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.
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
How can we enable citizens to communicate free of government surveillance? and
How can we help people report on & document atrocities and abuses?
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.
Guardian Project: 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 Wireless: 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 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 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: 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.
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.
In this way, Fixed hopes to add navigating bureaucracy to the list of urban tasks and nuisances — catching a cab, ordering food, finding a place to crash — made easier by popular tech startups.
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.
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!
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.
The court will no longer include misdemeanors on the records of people it sells to background screening agencies, if the person hasn’t been arrested for 10 years (with a few misdemeanors excepted)
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.
Reinvent Law: Richard Susskind on tech & access to law
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.
Stephanie Kimbro on Connecting a Mobile Game to Real World Legal Services
Many of my d.school Estate Plan redesign class groups are thinking about how to gamify estate planning — bringing some elements of game experience, like points, rewards, competition, and levels into the process.
None are developing explicit games like Stephanie Kimbro’s Estate Quest project, but the spirit of games & storytelling are guiding many of the design projects.
Here is an update on my game project. In my previous posts I’ve explained why I believe we can use the power of games to help us engage and empower the public to learn basic laws and legal issues. I’ve also explained the difference between gamification of the law and games that involve legal topics. The next step is to explain more specifically how a game like what I’m building with my team can increase access to real-world legal services as well as educate the public.
According to my game designer, this concept is a little revolutionary for the game industry and I’m guessing it will be for the legal profession as well. Please read all the way through before jumping to conclusions.
The game we are creating is intended to teach the public basic estate planning issues. These are not state specific legal issues. These are very basic. For example, level one of the game addresses this basic, simple fact: If you have children, you should name a guardian in your Will.
Yes, as a lawyer, I know full well how you can take a simple statement, add a bunch of “but what ifs” and make it the most convoluted and complex thing in the world. But that’s not what we are doing here. Rest assured there will be the usual disclaimer at the start of the game stating that this is not a substitute for legal services provided by a licensed lawyer – as if anyone would actually be misled into thinking that a mobile game featuring a time machine is going to really be able to do that. But still, just in case and mostly for the lawyers, we’ll have those disclaimers on there.
That aside, now for the fun part. The player will be able to share his or her achievements in the game with connections on Facebook, much the same way that they share notices on Farmville or give lives on Candy Crush Saga. There may be other interactive social media sharing within the game play, such as a “nominate a friend to be guardian of your kid in the game.”
Imagine the useful dialogue this could generate on Facebook feeds and in texts between friends and family over estate planning! Having practiced estate planning for ten years now I know that it’s so difficult for people to bring this topic up with their friends and family and it’s so important to do ahead of time! I can see this as a great way to provide some basic education on the subject to people and a fun way to get them discussing it with each other.
When the player completes a level of the game and solves the presented consequence of the level, he or she receives a reward. That reward will be in the form of a discount on real-world legal services. This will be provided by branded networks who sponsor levels of the game. For example, a reward might be a 20 minute free consultation with a lawyer on x branded network or 10% off of any estate planning services purchased at X branded network. Other rewards might just be a useful whitepaper or checklist, such as one called “Organizing Important Documents for your Family” that would be useful and go along with the theme or lesson of that level.
Of course the player does not have to take any of these awards or share anything they do in the game. That’s all up to them, but the idea is that not only are they hopefully learning some basic estate planning lessons but having fun in a way that encourages them to take action to actually take care of these matters to protect their family and loved ones.
Imagine a game like this that involves another practice area like landlord/tenant law. If the game is fun to play, makes them laugh even in certain spots, then the lesson is absorbed better through that engagement with the subject matter than just having the public read about it on a website in text-based format or even watching a video. The actions involved in the game that they must take to get to the next level require a much different level of engagement in the subject matter than we are used to providing the public. I’m curious to see what the players’ reaction to this will be when we playtest it.
The game is on track to launch a prototype of level one by the end of August on a crowdfund platform. I’ll post more info as we go along. I’ve started an L3C here in NC called Game On Law for this purpose. This is a relatively new business structure for low-profit ventures. I’m bootstrapping this idea because I think it has potential to increase awareness and access not just on estate planning but in other practice areas and social issues as well.
Many thanks to everyone who has been supportive of this concept so far, especially my team of indie freelancers, who are taking a chance on me. It has a ways to go still, but I think we’re on the right track! See also this recent Forbes article interviewing the Co-Pres. of Games for Change “Can Gaming Change the World for Good?“
This is a demo of level one of Estate Quest. This will be a cross-platform video game to teach basic estate planning concepts. Players will win awards that link them to real-world legal information and services. The game will include Facebook and Twitter sharing.
The game is not intended to provide legal advice, but is intended to teach basic estate planning concepts and encourage public dialogue about end of life issues.
Development by Game on Law (Stephanie Kimbro, Esq.)
Programmer: Christopher Ellis
Game Designer: Allison Yaegar
Artist: Nathan Smit
It’s very visual- and narrative-driven, and seems quite user-friendly while also integrating in some of those wonderful game elements of suspense & mystery. It looks like it will be a successful experiment in how to design a game experience that doubles as a legal experience. I can imagine that it can be a platform not just to educate a consumer about estate planning — but may also be used for:
intake of clients, to help them identify and flag situations that apply to them,
prepping clients for their first meeting with a lawyer, to make them more confident & conversational,
helping clients sort through their own information, making any conversation with a lawyer more efficient, with the client already having sorted through their life details to know what is relevant,
and also a possible marketplace, in which consumers can find legal help once they’ve been prepped & feel confident — then they can be presented with lawyer options & make a choice about setting up a consultation.
We’ll be looking forward to seeing future stages of Estate Quest as they’re released!
In the Netherlands, HiiL & the Dutch Legal Aid Board are developing a second version of their Rechtwijzer platform, to provide consumers with legal help. Here is the summary of their 1.0 platform (mostly around triage — getting someone with a legal problem to services) and then the 2.0 platform (around resolving disputes online).
