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Pro bono: Getting started in the Digital Age

Pro bono: Getting started in the Digital Age

By Kate Fazio


Providing automated help on routine legal issues is now achievable for the community sector. The digital era brings with it threats and opportunities to business, communities and vulnerable people. In the community legal sector, funding cuts are occurring at the same time as opportunities to help more people using digital approaches. UK legal futurist Professor Richard Susskind has long warned of the potential for technology disruption in legal services. While lawyers provide critical insight, “all too often . . . work in law offices is quite routine and repetitive. And this is where I think we can find entirely new ways of delivering legal services,” he said on a recent visit to Melbourne. At the Not-for-profit Law service, the scale of the sector (600,000 not-for-profits across Australia) has meant that digital has always been a component of strategy. Its information hub and online training programs were its first forays into the digital world, taking traditional approaches to providing legal help (information and education) and translating them to an online context. Work in the digital space has now stepped up to address the opportunity identified by Professor Susskind – streamlining and automating repetitive and routine legal advice. Each year Not-for-profit Law receives hundreds of calls from people seeking help to set up not-for-profits, and tens of thousands of hits on its online resources on this topic. The advice required by start-ups is complex, but formulaic. In partnership with Melbourne Law School and web application provider Neota Logic, it has developed an app for start-up not-for-profits that guides them through the start-up process. While the information contained in the app already exists on the information hub, hundreds of pages must be read and filtered by groups hoping to self-help. The app processes users’ answers to a series of questions and generates a bespoke, tailored and jurisdictionally appropriate report, providing key information and recommendations to the particular user. Rather than hundreds of pages, the report is around four pages long. Providing automated help on routine legal issues is now achievable for the community and pro bono legal sector, and there are many opportunities to save precious pro bono resources for those cases where complexity of advice and the insight of a professional are required. Not-for-profit Law’s Getting Started web application is available at www.nfplaw.org.au/gettingstarted. Kate Fazio is manager of education, Not-for-profit Law, Justice Connect. This column is coordinated by Justice Connect.

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