SixFifty’s Ransom Wydner on empowering US communities with legal tech

“The law isn’t for attorneys, judges and gatekeepers. It’s for everyone.”

Introducing Ransom Wydner, Vice President of Pro Bono and Social Impact at SixFifty, the tech arm of Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini.

Founded in 2019, SixFifty is on a mission to improve how people access the law through everyday digital solutions.

Sound familiar? We thought so too! 

Keen to learn more, we spoke with Ransom about his role and SixFifty’s approach to helping communities with legal tech. He even shared his thoughts on how he thinks AI can help us narrow the access-to-justice gap more effectively. Let’s jump in!

Ransom Wydner, Vice President, Pro Bono and Social Impact, SixFifty.

Ransom Wydner, Vice President, Pro Bono and Social Impact, SixFifty.

Hi Ransom, thanks for joining us! Could you tell us about your role at SixFifty?

Sure thing. My days are primarily split into three parts. I spend a third of my time speaking with legal aid organizations, like Legal Aid Chicago and Legal Aid North Carolina, hearing about their work and finding ways that SixFifty can help. 

I work with the wider business to help develop new features and strategies, considering how we can both sell our solutions in the marketplace and make them free to those who can’t afford legal help.

And aside from that, you’ll find me in the nuts and bolts, building and testing tools using our document automation engine. 

What is SixFifty? What does the company do exactly?

SixFifty is the tech arm of Wilson Sonsini, the premier tech law firm based out of Palo Alto, California. It’s where we got our name—650 is Palo Alto’s area code and Wilson Sonsini is headquartered at 650 Page Mill Road.

We deliver the world-class legal expertise of Wilson Sonsini through simple, intuitive software that makes corporate legal more efficient and more compliant. We got our start helping organizations comply with California’s privacy laws, and now we help with every US privacy law, plus the GDPR in Europe. We also offer employment and business docs. On the pro bono side, we focus on housing, debt, immigration, and more.

Could you tell us more about the tools SixFifty creates?

Sure! In addition to the tools we sell for businesses, we offer two kinds of free tools for people who can’t afford legal help.

We build upstream solutions for everyday people looking to gain better access to the law, and help the helpers solutions created for legal aid organizations and pro bono legal teams.

An example of an upstream solution is “HelloLandlord.” Users can get help seeking home repairs or advice when faced with possible eviction when they’re unable to pay rent.

We also built “HelloLender” during COVID to help homeowners access mortgage forbearance and keep their homes. HelloLandlord and HelloLender have been used by tens of thousands of people, and I’ve received so many messages saying how these tools have given people comfort in such uncertain times.

What about the help the helpers solutions? Could you describe them?

They’re specifically designed for legal professionals, but the desired end result remains the same: closing the access-to-justice gap.

One example is “Identity 650,” which helped people in Utah correct their gender marker in a matter of hours rather than the usual several months.

We partnered with Equality Utah, Utah Pride Center, the law firm Utah Legal Clinic and six judges to process 70 gender marker changes in just one day, which was an enormous victory for us. 

This usually costs people thousands of dollars and takes months to complete, but by automating their work, the lawyers and legal professionals involved were able to help more people in a shorter amount of time.

We build our free tools because SixFifty believes that legal tech can empower people. Because the law isn’t just for attorneys, judges and other gatekeepers. The law is for everyone.

“We need big paradigm shifts because every year thousands of lawyers volunteer millions of pro bono hours and every year the A2J gap gets wider.”
– Ransom Wydner, Vice President, Pro Bono and Social Impact, SixFifty

Looking forward, how do you see AI helping such projects close the access-to-justice gap?

I think AI will definitely help with the heavy lifting. You know, the content-by-the-pound work that human experts can subsequently confirm, check and guardrail.

There are valid concerns about AI, and about legal tech in general. Some will argue that unless you can guarantee 100% accuracy, it’s too risky. But is it better to get incomplete help or no help at all? 

If someone can’t afford legal help, what are their options right now? They use search engines, they ask questions on forums, they’re not getting high quality information. Legal tech, including AI, can get them closer to the right information

We need big paradigm shifts, because the way we’re doing things right now isn’t working. Wilson Sonsini’s Deno Himonas says, “We can’t volunteer our way across the access-to-justice gap.” Every year thousands of lawyers volunteer millions of pro bono hours and every year the access-to-justice gap gets wider. 

We’re only going to close that gap by taking risks and thinking outside the box. Of course we need to balance innovation with protecting people and don’t want tools that cause more harm than good. But we also have to be brave! 

A lot of the fear around tech and AI that I’ve seen is, frankly, self-serving. It’s about protecting reputations and the status quo, about not rocking the boat. That can’t be the focus. The focus has to be on outcomes.  How can we use tech, including AI, to help more people? 

How can we use technology to make more people feel empowered by the law instead of intimidated by it? How can we make the law work for everyone? That’s what should stay front of mind when considering AI.

Thanks for your time and such great insights, Ransom!

Thank you too!

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