Conflicts and disputes are hard facts about life that anyone can encounter. Solving the disputes however can become time consuming, costly and frustrating. Rechtwijzer 2.0 is a follow up project to the innovative Rechtwijzer 1.0, a website provided by Dutch Legal Aid Board (Raad van Rechtsbijstand) elevating the efficiency of judicial system.
A successful Rechtwijzer 1.0
Rechtwijzer 1.0 was designed to assist people to get directed to a lawyer or juridical support. Put simply it is an appropriate, trustable legal helping hand that would assist people throughout their conflicts. Rechtwijzer has taken one step further to enhance its services from diagnosing and referral, into dispute-solving in Rechtwijzer 2.0.
The added advantage of this legal project is promoting and offering effective and efficient problem-solving that will benefit all of the parties involved. Reaching for justice and fairness The goal of the improved website is to enable all parties in the conflict to interact on one platform. If the problem remains unsolved, an online mediator would get involved and in case the mediator does not succeed in reaching a settlement, a judge will come in the picture and take it further. There will be user fees applicable to the services offline and online.
Rechtwijzer 2.0 will handle different types of conflicts and is going to operate internationally. Target audiences of this project besides the international public, include legal experts, lawyers and judges who will have separate intake conversations with the clients on the Rechtwijzer platform and bring their perspective into one coherent online profile.
The Dutch Legal Aid Board has been the co-creator of this project. Together with HiiL, capable groups of lawyers, experts, mediators and legal advisors specialised in different aspects of law (e.g. divorce law and consumer protection law) have been selected and assigned to make this project work. Rechtwijzer 2.0 will be a platform to diagnose disputes, dialogue and negotiation on problems, offering third party mediation and coaching and finally judication. A prototype will be online by the end of September 2013 and the first actual version will be launched during the spring of 2014.
The Dutch Legal Aid Board has one of the most interesting legal websites of its kind in the world. It is known as the Rechtwijzer which is variously translated as ‘conflict resolution guide’ or ‘signpost to justice’. The best thing to do at this point is to get online; switch on google translator and work your way through it. This site was first launched in 2007; has had added functionality since; and was comprehensively reworked in 2012. The original site has been the subject of some academic research and the current version is being researched by the University of Twente but the results will not be available until 2014. Thus, a note of caution should be added at the beginning of any assessment. We do not yet know how the current site will be rated by those using it in practice. To an outside observer, and disregarding the clunkiness of the Google translation required to translate its content into English, frankly, it appears just stunning.
The current model covers consumer and relationship breakup in depth with ‘lite’ versions on employment, tenancy and administrative law issues. If you are inspired to check out the site with the Google translation, the relationship breakdown section is translated somewhat brusquely as ‘apart’. It is probably more idiomatic in the original Dutch. The way the site works is best shown by starting out on a ‘journey’, very consciously the way that the makers of the site saw its operation – a dynamic process. Each page provides a small number of questions which must be answered before moving on to the next. Let us test how it works with a mythical case. I am a 40 year old male in employment. I want to separate or divorce from my wife. We have two children in the early teens. We follow the following screens:
the opening screen offers a choice between saying that things are not going well; my partner and I have decided to split; or we have already split but a new problem has occurred. In my example, we have decided to split up and I register accordingly. The wording of the option on screen is actually that we have decided to split up and need to arrange our affairs’ – signaling the process to come.
I am prompted to give details on marital status; children; marriage contracts; ownership of any company.
This is where it gets interesting. I have to rate my level of education attainment and that of my partner (we are assuming both graduates; I confirm we both have a paid job); then I am asked two questions ‘If you compare yourself with your partner do I have more or less skills to find a good solution?’ I answer ‘more’ – obviously . And ‘If you compare yourself with your partner do you have more or less people in the area on whom you can rely?’ Less – predictably. She is completely irrational.
The next slide leads me to think about the options. For the first time, we encounter a block of text rather than short questions to elicit answers. The text explains that we have choices. In the English translation, it might be argued that these are not entirely put with balance – the options are between mediation and ‘messy divorce’. No doubt, the Dutch is slightly more nuanced. I then have to rate on a sliding scale how much I want a messy divorce or a ‘consultation separation’. I, of course, want the latter: I enter my assessment of my unreasonable partner who is all for the messiest divorce possible. The screens lead us on.
The next screen asks if I have a good understanding of the implications of the divorce for my children, my partner, myself and in relation to finance. I say yes to all but the last. We are led on again.
I am given the option to indicate if I have other worries. I indicate that there is talk of violence just to check that it will take me out of the mediation stream and it does: I get to a page which leads me to victim support and lawyer referral.
And so it goes on. Somewhere around this point, your patience with Google Translate will break but if you stay with it – which will involve a lot of fiddling around returning to the site – you will get encouraged to mediate; to draw up an agreed parenting plan; and given access to a financial calculator.
Having given a flavour of the site, it is worth some reflection because it is different from any other legal site that I have found. The only thing that comes close would be the NHS Direct site in relation to medicine but that is integrally linked to a central telephone advice service absent in the Dutch project. Rechtwijzer was developed for the Dutch Legal Aid Board (and associated stakeholders such as the Bar) by a multi-disciplinary team in various institutes at Tilburg University. There is a also an advisory group composed of interested stakeholders such as judges, mediators and lawyers. Key guidelines for its development were:
the site should identify and signpost the best dispute resolution assistance, given both the dispute itself and the parties to it;
the approach is based upon the principles of ‘integrative negotiation’ ie draws users to getting to ‘yes’ and building up common ground rather than identifying difference;
time and opportunity is deliberately given to encourage users to reflect upon their conflict;
no legal advice is offered as such though information is given at strategic times both as to process and likely result.
