A concept design that came out of a legal workshop I ran last week among legal aid & self-help lawyers.
I’ve started scouting out different courtroom based service & system designs. Here is one, that my colleague Briane alerted to me: the Online Court Project based out of the University of Michigan. It features new ideas to integrate tech and automation into court processes.
Led by U-M Law School professor J.J. Prescott, this Global Challenges project seeks to revolutionize how the public interacts with courts. Its technology-driven approach has the potential to create an entirely new case resolution process, one that improves performance and accessibility along numerous dimensions and makes courts better suited for the information age.
Judicial systems exist to provide a way for societies to organize themselves around the rule of law. In order to accomplish this goal, courts need to be (1) accessible; (2) fair; and (3) cost-effective. Unfortunately, due to their reliance on antiquated, non-technological processes, courts in the United States have seen little improvement on these three measures in recent decades.
With respect to access to justice, American courts are notoriously difficult to understand and use, especially for people without attorneys. In significant part, this confusion results from the fact that courts are structured almost entirely around face-to-face, one-on-one interactions with judges and court personnel, which is comparable to providing banking services without ATM’s.
Even the simplest negotiation points in the process require litigants to physically go to court, a process that is time-consuming, opaque, and intimidating. Consequently, millions of people, who have relatively minor issues that require negotiation with the judge or prosecutor, are either inconvenienced or simply avoid interacting with the system. The magnitude of this problem is demonstrated by the approximately 30 million warrants currently outstanding for failure to appear for show cause hearings.
Likewise, the courts’ reliance on snapshot decision-making leads to sub-optimal decisions. One-on-one process simply does not provide judges and court personnel with adequate time to collect and analyze information about litigants. As a result, decisions are often based on little more than general impressions about litigants, opening the door for numerous undesirable outcomes, including:
- Decisions influenced by subconscious biases.
- Perceived arbitrariness, such as when misdemeanor defendants with substantively identical cases receive wildly different sanctions.
- Due process failures, such litigants with unpaid fines being imprisoned due to incorrect assessments of their ability to pay.
Finally, already cash-strapped states and municipalities are crippled by fixed-cost legal infrastructure. Not only are current processes non-technological, they scale poorly; costs are high on a per transaction basis, and remain high even as volume increases, essentially imposing a tax on growth.
What is required is a scalable, web-based alternative to the one-on- one decision making process.
This project will harness emerging insights into how judges do their jobs to build an algorithm-based portal to allow litigants to engage in largely automated negotiations with courts online.
The project’s algorithmic approach is designed to replicate the outcomes generated by the traditional one-on-one consultative process, but with enormous transaction costs savings. This approach works by providing judges with a way to specify in advance what information is required to make a decision about a litigant’s case, and providing litigants with the ability to submit that information to the court over the internet.
Judges apply rules to factual information to generate decisions; these rules can either be clear-cut application of law or what are sometimes referred to as “decisions heuristics,” the individual rules of thumb that judges use to make repetitive decisions quickly. While some thought-leaders in the judicial community have encouraged judges to formalize decision heuristics for consistency purposes, this project goes one step further to achieve a truly novel result: by programming these rules into software, many of the high-volume transactions that currently require the in-person interaction can be handled online. The technology will have two basic components: (1) a dashboard interface where judges can enter decision rules based on the facts they view important; (2) a forward-facing portal where litigants can submit information and requests using a multiple-choice framework similar to TurboTax.
While this method can theoretically automate a significant amount of the work courts are asked to do, in Phase 1 we will create the system for one to three courthouses, designed to process resolutions for a limited subset of transactions, such as unpaid fines and minor misdemeanor charges.
Success in Phase 1 will involve identifying suitable courthouses for pilot deployment, assisting judges in mapping the decision rules they use to make repetitive decisions, building the technology so that it integrates with the court’s data systems, and then assisting the court in encouraging litigant adoption. Assuming Phase 1 is successful, Phase 2 will focus on expanding the types of transactions delegated to the software, and more importantly, scale-up to an entire county or even the entire state.
