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Legal tech winners put humans at centre

Legal tech winners put humans at centre

By Karin Derkley

Access to Justice Students Technology 


Two legal apps that use human-centred design to help vulnerable people work through complex and daunting legal application forms have won the Melbourne Law School Law Apps Awards 2018.

The apps were built by students in the Law Apps subject, an elective where students learn to build a web-based legal expert system that solves a legal problem for a not-for-profit legal organisation.

In its fourth year, the popular Law Apps subject is sponsored by Herbert Smith Freehills, which hosted the awards night, and uses software provided by Neota Logic.

Subject coordinator Gary Cazalet says the subject exposes law students to innovative ways of delivering legal services, and also teaches them about human-centred design and a way of thinking that puts clients at the centre of the legal process.

"It's an iterative process, which requires empathy and really understanding your client and being prepared to change what you're doing so they get what they actually need."

Team member of joint winner the Visa Cancellation Appeal and Review Guide Joy Kim says those using the app were likely to be in stressful and vulnerable situations, either in prison or in a migrant detention centre. "So it was important to put ourselves in the clients' shoes to think about what they would need."

The app was developed for the Visa Cancellations Working Group, a national group made up of individuals from private law firms, not-for-profit organisations, community legal centres and tertiary institutions that provides legal assistance to people facing visa cancellation and their families.

Developing the app involved breaking down the highly complex requirements of the Migration Act into a logical step by step process, and using structured questions in easily understood English to support users through the process, Ms Kim says.

"We had to tailor the language of the app to make sure people properly understood concepts like 'surety' and 'primary income earner'," she says. The app also built in validation tests to screen out inconsistencies that might undermine the application. "It's really about limiting the risk that people will make a mistake."

Streamlining a complex application process was also the object of joint winner The Bail Helper. Team member Erin Kanygin says the app was developed for the growing number of people on remand in Queensland after it was found that one of the major obstacles to prisoners receiving bail was the lengthy and complicated bail application process.

Ms Kanygin and her colleagues worked closely with Prisoners Legal Service to develop the app which allows prisoners to answer a series of guided questions and then uses that information to generate four forms required by Queensland courts to apply for bail.

"There was a lot of going back and forth with the client to make sure the final product would suit the users," she says. The app is now in the pipeline to be rolled out in Queensland and the development team are looking at the possibility of applying the same process to other states.

Both apps were successful in communicating complex areas of law in ways that people could understand and relate to, Mr Cazalet says. "The way they were designed was careful and thoughtful in the way they allowed people to interact with the apps."

The awards were judged by Herbert Smith Freehills partner Steve Bell, Melbourne Law School Dean, Professor Pip Nicholson, Legal Services Commissioner and US start-up investment firm Walden International partner/managing director Bill Moore.

Picture: Front - Visa Cancellations development team members Ai Lin Ng, Nicholas Chan, Alexandra Cook and Joy Kim, Bail Helper development team members Henry Ho, Mona Zhang and Erin Kanygin, judge and Legal Services Commissioner, Fiona McLeay, judge and Melbourne Law School Dean Pip Nicholson, MLS director, Public Interest Law Initiative Kate Fischer-Doherty, Bail Helper development team member Shafinas Djuanda. Back – Judge and Walden International partner/managing director Bill Moore, judge and Herbert Smith Freehills partner Steve Bell, MLS Law Apps subject coordinator Gary Cazalet


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