The site has been established within the context of overall Dutch policy on the resolution of disputes. This is to encourage self-help and mediated settlement in preference to recourse to lawyers and the courts. As a result, some years ago, the Dutch Ministry of Justice wound up its Bureau voor Rechtshulp, effectively law centres, and replaced them with a nationwide network of juridische loketten or ‘law counters’ that offer information and self-help assistance rather than representation. In 2009, it also, in pursuance of the same aim, required parents who were splitting up to produce a divorce and parenting plan. In its turn, this approach exerts pressure on policy. Self-help and the operation of digital forms of resolution work better when judicial decisions are predictable; there are clear rules on such matters as maintenance; and minimal discretion. This can instantly raise the hackles of lawyers and judges with very clear ideas of the different interests of each party. However, the site works on clear principles behind its approach: it seeks:
to improve communication;
to encourage parties to explore and identify their interests if they are not clear about them;
to identify creative options;
to identify, in the jargon of this area of conflict resolution, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement, commonly referred to as BATNA, with the aim of aligning the BATNA as closely as possible to a settlement;
to find objective criteria to assist the parties to make a decision on the way forward.
The Tilburg team behind the Rechtwijzer project have also worked on personal injuries. Their description of the ‘personal injuries claims express’ (PICE, pronounced in Dutch as Pike) provides another demonstration of the collaborative approach incorporated within the structure of a website:
‘The first innovation is to enhance collaboration between parties through a communication structure that stimulates dialogue rather than argument. Directing parties’ consultation towards a constructive dialogue probably adds to a problem-solving attitude, and leads to a positive negotiation atmosphere overall. The communication structure encourages parties to share interests while explaining their position to each other. For instance, in case of opposing interests, they are advised to make up a list of possible objective criteria that may help to reach an agreement in line with the a problem-solving or integrative approach to negotiation and conflict resolution … Concretely, PICE enables parties to start a dialogue about an issue in various sections by means of the “Dialogue Button”, which allows them to enter their view and invite the other party to respond … When parties consult on the amount of the damages, PICE provides arithmetic support and overview by means of a “Damages Summary section”. Parties can mark agreement and work arrangements, using the “Arrangement Button”. Differences of opinion are also noted, as well as clear agreements on how to resolve these issues. This helps to focus on possible solutions instead of points of contention. All communication regarding a particular case is mediated by the PICE system, which in its capacity of electronic file of the process retains all data entered. The parties, including the victim, can use it to monitor progress of the claim handling procedure. A neutral party who may be called upon in case of a dispute can also use it to review the case.’
A graphic illustration of how this works is that both parties to, for example, a car accident can work together to provide a composite statement of facts.
Returning to the Rechtwijzer, the designers of the site are clear that it:
does not offer the user advice on what single professional to contact. Rather it offers the users and overview of the things that need to be done, who may do this, and at what cost. With this information the user herself can choose which of the professionals is best suited for her own (personal, financial) situation.
This is sophisticated stuff. It facilitates the ‘unbundling’ of legal services in which a user may seek legal assistance with parts of a problem but retain ownership of its entirety rather than the usual model of passing it all over to a lawyer. In some matters, such as some consumer disputes, the information and goals elicited by proceeding through the site ends up with a letter to the other side setting out the dispute in a structured way and integrating an orientation to its solution:
The user sets a date by which she will contact the other or when she expects the other to contact her. She also makes clear what actions she will take if the dispute is not solved in this way. With this information (from the advice module) she affects the opponents [best alternative to a negotiated agreement], making it clear that serious alternatives are available.
Any conclusions on the effectiveness of the site have to be tentative until the research is in but the following emerged from discussion with those concerned with it at the Legal Aid Board and Tilburg University.
The initial reaction of lawyers is reported as hostility but, as time goes on, they are adapting and some direct their clients to the site in preparation for – or part of – taking instructions. Research on the first version identified that people liked to use it to organise themselves but they tended to use parts of it. In particular, at that time, the financial coverage was too difficult for many users. The team put some thought into elements such as reading age (decided to be school-leaver level) and to cutting back the text to the minimum (This is really noticeable if you compare with site with others). The content per page has been really pared back. Client surveys report high satisfaction ratings but, again, the full meaning of that awaits further research. It was hard to determine objectively how much usage was being made of the site but between the beginning of November and the beginning of March, 200 couples and 500 single people had begun the ‘journey’ through the package relating to the divorce and parenting plan (which can be accessed through the Rechtwijzer site or directly). Overall usage on the old site, prior to a 2012 revamp, was around 145,000 people in 2011. Plans have been drawn up to develop a ‘digital assistant’ whereby a user can effectively proceed to a ‘side Bar’ for an email exchange with an adviser – the identity of which is to be decided but might include or be the Juridisch loketten
So, what we can say in conclusion and in terms of questions that the project raises?
As to conclusions:
This is a highly sophisticated site that, intuitively, you would think would be effective. It does seem the most impressive that I have seen.
Like NHS Direct in England and Wales (another impressive provision that involves a website), the construction of the site has benefited from the input of communication professionals and reader feedback as well as legal experts. Indeed, the combination is probably essential and shows up the weakness of, say, existing English sites. This is, of course, dependent on funding that allows such inputs.
The integral commitment of the site to integrative negotiation (ie biasing towards settlement) is philosphically acceptable (and, indeed, desirable) provided that sufficient exit routes are signposted eg where, in a matrimonial case, there is a threat of violence. There has, of course, to be great care in how this is done. We await the research to see whether the redirection of those suffering from domestic violence works as well as it appears it should.
The establishment of the site maintains the government’s acceptance of its constitutional role in providing justice to all its citizens – something that is not apparent in the cuts being made to English and Welsh legal aid where those with disputes eg about matrimonial matters are being largely abandoned to their own devices.
There is the basis of a model here which could surely be developed in other jurisdictions, using the Dutch work as a template.
The idea and the practice look exciting. We should probably await the research expected to be published in 2014 to be sure of how it works in practice.
The development of the site probably opens possibilities of savings on Dutch legal aid if its success can be established.
And the questions:
It looks good but does it work? Back to the issue of the research.
The Dutch Legal Aid Board spends about 15 per cent of its budget on family law. So, there is the possibility of financial savings in encouraging use of the site and the associated processes. But, first, would there be real savings? Second, will the board be forced to cut back on the site because of funding cuts – which may yet be the fate of NHS Direct? Three, having achieved any initial savings, what incentive would there be to continue develop the site further?
