After the Innovation Challenge day in February 2022, two of the ideas UMBRELLA & WHAT’S MY FORM were then developed further in early summer with tech support from UWE students.
Not only is it incredibly important that legal tech continues to develop, it is also important that such tech is created for individuals who lack the means to access justice. Now more than ever, the gap between the legal and tech world needs to be bridged, and projects like this are a testament to what keen individuals can develop.Sian Da Silva Green
We asked the teams to describe their projects and also to send us their thoughts on working together in interdisciplinary teams.
Legal: Leanne Crook, Sian Da Silva Green
Tech: Han Kay, Venus Rohilla
“Empowering people with the knowledge to articulate their legal issue effectively”
Umbrella is designed for use by the general public to provide the relevant knowledge to solve people’s legal issues, and has an interface with two options:
- Umbrella terms for those with very limited knowledge
- Search bar for those with specific questions – powered by machine learning questions
Umbrella is designed to facilitate access to relevant available information online (e.g. GOV.UK, Legislation.gov.uk, Bailii, legal databases) about the user’s legal issue. It does not aim to provide direct advice but helps in narrowing down the issue, bridging the gap between legal expertise and lay knowledge, giving access to relevant information that is already available and helping people to articulate their issue effectively. Initially designed as a website it could be converted into an app for mobile phones so it is easier to access.
The vision is that Umbrella will:
- alleviate the issue of overbooking and unavailability of legal aid clinics.
- create reports covering all relevant legislation identified by the website.
For those whose problems cannot be solved via the website, they could be referred to the appropriate legal aid clinic or local solicitor, providing contact information, indicative rates and whether they accept conditional fees. Umbrella could work with legal aid clinics to be able to show availability status to end users.
WHAT’S MY FORM
Legal: Agnieszka Jenkins, Ffion Davies
Tech: Asifur Rahman , Hamza Safdar
What’s My Form is a software solution to aid people in completing paper forms they are sent in the post or download from the internet. It is designed to provide guidance to instruct users on how to complete a form while they fill it out on paper; in future this could be expanded to cover forms submitted online too as many legal platforms are adapting to online submission.
The prototype focuses on one form – the section 172 response form for a speeding ticket offence – and the demonstration is based on a web browser model with the form being uploaded. However, we anticipate this will be applicable to other forms in future and that it will be equally accessible on a mobile device by the user taking a photo of the form.
The idea is to remove barriers faced by persons who struggle to know how to complete legal forms independently due to comprehension, literacy, language or other difficulties. The solution harnesses technology to enable users to complete the forms themselves, rather than having to seek legal advice from practitioners which may be inaccessible, costly or time consuming.
In terms of possible future development, the demo is a web app, and the team felt it could be “more useful and convenient for users” to develop it as a mobile app for android and ios. They were also interested in the potential of live chat, with initial assistance from a chatbot, then a live chat with the legal advisor. The resourcing implications would need to be looked into.
Thoughts on the experience of working across law and technology:
Overall, my experience working across both law and technology has been extremely valuable. The idea behind this project was to make law more understandable to the layperson, and by working alongside laypeople, I had to challenge myself and strip back to the basic, most important legal principles. Moreover, developing the communications skills between legal and tech was a vitally important skill for not only this project, but future innovative projects to come. Working with my team was a very rewarding experience, each member worked hard on their tasks, and I am grateful for their dedication to such an important project.Sian Da Silva Green
The challenge of converting legal ideas into practical, technical solutions was an overarching theme of the Access to Justice project. This required a lot of careful communication and collaborative skills to progress our work. While I cannot say we fully overcame this during the project, I certainly think we learned a lot from this exchange. There are three key things I would say I learned from the project about the interaction of law and technology:Ffion Davies
• Communication is key. Regular updates were essential to ensure each side understands the aims and practicalities of the project as it progresses.
• Being open minded to ideas from all perspectives is a huge asset. For example, we founds that suggestions on any aspect of the project may not come exclusively from either side but benefitted from various inputs and thoughts.
• Delegation and commitment. Though the time burden felt by either side of the project may be uneven, it is important that everyone stays committed throughout. It was clear from the start that the tech participants needed to put in more hours to make the project work, however, each aspect of the work still required focus and dedication.
After working with the team, I learned about data science, how data collection works with Python and how the code is structured and learning about law, I learned interesting stuff about legal system. At first, I thought it would be really hard to understand, but after working in the team, it wasn’t as difficult as I expected. My experience with it inspired me to consider going into law and technology as a designer to work on the content in the future. I’m looking forward to more of it in the future.
It was a great experience. I have learned to work as a team. As a technical person, I don’t have more insights into law but working with law students makes me able to understand some concepts of law and expand my knowledge.Hamza Safdar