If successful, this project will result in the creation of an entirely new type of court, one well-suited to the information age. In addition to efficiency gains, the shift away from snapshot, one-on-one decision making will open the door for a more “data-driven” justice system. Finally, in addition to being scalable throughout the United States the technology has potentially strong applications for the developing world, where a lack of effective legal infrastructure acts as a major deterrent to foreign investment.
James. J. Prescott: Principal Investigator
Benjamin Gubernick: Project Research Director.
MJ Cartwright: Pilot Program Director
Court Innovations, Inc.: A U-M startup founded by Professor Prescott and Mr. Gubernick.
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Check out a new data-gathering & redesign project from Nikki Zeichner, The Parole Hearing Data Project.
The Parole Hearing Data Project is a repository of New York State parole hearing data based on:
1 records scraped from the New York State Parole Board’s website; and
2 parole hearing transcripts crowdsourced with help from attorneys, advocates and prisoners/the formerly incarcerated.
So far, we have gathered 30,000+ records and formatted them for analysis. This project is in development. Currently, we are focused on developing a streamlined system of gathering hearing transcripts in collaboration and with consideration of those who are close to this issue. We are also working with graduate students at NYU and Columbia University who are analyzing and visualizing what we have so far. One end product that we look forward to showcasing is a library of multimedia content based on both our data and on documentation of this project’s development.
We are building this dataset because in New York over 10,000 parole eligible prisoners are denied release every year, and while the consequences of these decisions are costly at $60,000 annually to incarcerate one individual, the process of how these determinations are made is unclear. A former parole commissioner stated recently that “[t]he Parole Board process is broken, terribly broken.” We believe that the first step towards fixing a broken system is understanding it; the data that we gather will tell valuable stories about crime, incarceration, personal change, forgiveness, stereotypes, power, fear, and race, among other themes.
The Parole Hearing Data Project was created by Nikki Zeichner, a New York City-based criminal defense attorney developing multimedia public projects that explore the U.S. criminal justice system. Her interest in examining the NYS parole board’s release practices grew out of her experience representing a prisoner who had been denied release 9 times before their work together. More of her storytelling projects can be found at the Museum of the American Prison’s website. For inquiries: info at museumoftheamericanprison dot org
The recent UX Sprint for Security & Privacy Tools in San Francisco featured a great list of projects that work to empower citizens. Most center on:
Here is a list of the projects, with links to fuller documentation — as inspiration in what’s possible in empowering citizens and protecting them from government monitoring.
The Guardian Project creates easy-to-use open source apps, mobile OS security enhancements, and customized mobile devices for people around the world to help them communicate more freely, and protect themselves from intrusion and monitoring.
Commotion is an open-source communication toolkit that uses mobile phones, computers, and other wireless devices such as routers to make it possible for communities to set up decentralized mesh networks and share local services. Deployed already in a handful of U.S. cities and internationally, it is a key tool for internet freedom, providing alternatives where surveillance and censorship compromise traditional infrastructure.
Martus is a secure and open-source human rights documentation system used by human rights initiatives to document and preserve evidence and testimonies of human rights violations.
StoryMaker is an open source app for making and publishing multimedia stories with any Android phone or device, as safely and securely as possible. It provides an interactive storytelling training guide, walkthroughs, and templates for users to follow as they plan their story and capture media. The app then helps assemble the content into a finished format that can be shared directly with social media or anywhere– no computer editing station required, even for video!
Lantern is a network of people working together to defeat internet censorship around the world. Install and share Lantern, our new peer-to-peer censorship circumvention software, to give or get access to people in places where access is censored
The Serval Project:
Serval is a telecommunications system comprised of at least two mobile phones that are able to work outside of regular mobile phone tower range due thanks to the Serval App and Serval Mesh.
ChatSecure is a free and open source encrypted chat client for iPhone and Android that supports OTR encryption over XMPP. ChatSecure was originally available for only iOS devices, but is now also available on Android via The Guardian Project’s similar app, formerly named Gibberbot.