How will the site integrate with commercially funded services? The site will signpost users to mediators and lawyers for whom clients will have to pay. On the one hand, will they be willing to move away from instructing a lawyer in the conventional way throughout the process and, on the other, how well will the referral function of the sitye work? Will providers, as the Dutch Legal Aid Board hopes, cluster around the site offering services that dovetail with it?
Will the Dutch buy their government’s drive to make them more self-reliant and self-helping? Traditionally, those going through relationship breakdown, particularly the weaker party which tends to be the wives and women partners, have wanted face to face assistance. It may be that they find little solace in the website. At the moment, a lawyer has to review agreements relating to children and maintenance but, if this is removed as the Legal Aid Board wants, and in any event, will the site adequately protect the weaker side in relationship breakdown?
Is there any danger that potential clients overall will split on income grounds? The poor get second rate mediation and the rich first class lawyers?
Will the government and the judiciary play their part in simplifying the law to assist on-line dispute resolution and avoiding complexity?
When we talk about innovation and law, it’s easy to fall into a couple of fallacies. One is to assume we know who the audience for innovations are. We may make broad assumptions about who lawyers are, what their needs are, and what they want to use—based on our assumptions, rather than grounded facts and insights.
Another fallacy is perceiving technology as a savior, the magic wand to solve all problems. More apps, more algorithms, more software—it would be easy to think that these will rejuvenate how lawyers practice & how they serve their clients.
This is where design—and design thinking—hold great promise for aspiring legal innovators. Design provides the mindsets and methods that lead to greater understanding of who we are innovating for, and what (technological or not) we should be using to innovate. Design offers reliable, explicit ways to identify areas for developing products, services and organizations, and to implement new ways of doing things.
Design should be of particular interest to two types of legal practitioners.
First, those with ideas for how to do things better—whether how to better manage information or deliver services, or for a new legal startup.
Second, those who want to invigorate their practice, with more creativity, new ways of solving problems, and an eye to improved experiences for attorneys and clients. Design offers lawyers a new perspective on how to work, and how to develop lasting relationships with clients.
Law By Design: consumer law pop-up class at the d.school
Through the Program for Legal Tech & Design, I’m co-teaching a 5-session class at Stanford’s d.school this January & February. It will be a hands-on session on how to make law more usable to people — and how to help make people law-smart, and in control of their legal futures.
If you’re interested in attending, or are interested in the topic-matter more generally (how to build consumer-facing law products, how to help people get legal tasks done, or how to support people in estate-planning specifically) — be in touch!
At the request of my sister, I have been tinkering with simple diagram templates for law students, lawyers & clerks to structure their legal analysis, and anchor a writing they have to make, evaluating parties claims in light of the law.
My first go is a Legal Claim Map — just a simple table template. The idea is to force the user to boil down the complexities into the clearest possible points with each issue area. That seems to be a large part of the user’s struggle, to get through all the complexities, points, subpoints, factors, subfactors, and make it clear what the salient points are.
This map would offer such a prompt, through its constraints and structure. Surely there are plenty of good iterations to be done from this template as a start.
It would also be cool to see briefs or other analysis documents summarized in such a table. I know I would rather take in the information from this type of format, rather than a multipage text document. There may be a danger in simplification, but I can imagine this table as the cover guiding analysis, and then the text document comign afterwards as essentially an extended footnote section.
If you have any ideas — or have built something to use in your own legal writing, I’d love to hear about it!
This is a new concept I’m playing around with, in the area of Legal Visualizations: Legal Visual Mnemonics.
I see all these memorization tools for legal rules with concepts converted into letters, then packaged into words, and finally packaged up into memorable phrases.
What if an image could be part of this packaging of the legal rules?
So that the color, characters & composition can help burn the memorable phrase further into the memory.
The use case for such Visual Legal Mnemonics is primarily someone studying for a legal exam — but I’d like to play with how this extreme use case could then be bridged into the use case of lay consumers who need to understand the law (but who don’t need to burn it into their memories as much as a student would).
At the Fwd.Us DREAMer hackathon last week, I was tremendously impressed with the team who made #Undoculife. It’s a web-based interactive game, featuring a main character who’s an undocumented immigrant in the US. It challenges the players to see life through the lens of an undocumented person, while also teaching them how to respond to law enforcement and other people that might put them at risk.
Here’s a photolog of their presentation at the DREAMer Hack demo session — with the team who made it (absent another game designer who was remotely hacking) — and some of their screenshots from the demo.
I’m excited to see this scenario-based type of law game come out — even in just a day & a half of hacking — and I’m thrilled to think of the potential for other Lived-Law Games as teaching & awareness tools. I hope to work with them in the future too….
I’ve just posted a project summary up for my team’s work at the FWD.us DREAMer Hackathon at the Program for Legal Tech & Design’s site. Come over & read about what we built, see our demo, and read about our future plans. And I uploaded my entire photo log of the event, from Day 1 dinner to Day 3 demos. Here’s a clip:
This past week, I was invited to serve as a Design Mentor for the Fwd.Us DREAMer Hackathon. The event featured a group of 20-some immigrants, most of them without documentation, leading up small teams of designers & coders. Each team was tasked with coming up with an idea to help immigrants, or the immigration reform movement. We would work for 2 days at the LinkedIn headquarters in Mountain View to come up with a working demo of our idea.
I was mentor to team NoblePaths.
Our goal was to create a visualization app that would empower immigrants to tell their personal story in a share-able, if not viral way. The point was to make the complicated (if not, outright broken) immigration system visible, and in human terms rather than in cold, formal, legalistic ways.
For part of the Fwd.us DREAMer Hackathon the past 2 days in Mountain View, I started prototyping some uber-simple infograhpics of (often crazy) immigration narratives. I wanted to show the amount of time waiting, the amount of time in limbo, and the failpoints. Even if you come in legally, happily, optimistically, you can end up in the red zone — by no fault of your own. Here are three sample infographics I made from simple timelines of 3 immigrants, about their immigration story.
