her service could help “under-represented individuals before they get stuck in a system that is clearly broken because it can have devastating effects on credit, on family life, all of those things.” She said the company is working on ways to have the attorney available for further legal appointments, like arraignments.
The app is still undergoing testing and is being revamped. She said the company is “bootstrapping it,” and the process has been slowed by a lack of funding. The annual subscription would be between $50 and $100 plus add-ons. A nonprofit arm could make the product more available to individuals who can’t afford it.
The company was accepted into the 2022 cohort for the Winrock International Delta Innovation Fund. That accelerator program has included a customer discovery process that has alerted the company to marketing opportunities with commercial driver’s license operators. Drivers with CDLs have an interest in not getting tickets for their personal driving, and it would be helpful for them to know their rights, Richardson said.
Richardson said the product could be marketed to individuals and also to employers who want to reduce employee absences.
Richardson worked in 2010 as a student coordinator for the Innocence Project, an organization that seeks to overturn wrongful convictions, and was a student attorney the summer before that. After she was licensed as an attorney, she had an experience seeing people in a courtroom who she knew weren’t represented.
After a police officer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area shot and killed African American motorist Philando Castile in 2016 as he was reaching for his identification, she thought that people could use an alert button that would send an attorney to the scene. When George Floyd was killed by a police officer in 2020, also in Minneapolis, she wondered if her initial idea would have made a difference.
“If there were nine minutes that he had the opportunity to say, ‘My attorney’s on his way,’ would that have changed the outcome?” she said. “And there’s no way to know, but it made me feel like it’s something that I should do now, and so I started messaging people, started researching again.”
The company has been selected as a finalist for the American Bar Association’s 2022 Louis M. Brown Award for Legal Access.