Open Whisper Systems:
Whisper Systems produces simple and easy-to-use tools for secure mobile communication and secure mobile storage. Their products include RedPhone and TextSecure, which allow encrypted VoIP phone and text (SMS) communication between users
People’s Intelligence is an award winning idea that makes use of USSD, SMS and voice to establish a conversation with victims and witnesses of mass atrocities. The envisaged tool helps victims and witnesses to better document and verify their stories and provides them as well as relevant organisations with actionable information, thereby facilitating early warning and targeted assistance. It supports analysis and allows networking between affected communities, relevant organisations and experts through the use of ubiquitous technologies.
ChMailvelope allows individuals to encrypt and decrypt email in their favorite webmail provider following the OpenPGP standard. This includes, among others, Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook.com, and GMX. It integrates directly into the webmail user interface; its elements are non-intrusive and easy to use in a user’s regular workflow.
Fixed is an app that lets you hand off your parking ticket to the company, for them to fight it for you on your behalf. You pay them nothing if you lose the contest and have to pay the fine. You have to pay them 25% of your prospective fine if they win the ticket for you.
Here is a sampling of their apps’ interactions
It’s outsourcing a small bit of legal advocacy — so you don’t have to deal with traffic and parking court. The interactions couldn’t be simpler: you just take a photo of the ticket, make a few selections, and then you get notified of your advocate, your chances of beating the ticket, and other details about the process.
This is a possible model for other Legal Advocacy – Outsourcing products & services. Its’ cleanliness and simplicity make it seem quite promising.
For more details on the company and its business model, here is a CNN article by Heather Kelly about Fixed:
Few things enrage normally calm people like finding a parking ticket tucked under the windshield wiper of their car.
Parking tickets can be infuriating, especially when they seem undeserved. (Officer, there’s no sign saying I can’t park here!). But most people don’t want to invest the time and energy to would take to dispute them.
Now there’s a new iPhone app, Fixed, that will fight parking tickets for you. The app, expected to launch next week, will do the heavy lifting of contesting a ticket: suggesting reasons it might be invalid, gathering supporting evidence and submitting the proper appeals paperwork.
If the driver beats the ticket, they pay Fixed 25% of what the citation would have cost. If they can’t get out of the ticket, Fixed doesn’t charge them anything.Fixed hopes to capitalize on people’s feelings of injustice over unfair parking tickets.
“When you mention parking tickets to people it engenders such an emotional reaction … because so many people think they’ve received an unfair parking ticket,” said Fixed co-founder David Hegarty, who came up with the idea after getting six parking tickets in one day. Much of this anger is directed at local governments, which many people see as using parking tickets to fill budget gaps.
That emotional response, as well as a desire to not shell out $100 for blocking a couple inches of someone’s driveway, could make Fixed a hit. But its success will depend on how good the service is at navigating parking laws, which are often a confusing hodgepodge of local and state ordinances.
Here’s how Fixed works: When someone gets a ticket, they snap a photo of it on their iPhone and enter the violation code. The Fixed app will tell them what percentage of those types of tickets are usually overturned and then show a list of possible reasons it could be found invalid. For example, a street cleaning sign might be obscured by a leafy tree, or a parking meter could be broken.
If the motorist thinks they have a case, the app will prompt them to capture any additional photographic evidence with their phone and then digitally sign a letter.
Fixed has contracted with a team of legal researchers fluent in local traffic laws who will review each case before printing out the letter and submitting it via snail mail to the city. Over time, Fixed hopes to learn more about what methods and which errors have the highest success rates when contesting tickets. That information will be used to make the system more automated.
“It will always be reviewed by human eyes before it’s sent, but I’m pretty confident that we can get to the point where 80% of tickets are 95% automated,” said Hegarty.
Fixed is expected to launch in the Apple App store next week, although its service will only be available in San Francisco at first. The startup has been testing its service with a small group of 1,000 people, mostly friends and friends of friends, and there’s already a waiting list of 25,000 people wanting to sign up.