Most I kept super simple, and one I did a follow-up, annotated with the little stories & explainers that went along with the different phases of the journey.
Now I’m building a visualizer app that would let someone enter their own timeline of events, dates & colors, and the app would generate them their own Storyline Visual path.
I’m intrigued by the potential to tell complicated stories through striking posters like these, to both mobilize & educate. Beyond immigration stories, I think there are many other legal-system stories to be told through visual means like these.
On Games & Legal Complexities: an interview with Ida Benedetto
Ida Benedetto talks with the Open Law Lab about how she helps people understand issues of consequence through a combination of play and surprise. As a founder of Antidote Games, she develops diverse games for NGOs all over the world. She recently created a game, Accused, that gives players a taste of the police interrogation process. In case you haven’t, please play this game before you read further.
Ida was interviewed by Nikki Zeichner, a lawyer studying Integrated Digital Media at NYU.
Can you talk a little bit about Antidote?
Yes, we like to say that Antidote Games creates “playful experiences for complex realities.” Antidote Games typically works with humanitarian organizations that are working to address social and environmental problems all over the world. Our clients want to change behavior and they hire us to create tools that facilitate this change.
So you create games in order to bring about change.
To some degree. We make games that help people reach new perspectives through the consequences of their own choices. These new perspectives can often be the first step to changing behavior. More specifically, the transformative power of games that we deploy involves people surprising themselves with their own behavior. The game is a microcosm of a complex system that is out in the world. And the surprise is the pay off for the play. Our games are about giving people an access point into understanding these systems. We create that play from everything from a fantastical scenario online to beautiful analog game pieces that entice people to try something new.
But often times the new worlds that you create for your players seem distant from the social or environmental issue at the heart of the game.
Yes, we don’t want our players to know what was going to happen next. We want them to have an experience of feeling something new. New experiences develop new understandings and empathies.
You recently developed a game about interrogations faced by criminal defendants.
Yes, it’s called Accused. In Accused, we created a situation in which players are lulled into an interrogation. Players start out by talking with the police to help out a neighbor. They likely have pure motives, but in the questioning process, something changes and the police start treating the player like a suspect. No matter what the player tries to do to display innocence, the interrogators push for a confession. The circumstances arise that would lead someone to falsely confessing.
How did you come to develop this project?
We were funded by NYU-Stern to develop Accused in partnership with the Innocence Project. The problem that we wanted to address with Accused was one that we learned from doing preliminary research: people who confess typically are convicted at trial regardless of other factors that might point to that person’s innocence. People who sit on juries usually don’t understand why someone would confess to a crime they didn’t commit. You can have DNA evidence, testimony from witness, all sorts of evidence to the contrary but a jury will still be swayed by a recorded confession. We created Accused to develop understanding and empathy for people who break down during police interrogations and make false confessions.
Did the issue of police interrogations lend itself to gamification?
It did – games work particularly well in teaching people about clear systems. So regarding police interrogations, U.S. law enforcement commonly uses what is known as the Reid Technique, which is a systematic method intended to lead a suspect to confess. It’s been criticized elsewhere in the world including by a judge in Canada for too easily soliciting false confessions but that’s a side note. We found Reid Technique training videos on YouTube and we saw clear routine steps that law enforcement goes through when it interrogates suspects. These steps were easy to map into a game. This is a spoiler alert – I hope people play the game before what I’m going to explain now … if you look at the diagram of the game, you can see that all the pages lead to one separate page in the lower righthand corner. That final page is the confession page. This diagram shows the structure of our game, which parallels the structure of the interrogation technique that our law enforcement officers are trained to use.
Accused from a structural perspective courtesy of Antidote Games
What about the external factors that a person experiences only when they are actually in police custody. Can a game that someone plays voluntarily really communicate the complexity of the experience?
We designed the game to make the player aware of these factors and to feel them, even if they might not be as intensely felt as they would be in a real interrogation. We designed Accused to be nimble and lightweight in getting these pressures across.
Do you think that there are benefits to making the experience lighter?
Yes. The lightness creates an entry point and making it lighter increases our ability to reach more people and get more people to play. In the end, we’re developing greater understanding around the issue so long as people play the game.
And once you play the game, you’re better equipped to start approaching the system.
That’s right. After having a play-based experience, you’ll approach the information with a sense of recognition. For example, someone who played Accused might look at the phases of interrogation and they will seem familiar because they will have already had that emotional, playful experience with it.
What program did you use to create this?
What’s next with Accused?
We’ve been exceptionally moved by our work on developing a project around false confessions and we want to expand Accused’s reach. I see the value of this game as being broad and we’d love to find organizations, educators, or activists who would use this. We’re particularly interested in developing support materials if we find the right partner to actually create a lesson plan of what these confessions look like and how they work.
And what’s next for Antidote Games in a more general sense?
In terms of our future games, we would love to be become increasingly less literal; we want to do a game for an NGO where the narrative is completely separate from the topic being discussed. A lot of times our clients are very concerned with conveying a particular message and so they’re very literal with what they want the game to actually talk about. I understand why they start off at this point, but really, you’re able to reach a larger and more diverse audience when you use a fantastical narrative. Do you remember when the CDC campaigned for emergency preparedness with the “Zombie Apocalypse?” The zombie hook that they used increased the campaign’s popularity while addressing the same issue.
So you need clients who are willing to take a risk.
Yes, a very worthwhile risk. Another thing we want to do in the future is to get support to do further assessment of our work. There is a lot more to do to demonstrate the power of games. There is a growing number of assessments for games in the learning context, but not so many on games like ours.
You create a diverse range of analog and digital games. What are clients asking for?
Organizations are looking for behavior change. Games are becoming increasingly respected for their ability to change behavior, be that with farmers in the South who are suffering from climate change and need to adapt their lifestyles – the Red Cross is having us a develop a game to address this issue; or in the case with Accused, where the behavior change is to reduce the common stigma that is associated with making confessions while being interrogated.
