Innovative staff and students are collaborating in America to help LiPs
We examine two programs developed by American universities that enable students to devise innovative solutions to problems faced by LiPs and we advocate for the pursuit of a similar approach in the UK.
Two American law schools have introduced impressive programs that enable students to better understand the problems of the civil justice system and especially to aid LiPs (or ‘pro se litigants’ as they are referred to in America). These are the ‘Innovation for Justice’ (I4J) program at the University of Arizona and the ‘LawX’ legal design lab launched by Brigham Young University. The development of these institutions and their projects could yield valuable lessons on how to assist LiPs in our own jurisdiction.
Particularly remarkable is the hands on orientation of these programs. Students are not just made educated on justice-related issues but are placed in the position of being real-world problem solvers, addressing some of the most pressing challenges faced by the legal system and, crucially, doing so with an inter-disciplinary focus. The work LawX has done on alleviating Utah’s debt collection crisis is already indicative of just how fruitful this approach can be. The lab designed ‘SoloSuit’ - “an automated software that guides debt
collection defendants through the answer process” - in response to worrying numbers of LiPs (98%) and defaults (over 80%) in these kinds of cases. SoloSuit was used by over 600 people in the first 6 months and provides a free and accessible alternative for those who cannot afford to hire an attorney (filing a lawsuit would cost $250 regardless of the size of the debt being collected). This is an excellent example of the kind of legal design activity that also constitutes an expanding area in the UK and the LIPN is able to offer several opportunities for organisations that want to develop a legal design approach.
It is also encouraging to see the two institutions are currently collaborating on a common project to tackle another pressing LiP issue. Namely, a state of affairs where less than 20% of the tenants served with eviction notices in Pima County, of which about 95-99% are LiPs, actually appear in court. Delivering a solution to this problem will involve the students of
the I4J program observing eviction processes and talking to tenants and landlords before considering the kinds of resources they and their LawX partners could develop in response. While we must still wait to see how this particular project pans out, it seems certain that we could learn a great deal from the innovative and collaborative ethos that some American law schools are displaying in tackling LiP issues. In particular, it would be encouraging to see more universities establishing similar programs where students can develop the practical skills that are crucial to addressing LiP and access to justice problems.
If you are an organisation seeking to form similarly beneficial relationships with universities and other institutions please do contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (020 7092 3977) and we can put you in touch.