Hegarty and with Fixed’s other two co-founders, David Sanghera and DJ Burdick, hope to expand into the top 100 U.S. cities over the next 18 months.
San Francisco is fertile ground for motorists who can effortlessly rack up hundreds of dollars in parking tickets. As in many cities, parking in San Francisco is an exercise in frustration, with a limited number of spaces on the street and parking garages charging top dollar.
The company hasn’t had any official talks with the city. But Hegarty hopes his service is not seen as adversarial. Rather, he thinks Fixed could help people pay their legitimate parking tickets in a more timely manner.
“We do not have concerns if people want to use a third-party service, but there is no secret to overturning a citation if it has been issued erroneously. If someone feels that their citation was written in error, they might want to consider protesting themselves, for free,” said Paul Rose, a spokesperson for San Francisco’s transportation agency.
San Francisco issues about 1.5 million parking tickets every year, typically for $45 to $115 each (there are also some significantly pricier violations, such as having an expired plate or abandoning a car on a highway). The fines add up to about $95 million a year, according to Hegarty.
Of those 1.5 million citations, only five percent are actually contested. And of that small amount, only 30% are actually overturned, according to Rose. There are three rounds of appeals — two by mail and a court hearing.
Fixed will only handle the first two appeals for the time being.
The number of overall citations in San Francisco has fallen in recent years as the city has rolled out its own technological tools, such as pay-by-phone and meters that take credit cards, in an effort to make payment easier.
“We’d much rather have people pay the meter than pay a fine,” said Rose.
Fixed’s business model isn’t completely new. There are companies that handle driving and parking violations for large corporations such as FedEx and UPS. In New York City, commercial delivery companies account for 20% to 30% of the city’s 10 million parking tickets every year, according to Crain’s New York Business.
The difference is that Fixed is making this service available to individuals. Hegarty can see eventually expanding into speeding tickets and other small financial annoyances, such as cable company fees. He thinks Fixed could help in any area where the fee amount is small enough not to protest in person, but still big enough to make someone angry.
“That’s our sweet spot,” he said.
New York just began a pilot program of Court Navigators for Housing Courts in some jurisdictions. Non-lawyers would help self-represented litigants navigate the court system.
The Court Navigator Program was launched in February 2014 to support and assist unrepresented litigants – people who do not have an attorney – during their court appearances in landlord-tenant and consumer debt cases. Specially trained and supervised non-lawyers, called Court Navigators, provide general information, written materials, and one-on-one assistance to eligible unrepresented litigants. In addition, Court Navigators provide moral support to litigants, help them access and complete court forms, assist them with keeping paperwork in order, in accessing interpreters and other services, explain what to expect and what the roles of each person is in the courtroom. Court Navigators are also permitted to accompany unrepresented litigants into the courtroom in Kings County Housing Court and Bronx Civil Court. While these Court Navigators cannot address the court on their own, they are able to respond to factual questions asked by the judge.
In addition to this court-based program, the courts will also be utilizing non-lawyers to provide legal information and access to homebound individuals.
The Navigators would perform the following functions in certian proceedings:
The Court Navigator Program trains college students, law students and other persons deemed appropriate by the Program to assist unrepresented litigants, who are appearing in Nonpayment proceedings in the Resolution Part of Housing Court or the Consumer Debt Part of the Civil Court.
Nonpayment proceedings are cases where landlords sue tenants to collect rent. In these disputes, tenants and owners/landlords face the possibility of losing their homes through eviction or foreclosure. Consumer debt proceedings involve credit card companies, hospitals, banks or any other person or company that a litigant may owe money to. Despite the high stakes, most litigants appear in court without an attorney to advocate on their behalf.
In Kings County Housing Court, the Program operates in partnership with the non profit organizations University Settlement, and Housing Court Answers.