Creating a space for new experiences through play… would you say it’s about creating disorientation?
I like that. It shakes people up a little bit. And it’s refreshing for me too. We create constraints and possibilities and what people do with that depends on what they bring to that experience. So I get to be constantly surprised by learning new things from our audiences and our players and that’s some thing that I love. I don’t find much satisfaction in being the author.
I think it’s different from other more aggressive or controversial ways that people shake things up.
Yes, there’s a lot more wonder and joy in this approach. And people have to opt in. It only works if you continue to play. So the consequences of the game come from play. That engagement and investment opens up doors for more understanding but first someone has to enter into the game.
With law, you’re trying to get someone to see your perspective. You’re not just teaching someone information; understanding is at the heart of it.
Right, with law and with advocacy in general. That’s one reason why games can be great tools in helping people develop new perspectives about legal issues.
You can contact Ida at ida [at] playistheantidote.com
I’m excited to announce that Ron Dolin & I have started a new Program for Legal Tech & Design at Stanford. We’re based out of Stanford Institute of Design (d.school) for now, which is where I’m doing my one-year fellowship to bring Law & Design together.
Our goal is to push law forward with innovative research & hands-on projects, and a core mission of improving access to the legal system & the quality of legal services. We want to build new models of legal products, services, and systems, and train others to join us in this work. And we believe that a focus on User-Centered Design, mixed with strong technology and design skills, can guide us in building new legal tools & services that all kinds of people actually *want to use*, in addition to being *useful to them*.
We are taking a very ‘designerly’ approach to creating the Program — build quickly, test quickly, get feedback, and repeat. With that process, we’re launching our first Hands-On-Law design sprint this weekend. About 30 lawyers, technologists, and designers will get oriented to a small area of legal problems over a kick-off dinner, and then spend the full next day forming a project plan, building low-fi and then hi-fi prototypes of their idea, and finally testing and iterating it with target users.
This Hands-On-Law session will be an experiment in how interdisciplinary teams can be formed & facilitated to not only ‘think’ about how legal problems but quickly jump into trying to ‘build’ legal solutions. We don’t expect to have a fully-functional product at the end of Saturday — but we do expect to have concepts that have been fleshed out, wireframed, tested — essentially, ideas with legs to really go somewhere.
Our other initial project is to establish a resource to equip lawyers, law students, paralegals, and others with the tool sets that are necessary to get from a good idea to a viable new legal project. Currently, this resource is the Legal Design Toolbox, where we’ve started gathering together design patterns, elements, instructionals, and tools to help guide people with ideas through the process of design & development.
I started programming law games in Summer 2012, when I went from just thinking about my idea of “Law Dojo” and making it real. Since then, I’ve gotten feedback from so many law students, professors & others, who see the *enormous* potential in using small, quick, smart games to get people empowered with law.
We propose to create a network of law schools, law professors, practitioners, law students and others to collaborate to develop and distribute interactive, online games and simulations designed to enable legal learning.
The core players in this network would distribute finished games, share information and techniques for game development, distribute authoring systems to enable non-technical authors to inject substantive content into established game mechanics, provide an online learning space in which anyone who wants to learn about law can find both free and paid interactive learning objects, and support a social layer to allow those using the games to discuss them, compete in multi-player contexts, rate particular learning objects, and propose potential enhancements.
I would love to see this network get off the ground! I have had enormous fun (and challenges) creating my Law Dojo games, and I am excited to see other law students enter into game development and design too. It is a wonderful way to take control of how they learn & instead of just laboring over outlines, they can build interactive ways to learn in the way they want to learn. And even better — then share their learning tools with others. My hope is to see much more creative, responsive, & engaging study tools emerge, beyond the 40 page outline (which very often just dies on the student’s personal computer).
If you are a law student (or not) who are interested in working on legal learning games, please be in touch!
Johnson & Rostain laid out a great handful of possible games that we could be developing. These patterns serve as a great point to jump off from, and adapt to specific legal consumers (law students, clinicians, trainees, paralegals, and average lay consumers who are trying to get legal tasks done).
Legal Card Games – Everyone knows how to play cards. Our version challenges players to play cards onto labeled target areas (on the screen). Cards can contain factual statements or arguments or citations or anything else. Because virtual cards are discrete objects, the game software can keep track of what has been played and where and provide appropriate feedback. In some versions, the task is merely to sort facts into different categories corresponding to the elements of a cause of action. In other versions, the cards represent different types of arguments that must be fit into a structure representing the logic of a case. In still other versions, the cards represent statements that might or might not be included in a draft legal document, such as a complaint, with the final submission of the document resulting in detailed comments from the teacher/author and, you guessed it, a contingent number of points.
(Micro)Law Practice Simulations – It is easy, with text, to put the player into a “role” with a defined goal such as making a decision on whether to take a case, what advice to give a client, and so forth. There doesn’t have to be one right answer, because the result of a decision can be a description of what happens next – so a game of this type can “teach” any number of things about the nuances, office politics, and accidents the student will eventually encounter in the real world. But some decisions are clearly better than others, and various decisions can produce points of various types (for ethics, client success, etc.) that accumulate over many different encounters with different situations and roles. Once put in role, a player has a strong incentive to draw on resources provided within the game (research materials, opportunities for additional factual investigation, opportunities to consult with virtual mentors and colleagues, etc.) in order to make the best decision. If drawing on resources has an in game “cost” (such as incurring virtual billable hours that may or may not be paid for by the client), even the need to limit the effort put into some kinds of decisions can be taught.
