Law Students Get To Grips With Tech at HackJustice
25 Jul 2016
8 minute read
The RACS mural
HackJustice aimed to address some of the issues faced by the Refugee Advice and Casework Service by using technology. The main issue addressed was the Justice for Refugees, or J4R, judicial review process. This is everything that happens before a case can go before any of their network of pro-bono barristers. It’s currently a patchwork of information sheets, forms, excel, email, and word, a maze to get through for anyone and a serious blocker for the organisation.
Participants explored issues around information security & user experience as they sought out to do process improvement for the org as part of their journey to finding a solution. They learnt how to ideate and apply design thinking.
Participants went about process improvement in many different & interesting ways, although a lot of them had in common a portal, that would encompass the entire workflow of the pre judicial review process. Process improvement is one of the skills noted by Alternatively Legal founder Peter Connor, as a soft skill that would set future lawyers aside from the rest. This is a skill that top lawyers develop, a consequence of the fact, noted by Joe Dewey, that they are “VERY good at applying the logic of the law to an almost limitless number of real World situations — with a keen ability to distinguish unique aspects found in one transaction versus a prior transaction” & can “manage the workflow of a transaction or other process (e.g., a regulatory investigation) in an almost robotic manner”. It’s almost algorithmic, in fact. This makes them prime candidates to develop SAAS legal software that could give ALL law firms -- who could afford it! -- the ability to work like them.
Our TA Jamie Cerexhe, who leads our schools program, visited on the first day to discuss options with the participants, and on the second & third, Fast Track Boot-camp participants Alex Karolis & Napoleon Manaog went along to help out with their newly gained experience.
Alex and his team
“Community legal centres lower the barriers associated with access to justice, so if we can assist with reducing the cost burden of their day-to-day operation, we can allow them to focus their limited resources on dispensing legal advice”
“We currently have a 6 to 8-month wait-list for people who have no other legal assistance option and without the RACS 90% of people seeking asylum in New South Wales would not have legal assistance”
Tanya Jackson-Vaughan, executive director of RACS
“Australia's community legal centres are under tremendous funding pressure, it makes sense to look to how innovations in technology might alleviate some of the burden,”
UNSW Law School Dean, Professor George Williams
TECH IN LAW
The legal industry is in an increasing rate of flux. We wrote earlier on the influence of tech on the legal industry, with a compilation of lawtech from around the world. There are 4 main sectors of the industry where lawtech has been created. It’s begun by going after the low hanging fruit first, trying to increase access to entry level services for more people. Others go after document review, and search files. Others are search engines that are more pleasant to use than say, Westlaw. Others do document automation, and take up the hassle of putting together a workflow for you. Imagine just how much time you would save with FirmForms & Zapier. The smartest lawyers and firms are putting this tech to work, and it’s transforming the makeup of traditional law firms, and so you see the rise of what is being called ‘NewLaw’. Gilbert + Tobin run hackathons, taught their lawyers to code -- by us! -- and have developed their own automated legal systems, using what are called smart contracts. Smart contracts are programmed using Ethereum, a rival blockchain technology to bitcoin.
Others go for the client set. You can find at least 20 sites that will provide to you legal documents for a small price or for free. It’s even customisable. Fixedlaw is a chatbot that asks you questions to determine whether or not you need to pay that parking fine. There are many other formulaic legal processes that could be addresses in a similar way. And there’s more.
Of course, Tech is also transforming the way the Law itself operates, as the rate of change in tech runs ahead of the law quite considerably. This is just one of the issues that Coder Academy Web App Builder alumni Adrian Agius explores in his blog Technolegem.
A range of solutions were offered to assist RACS with pre-processing clients. Commonly called on features include a better UX, and a centralised system, to replace the current patchwork of programs & paper. Others included AI & localisation, because as a refugee participant noted ‘refugees are tech literate. We all know how to use mobile phones.’ There was a belief that the software should create autonomy, particularly for refugees.
These Law students didn’t only take inspiration from tech. Many of the presentations were inspired by management consulting. Others decided to go all-in on a startup style pitch. One group, Chicag5, did research on the ethos and ‘brand’ of RACS, and decided it should convey 3 values: autonomy, transparency, & empowerment.
One of the people on the winning team, which designed a process they called the ‘Pyramid Model’, Nathan Feiglin, wrote about his experience at the hackathon.
A high school friend of mine, Caroline Hu, and her team, designed a FAQ UX for the very top of the pre-processing experience, a chatbot with machine learning capabilities.
We can’t wait to see what future editions of HackJustice will be like!
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