The goal of the Court Navigator Program is to help litigants who do not have an attorney have a productive court experience through offering non-legal support. Participating volunteers work in the courtroom under the supervision of a Court Navigator Program Coordinator. They have the opportunity to interact with judges, lawyers and litigants, and to gain real-world experience. Whatever a student’s goal is in volunteering — helping people in need, making new contacts, learning more about assisting a person in court or developing professional skills — the Court Navigator Program sets the stage!
For more information contact: email@example.com
- Help in using computers located in the courthouse to obtain information and fill out court forms using the Do It Yourself (DIY) computer programs.
- Help find information about the law and how to find a lawyer on a website called Law Help
- Help persons find resources in the courthouse and outside the court to assist in resolving their cases.
- Help persons collect and organize documents needed for their cases.
- Accompany persons during hallway negotiations with opposing attorneys.
- Accompany persons in conferences with the judge or the judge’s court attorney.
- Respond to a judge’s or court attorney’s questions asking for factual information on the case.
Court Navigators do not give legal advice or get involved in negotiations or settlement conferences. Generally, court navigators also do not give out legal information except with the approval of the Chief Administrative Judge of the Courts.
A two and half hour seminar and a training manual will provide information on what a navigator can do to help.
Training topics include:
- Civil and Housing Court Overview
- Basics of Consumer Debt Cases and Nonpayment Proceedings
- Interviewing and Communication Skills
- Using the DIY Computers and Law Help
Prospective volunteers are trained at their school or at one of the Civil Court of the City of New York courthouses.
Oxford Law has published an interactive, color visual of the legal topics it offers for study. It is simple but shows the relationships & sizes of the offerings. Click on any of the visuals, and have quick links to more resources on those classes.
It’s a simple & gorgeous redesign of how we display what educational paths are open to students.
Through the Program for Legal Tech & Design, I’ve launched a new project — The Visual Law Library. We started populating the site with drawings, charts, cartoons, graphs, timelines, videos, and other media that can make specific parts of the law easier to understand.
Our goal is to build a usable & beautiful collection of law for anyone on the Internet to use.
We want to see your notes, your tables, your other visual tools too — we’re looking for more submissions & curators.
It’s a work in progress — what’s up now is Version 1, and we’re planning to expand it with more visualization tools to support people as they create their own visuals of law.
Come browse the collection & add your own visuals and links. Thanks for visiting!
The New York Times Editorial Board published a piece spotlighting various New York-based initiatives that might transform the structure of the legal industry, and thus open more access to legal resources.
These highlighted projects include
New York State’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman, is making some innovative changes to the education and training of lawyers as well as to the workings of the court system that bear close watching around the country.
Here is the full, short editorial:
Starting next year, a new program will let third-year law students take the bar exam in February instead of July, in exchange for spending their last semester doing free legal work for the poor under the supervision of seasoned attorneys. The plan enlarges on existing law school internships and previous steps by Judge Lippman to increase the involvement of law schools and students in helping the indigent. Giving third-year students full-time practical training, along with earlier admission to the bar, could help improve their job prospects.
Judge Lippman is also seeking to have more non-lawyers assist unrepresented litigants in housing, consumer debt and other cases. A pilot project in Brooklyn and the Bronx will allow trained non-lawyers called “court navigators” to accompany unrepresented litigants to court and respond to questions from a judge, though not address the court on their own. The legal profession has no reason to feel threatened by this since the navigators will be helping people who cannot afford a lawyer and have no alternative form of representation.
On another front, Judge Lippman is trying to reduce the harmful consequences of old misdemeanor convictions, which can prevent people from finding work and housing or obtaining professional licenses and government benefits.
Starting in April, at his order, the court system will no longer include misdemeanors on the records of people it sells to background screening agencies, if the individuals involved have no other criminal convictions and have not been arrested for 10 years. (There will be exceptions for sex offenses, public corruption and drunken driving.) The judge also plans to submit legislation in Albany that would spare individuals with a clean record for seven years from having to reveal old misdemeanors when applying for a job (with the same exceptions), and give judges authority to seal nonviolent felony convictions after 10 years.