Interactive Computable Diagrams – It is possible to represent the logic of a statute or regulation (and even a judicial opinion) in the form of an interactive, computable diagram. Particular facts or conclusions or elements of the legal text can be represented by buttons that can be turned on or off to reflect the presence or absence of such a fact in a particular case – arrayed serially on a line to signify the “and” relationship, on parallel lines to reflect “or” and crossing lines that stand for “not” and show which combinations of facts or arguments defeat an otherwise valid inference. These structures can become learning games when they are used as hidden (or visible) scoring mechanisms. For example, the challenge of a particular screen in such a game may be to present a particular set of facts and ask the player to guess the outcome, which is thereafter computed by the diagram and shown to the student. Alternatively, the logic of a case may be shown along with cards representing facts or arguments the player might submit on behalf of a particular party, with the goal being to win the case against a computer or human opponent within the constraint that only a specific number of cards may be played (with the value of particular cards depending, of course, on what situation has been served up and what moves the opponent has made.
Case Files with Augmented Multiple Choice – We need a better name for this. But our last example involves a system for presenting a complex case file, various resources (materials the student will want to learn in order to be good at the game) and the challenge of combining multiple elements into a compound structure that corresponds to a portion of a good answer to a law school exam, or a memorandum in support of a motion to dismiss a case, or whatever. The key to this game mechanic is that the player must choose, for each slot in a multi-slot target area, from all of the elements of a given type that might be used in relationship to any particular “situation” that might be presented. And, indeed, when multiple situations are presented (various proffers of evidence, various combinations of particular claims brought between various parties to a messy dispute), the student/player can choose which ones to take on at any given time (again, voluntarily selected obstacles, like deciding when to attack the dragon.) This type of game is designed to present an arbitrarily complex set of challenges without requiring the teacher/author to evaluate in advance every possible combination of “cards” that might be played together. Instead, the author identifies and assembles valid/good combinations, sets the scoring system to reward them with points by clicking on the appropriate authoring button, and tells the game to take away points for any other, invalid combinations. This discourages guessing and gets away from multiple choice tests that merely require ruling out a finite number of “distractors.” You really have to know the stuff to do well in games of this sort.
Skills Scavenger Hunt -- Not all games that lead to legal learning must be located on a computer screen. We are discussing a proposal to incentivize students to take the initiative to expand their own skills and experiences by awarding points in the context of a continuous “skills scavenger hunt”. Most would agree that students should take advantage of opportunities, while in law school, to develop skills relevant to law practice and to observe and engage with legal institutions and practitioners. We could encourage this by (1) providing an explicit listing of multiple activities, accomplishments and demonstrations that would “count” towards points, and (2) celebrating students who accumulate the most points (with the idea that those accomplishments may be listed on and would add value to their resume’s).
I just found out about Judgepedia, a site that collects information about courts and judges, in a shared wiki. Its primary user seems to be someone interested in how the judicial system in the US works, and how individual jurisdictions have established judicial systems. It’s a project out of the Lucy Burns Institute.
Judgepedia aims to provide greater clarity to citizens about who runs the courts, how much money they spend, how elections are run, and how the system operates.
It lets the user get straight to their local court system & try to navigate through how it is run & who the relevant judges are.
You can look up a brief bio & information on a particular judge.
This site is great in that it compiles disparate information that is available on lots of random sites around the web, and then creates a standard & searchable single experience for a user to more easily navigate. The standardization is a great benefit.
Still, there is lots of potential to expand from this basic educational information & get to a new service for consumers of court services. When I first saw the title Judgepedia, I was expecting more info for the legal user — for someone who will be encountering the judicial system and wanting to know how to deal with a certain judge.
That kind of product would provide stats & metrics about lawyers and judges — which seems like a forbidden territory in the legal domain. Even if such an evaluative product could be developed, it seems there would be serious vested interests that would block its implementation.
But still, that seems to be where the real need is.
The more I study legal consumers, the more it becomes clear that a main unmet need of lawyers & clients is to build better strategies to get legal tasks done. This is where there is huge promise in crowdsourced information. If we can share information on what strategies work best within specific parts of the legal system & with certain judges — and which ones fail — this would be a huge benefit to litigants. Or if we could build a stats system that tracks judges’ behavior & preferences, this would similarly equip legal users with ways to better prepare their strategies.
The outstanding challenge, then, is how to gather, check, & share this crowdsourced information (which would be a huge undertaking in itself) — and to do it in a way that would survive challenges by lawyers, judges, and others who have a vested interest in resisting evaluation.
I’m starting a series on lawyers who have figured out ways to integrate creativity & design into their professional life. Here is my first interview, with Jonathan Tobin, who heads up Counsel for Creators. He comes from a creative & design background, and has managed to bridge that into his legal practice.
Would you describe yourself as a ‘creative lawyer’?
Absolutely. Aside from working almost exclusively with creative professionals and businesses, I am a designer and software developer so that informs the way that I handle my legal practice. Design and code will always be a part of how I practice law and I imagine it will only become more so as things progress. Both of those are very creative endeavors and I find the practice of law itself to be a creative endeavor.
Do you have a conscious process of how to be more creative in how you practice law?
I always start by seeking ways to expand the ways that I can make my services affordable for more clients. I try to focus on my own systems, automating as much as possible.
I also think that I have to be creative in the way that I discuss the law with clients because many of them have never worked with an attorney before and do not know what to expect. I try hard to connect on an artistic basis first so that I am sure I understand my clients’ goals. I have had more than one “initial consultations” turn into impromptu Photoshop sessions.
And finally, I stay involved in art, design, software and music. Mostly for my own enjoyment, but also to be able to get where my clients are coming from.
Have you created any new process or tech that you use to be better in your practice?
I am currently writing software that automates some of the well-defined tasks that I do for clients. Nothing particularly high end or sophisticated, but it results in me having to spend less time on a matter while maintaining a high level of quality.
Can you remember a time when you’ve come up with a great idea? What process led you to it?
Sure. I have recently developed a series of workshops centered around the needs of creative professionals. What I have been attempting to do is answer the general questions that people have about the law as I see that there is a great deal of misinformation online on basic areas such as contracts and intellectual property. It seems that there is a need for this kind of information among creative professionals.
The workshops were initially meant to be a much bigger and involved venture that would have taken probably a year to complete, but after reading the book “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries, I decided to scale my ambitions down and get out there and get learning as soon as possible. So the process has essentially been to do less and to iterate. What I learn from this project can be applied to that larger project down the road.
