The Australian Approach to Access to Justice
With thanks to our network member Emily MacLoud, this comprehensive overview gives an interesting insight into the approach Australia has taken to designing an encompassing national triage tool for LiPs.
Justice Connect, an Australian charity dedicated to connecting people with legal help, has designed a online intake tool that helps people connect to free legal help seamlessly. The tool guides users through a series of questions and takes less than 10 minutes to complete. With colourful, contrasting buttons, the tool is easy to use and so far has received overwhelmingly positive feedback.
The legal profession, the charity sector as well as commentators from the emerging #legaldesign and #legaltech scene, are all heralding the tool a success. Roger Smith, a prominent commentator on all things techy in the Access to Justice space, points this out in to a new digital world? He describes the tool as “extremely slick” at guiding users through what is a complex web of specialist and generalist legal services spanning across multiple jurisdictions.
The tool is successful not because it uses a form of AI or piece of new technology found in the Hype Cycle that only a few people know about. It is successful because it is user-centred and value-driven. Roger is right when he says that “someone at Justice Connect clearly has learned the art of the deal.” They have produced a tool that is easy to use and designed it with empathy so that the people who use it can use it intuitively.
Redesigning the way things are done
Recognising the transformative potential of technology to improve access to justice and inspired by others in this space developing innovative community-based tech products, the team at Justice Connect set out to experiment with new ways to meet unmet legal need at scale.
What sets Justice Connect apart is their willingness to embrace digital innovation at a strategic level. They are open to transforming how they work.
This was the foundation from which the Gateway Project emerged. With $250,000AUD seed-funding from Google in early 2017, they began their journey towards developing a suite of products to tackle the three biggest issues facing the social justice sector:
2. Referring clients between services
3. Match-making need with expertise
Triage – a vital tool to increase Access to Justice
Triage is used by many in the legal sector at critical points during a person’s legal journey to ensure that people seeking help can obtain the “right” resources at the “right” time. The online intake tool handles this often complex and time-consuming but incredibly vital task. It helps those, who are in need of legal help, quickly and easily understand whether they are eligible for any of the services offered by Justice Connect. If they are eligible, it will then guide them seamlessly to the “formal application”.
The first notable feature is that the tool asks applicants to fill in their details at the end of the form, instead of at the beginning (like most other online forms). By remaining anonymous applicants can explore the tool and be directed to the appropriate resource or service before disclosing any personal information. This approach means applicants feel empowered, which is especially important given the sensitive nature of the information that they are asked to share. Along the way, the tool also reminds applicants that their information will not be linked to their name unless they provide their details at a later stage.
Keep it discreet
The tool also does a good job at providing just enough information so that the applicant knows what step to take next. It doesn’t overload the applicant with too much information about eligibility criteria and instead provides clear and concise explanations along the way, like “for many of our programs you will need to meet other eligibility criteria, like your income, for example.” If applicants want more information they can click on relevant links embedded throughout the tool.
If the applicant is not eligible, the tool will clearly outline why. While it does not provide a tailored answer (i.e. “You owe $X amount more than our eligibility requirements”), it does provide a comprehensive justification as to why Justice Connect cannot assist. It outlines who the service is designed for and that Justice Connect appreciates that many people cannot afford a lawyer. It also defends Justice Connect’s stance by stating that they “advocate for increased funding of legal services so that more people can access free legal help”.
Unfortunately, the tool does not yet directly link the applicant away from the tool to the self-help resources that are available, but this information is available on the Home page of the website. Perhaps this will be available in the next iteration?
Recognising the often complex nature of legal problems and their pervasive nature, the tool also allows applicants to select more than one legal problem. At the end of the tool, it will outline what steps the applicant can take to solve these legal problems and what Justice Connect service the applicant is eligible to apply to. The “formal application” will remember what the applicant has selected previously and will also give the applicant the opportunity to edit their selections.
In the spirit of iterating and being open, Justice Connect has encouraged everyone to give the tool a try. So try it out for yourself! And stay up-to-date with the next projects in the pipeline at Justice Connect, because if this co-designed end-to-end solution is anything to go by, the next projects will revolutionise the way justice is delivered in Australia, and perhaps inspire new projects across the globe. Kate Fazio, the Head of Innovation and Engagement at Justice Connect, very humbly notes that “the Gateway Project is just one part of the international movement to get legal services logged on and following user centred design”.
With Google sponsoring the Gateway Project, Roger Smith poses the question whether the introduction of a healthy dose of commercial competition in this space could be what the sector needs for it to achieve better, innovative services like this one. Surely other big name funders can play a role in supporting work like this?
It is certainly time to get out the post-its, listen, sketch out some prototypes and take action… and who doesn’t love a reason to celebrate a success like this!