These are all sensible reforms that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature should get behind.
The Justice Index is a new project out of the National Center for Access to Justice at Cardozo Law School. It collects & displays data about how people in the US — particularly those who are traditionally disadvantaged in the legal system — are faring when it comes to access to legal aid services and courts. It is a step towards metrics & documentation of Access to Justice — which hopefully then can ground a forward-looking agenda of projects to correct trends moving in the wrong direction.
Justice depends on having a fair chance to be heard, regardless of who you are, where you live, or how much money you have. The National Center for Access to Justice has created the Justice Index to help make access to justice a reality for all. The Justice Index provides a vivid picture of which states are following practices and providing the resources necessary to make the legal system fair to everyone. Our justice system is among the most highly regarded in the world and we cherish our ideal of equality before the law. But for too many people the reality falls short of the promise.
One of the guiding choices of Justice Index is to visually display the data through interactive, colorful maps. Here are some of the examples of how they’ve transformed data about access statistics into interactive visual displays. If you go to the site, you can play with the tools to filter & focus on the data that you’re most interested in.
It’s great to see lively & informative displays of Access information — both to make the problems more visible, and to start framing the conversation about what our collective agenda should be (we, being designers, engineers, lawyers, and makers who want to conduct projects that have impact on access).
The Berkman Center & Jonathan Zittrain have long spoken about the need to disrupt how law students intake the law. Why do we have huge & costly textbooks, that professors typically use sparingly, with large parts to skip over, and with supplemental materials mixed in.
The H2O project presents an alternative: professors and others can create remixable sets of content. There can be a Con Law playlist, a Torts playlist — all open source, all online, with video & images mixed into texts. A professor can create their own playlist using the resources already on the site, they can borrow others’, or they can generate their own to be shared with the community.
Students then have a simple, online textbook experience. Everything can be printed off — all the rich media is woven into the site, and there are no pages or excerpts to skip. The class material is custom built for their class & its schedule, and accessible on their devices or printable for the hard copy experience.
From H2O’s description:
H2O is a suite of online classroom tools developed and provided by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society in collaboration with the Harvard Law School Library. H2O allows professors to freely develop, remix, and share online textbooks under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 License (per the Terms of Service). H2O is based on the open-source model: instead of locking down materials in formalized textbooks, we believe that course books can be free (as in “free speech”) for everyone to access and, just as important, build upon. Currently, H2O is geared primarily toward law professors, though the platform can be used across intellectual domains.
The new casebook
Law school casebooks today are static and heavy. H2O helps professors make tailored casebooks that are fluid and light, whether from scratch or by adapting existing casebooks and syllabi. Professors and students can create, edit, organize, consume, and share course materials that are open and free for everyone to access and build upon.
Why use H2O?
Professors can use H2O to build free online casebooks curated to fit their pedagogy and teaching objectives. No more supplemental materials; no more skipping huge swaths of casebooks. Professors tailor each selection to fit their classes’ specific needs, while maintaining the ability to quickly and easily revise any item in their playlist. Professors can copy, remix, and modify other professors’ playlists, drawing on a growing corpus of diverse materials. Students can make their own copy of the course materials, which they can annotate and highlight. Instead of lugging around heavy and expensive traditional casebooks, which often contain large amounts of extraneous materials, with H2O students can access their free and finely tuned course materials on any Web-enabled device, such as personal computers, tablets, and mobile phones. If they would like a paper version as well, students can print some, or all, of the casebook.
Building a community
We hope that promoting collaboration will increase the diversity and quality of teaching materials. Once assembled and made public, course materials can be copied and adapted by other faculty and students, who can in turn create their own versions. Professors may view the influence of their materials over time, as other professors and students remix their course materials.
This visual made it up to Twitter last Friday, but here it is for a more permanent home on Open Law Lab. It was a great conference & an inspiring keynote from Richard Susskind — thinking twenty, thirty years into the future.
The post Reinvent Law: Richard Susskind on tech & access to law appeared first on Open Law Lab.