Have you worked with others to be creative — whether it be brainstorming ideas or trying them out?
Whenever I come up with a new idea, I try to find someone to collaborate with, or at least bounce the idea off of. I am constantly surprised by other people’s insights. I have a ton of biases and blind spots so I am cool with getting new people involved to help me see things clearly.
Are you a creative & collaborative lawyer? Have you figured out ways to design new ways of practicing law, or managing your own work? We want to hear from you!
Good Consumer Law Design: Finding & Hiring a Lawyer
I’ve been thinking a lot about Consumer Law Design — meaning, how do we build new products & experiences for lay people who want to get their legal tasks accomplished well. These are the subdomains of Consumer Law that I’ve drawn out — step by step in a linear process.
How to figure out you have a legal task to get done at all
How to put a name on exactly what this task is & why it’s important
How to prepare yourself to know what steps are needed to accomplish it
How to find the resources or advocate that will help you accomplish it
How to actually get the task done, step-by-step
How to evaluate whether you’ve gotten the task done sufficiently (& perhaps also give feedback to the resource-provider or advocate about how the process has been)
Of course not all consumers of law will follow these steps in order, or need help on all 6. But it’s useful to think of the entire possible flow. If you are looking to design a new legal venture, there are many of these steps that are yet to be tackled. If you are already selling consumer law products, then there is a possibility to integrate support for more of these steps along the chain.
Adkins interviews the co-founders of Priori Legal, Basha Rubin & Mirra Levitt, about what their model is & what kind of consumer law model they are looking towards.
Some themes are echoed here, which have been becoming increasingly clear to me of late. They could be useful to anyone interested in building new legal tech:
The DIY-forms model is not enough. Helping a consumer put forms together is a low-hanging fruit that some companies may do well, but there are many more opportunities for consumer law
Finding a great lawyer to work with is not an easy task online. The website experience is not rich enough with cues, advice, and signals for an average consumer to feel supported or in a trustable environment. Getting a consumer coming to a website to trust a lawyer she meets on the site is a huge hurdle, that companies need to pay a lot of attention to. I have some ideas for experiments in this space — but the general insight is that putting a photo and a name of a lawyer on the site & then saying “trust him” is not enough.
How to balance trust with efficiency? Building trust online is a long process, lots of talking & meeting to make up for the lack of our usual signals that we get in a face-to-face context, when we have more sources of information about whether a potential lawyer is trustworthy enough. But the consumer also wants to just get their legal task done. So how can we get the consumer who is both hesitant to trust and also in a perceived rush to get the task done? Striking this balance, of having a quick & efficient process and also building up trust & supporting the consumer to make quality choices in hiring a lawyer — is going to be a particular challenge.
Now on to the article, and Priori Legal’s approach:
How does Priori work?
There are already lots of ways to find a lawyer on the internet. Some sites aim for comprehensiveness and produce pages upon pages of results—accuracy notwithstanding. Others are bargain-basement cheap, where you can hire a lawyer for $99.99 without the slightest nod toward quality.
What we’re doing is different than anything else out there. You get a short-list of vetted lawyers and pre-negotiated pricing options at a 25% discount off market rates with fixed fees, where possible, for comparison. Then, after you’ve chosen a lawyer, you schedule a half-hour complimentary phone call through the site. If you decide to work with the lawyer, all payment and billing happens through the site, as well.
Who can use Priori? Your site says “for small businesses,” but what does that mean? Could an artist who is a freelancer use it?
Anyone who wants to talk to a lawyer for a business-related matter. Our lawyers practice in a wide range of areas that service small businesses and can help from a straightforward trademark matter to complex litigation. Which is to say: Freelancers can definitely use it, too. Freelancers encounter many of the same legal issues and questions that small businesses do but often don’t have the time or business infrastructure to handle those issues. We have many lawyers in our network who are extremely interested in working with freelancers—both to resolve legal issues and think more proactively about avoiding future problems.
What kinds of lawyers use it?
Small-practice lawyers with an entrepreneurial, innovative mindset who are passionate about providing high-quality legal counseling to small businesses. We vet all the lawyers we work with through personal interviews and reference checks. It’s certainly no free-for-all. These are people who went to top schools and worked at top firms, but decided they wanted to strip away many of the inefficiencies of big firm practice to offer services and advice to small businesses owners and individuals at competitive rates.
How much does Priori actually save people on legal fees?
Straight math answer: 15%. Priori negotiates a 25% discount with each lawyer on our site, and we take 10% on fixed fees for our Management Fee.
More holistic answer: In our conversations with small businesses, we hear a lot of, “I meant to hire a lawyer to deal with [insert issue here] but I couldn’t find the time and I didn’t know how to go about finding the right lawyer in the first place.” Time is money for small businesses. Our business makes it possible to easily connect with a lawyer saves money down the road.
How is the field of law going to change, and do you envision Priori playing a role in this?
Economic pressure on fees has existed for years now. New technologies–everything from document production services, e-discovery, predictive coding, and services like ours–are changing the way lawyers spend their time, increasing the value of certain legal skills and decreasing the value of others.
Many consumers have noticed the proliferation of do-it-yourself (DIY) document sites, such as LegalZoom. These sites make it easier for consumers to go it alone and not hire a lawyer. Though proceeding without a lawyer is problematic except for the most basic legal issues, these site have already—and will likely continue to—greatly enhance access to the forms required to complete simple legal tasks.
But these kinds of DIY services have barely scratched the surface of how technology is going to change the way consumers find and relate to legal services because they address such a limited swatch of the legal market. Though there may have to be a contraction in the total number of lawyers, many of these technologies mean lawyers can have more control over their practices and be able to spend more time advising clients and less time processing paperwork. We see Priori as very much part of this movement.
Is Priori like the health insurance marketplace for law? Are there tiers named after metals?
If you are interested in hosting your own Legal Design Jam — getting people together to work on how to redesign the look and interactions of a legal document — reach out to Stefania at stefania.passera (at) aalto.fi