Technology has a key role to play in the development of the legal sector but unless we understand the client and their dynamics, it will be difficult to achieve tangible change (Drane, 2019, p.140). Users need to be engaged with digital services in order for them to afford a real prospect of increased access to justice. Adopting a user-centred design approach to technology in the justice sector may help to ensure that engagement levels are high.
An example of the importance of this can be seen in the Below the Belt app which aimed to support young people with their legal issues (Victoria Legal Aid, 2016). On a review of the app, it was found that young people preferred to use a search engine or ask family members and friends for advice, apps were perceived to be a means of entertainment (Victoria Legal Aid, 2016). Therefore, it appears that the designers had not properly considered how the specific user group preferred to access legal resources. This is an indication of the importance of conducting user research to understand what works for users before developing an innovation.
For many people, the internet is the first tool they will use to explore their legal problem (Phillips and Farrell, 2015, p. 132). A study by UCL of 10,500 people in the UK found significant growth in adults using the internet to access information about legal problems, however the ability of non-lawyers to interpret legal information is low (Balmer et al. cited in Hagan, 2016, p. 416). This indicates that users want to engage with online legal services but the resources have not necessarily been designed with this type of ‘non-lawyer’ end user in mind. Users appear to prefer open access, official sites that present legal information clearly and comprehensively (Hagan, 2016, p. 408).
Platforms should be built to ensure transparency of what the user can expect to get out of the service. Providing advice through online platforms may lead users have an expectation of instant advice because of the nature of technology which is unrealistic in the legal sector (Hou et al., 2017, p. 2519). As a result, managing user expectations will be important to ensure that users remain engaged in order to achieve their legal goals.
Further, users have access to a number of resources and sometimes this can be overwhelming. The Law Society has indicated that work in this sector has led to a significant duplication of innovations which is confusing for the client (The Law Society, 2019). For example, there are a number of websites offering legal aid eligibility calculators (The Law Society, 2019). The user may not be able to clearly evaluate the best tool to use and this may lead to frustration resulting in a return to traditional means of legal advice, or not seeking legal advice at all. A collaborative platform may offer a solution to this. For example, the Ontario-based Steps to Justice website, a collaboration between the government, legal stakeholders and pro bono providers which has been specifically designed to avoid the duplication of resources (Steps to Justice, 2020; Smith, 2017). This provides Ontario residents with a clear single resource to begin exploring their legal issue which can help to reduce confusion, therefore enhancing user engagement.
There is a range of generic legal information on the internet but there is an indication that this combined with user-specific information is the most useful (Smith cited in Phillips and Farrell, 2015, p. 133). Interactive methods of legal advice delivery may boost the user’s engagement with the service; guided pathways appear to be beneficial in this regard. Guided pathways use questionnaires to deliver specific, tailored advice to a user (Tandan, 2018, p. 5). Such pathways are used by interactive legal support websites, for example The Solution Explorer and MyLawBC. A recent study of the efficacy of MyLawBC, indicated that users did not always make it to the end of the guided pathway, but they found the information needed before that point and therefore they still found a benefit (Tandan, 2018, p. 7). A tool that tells the user how long the pathway will take and the resources needed is beneficial in terms of setting them up to use the service. In addition, being able to save resources and return later may be a valuable way to improve engagement and this could be facilitated by giving the user the option to create an online account. The specificity of the advice provided by guided pathways is likely to improve user engagement, even if they do not complete the pathway as set out.
User engagement will present a clear indication of the efficacy of using a design-centred approach to building innovations and so it is likely that this will be beneficial for funding and innovation. In addition to what is discussed above, it is likely that engagement can be increased through addressing the issues of digital support and trust in technology.
1. Drane, S. (2019) How Data will Enable the Shift Towards the Productisation of Legal Services. Legal Information Management [online]. 19(3). pp. 138. [Accessed 23 March 2020].
2. Victoria Legal Aid (2016) Case Study of Below the Belt phone app [online]. Victoria Legal Aid. Available from: www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/sites/www.legalaid.vic.gov.au/files/vla-case-study-below-the-belt-phone-app.pdf [Accessed 14 April 2020].
3. Phillips, E. and Farrell, J. (2015) Queensland Community Legal Centres’ Use of Information Technology to Deliver Access to Justice. Legal Information Management [online].15(2). pp. 131-136. [Accessed 14 January 2020].
4. Hagan, M. (2016) The User Experience of the Internet as a Legal Help Service. Virginia Journal of Law & Technology [online]. 20(2). pp. 395. [Accessed 27 March 2020].
5. Hou, Y et al. (2017) Factors in Fairness and Emotion in Online Case Resolution Systems. Human Computer Integration [online]. 6(11). pp. 2511. [Accessed 16 March 2020].
6. The Law Society (2019) Technology, Access to Justice and the Rule of Law [online]. London, The Law Society. Available from: www.lawsociety.org.uk/support-services/research-trends/technology-access-to-justice-rule-of-law-report/ [Accessed 30 March 2020].
7. About Steps to Justice (2020) StepstoJustice.ca [online]. Available from: https://stepstojustice.ca/about-steps-justice [Accessed 14 April 2020].
8. Smith, R. (2017) Triage Portals – three gets challenged by four. Law, Technology and Access to Justice [online]. Available from: https://law-tech-a2j.org/advice/triage-legal-portals-the-challenge-of-four/ [Accessed 2 April 2020].
9. Tandan, A. (2019) MyLawBC: Understanding Outcomes [online]. Legal Services Society. Available at: https://lss.bc.ca/sites/default/files/2019-06/MLBCunderstandingOutcomesFINAL.pdf [Accessed 14 April 2020].