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2020 Top Legal Innovations: Guardian ad litem resource platform

David Baugher//December 21, 2020

2020 Top Legal Innovations: Guardian ad litem resource platform

David Baugher//December 21, 2020

Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner

Christian Zust
Christian Zust

Having a useful idea is good, but being able to spread it to others is when you’ve truly made an impact.

“We just wanted to see if we could take a program we knew was working and expand it to where there was need,” said Christian Zust. “We came up with a prototype that we’re very excited about. We think all the pieces are coming together very nicely.”

As innovation solutions director for law giant Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Zust has reason to be optimistic about the new initiative, which aims to use downloadable materials to help attorneys across Missouri act as guardians ad litem for children who need a voice in the legal system. The effort builds on a long-standing program that the firm has used to provide similar resources for its own lawyers.

That initiative clearly had been a success, said Zust, but it was limited in scope to locations where BCLP had an office.

“The thought is, can we give others the tools they need to go into their local courts and help in the same way?” he said.

That has meant taking existing training materials, guidance from expert lawyers and other items, and building online infrastructure that attorneys outside the firm — and outside St. Louis — can use. Better access for professionals means better access to the courts for youngsters in need.

The idea is still in the prototype phase and isn’t yet live, although the firm has nailed down some of its fundamentals.

“Candidly, in the wake of the event in how all of the world has changed in 2020, what we’re trying to do now is regroup and figure out the current lay of the land,” said Zust, who has done guardian ad litem work. “What’s the best way to move forward, and do we need to make any tweaks to our prototype to better accommodate whatever the cadence will be in the new normal as we emerge from the pandemic [of] 2020?”

Zust said he hopes the initiative, when completed, will give more lawyers the confidence they need to volunteer.

“’[Lawyers say] I want to help, but I need to know that I can get help if I need it.’ The technology platform would give people a window [to that expertise],” he said. “It just really serves as reassurance and security that you are going to do a really good job volunteering on behalf of the child.”

The concept was introduced at the Global Legal Hackathon, an international event whose St. Louis node is sponsored by BCLP. This year’s event represents the second year the local incarnation has been held in the city — and much like the effort to expand the guardian ad litem program, it endeavors to use technology to create solutions.

“Basically what we do is that we invite anybody out in the community to come in, and what happens on the first night is that people come with problems facing the legal industry that haven’t been solved,” Zust said.

It is another way that BCLP works to increase access to justice, Zust said.

“How can we make it so that anybody can participate — not just folks who are in a big firm and have access to the lawyer down the hall?” he said.

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