Whether it’s automating repetitive work, streamlining communications, or simplifying case management, technology is becoming essential to the legal profession.
However, the ability to leverage digital technologies not only makes the jobs of legal professionals easier but can also improve the quality of legal services and make them more accessible.
The Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice course is now in its third iteration and shines a light on the needs of the community legal sector, as well as the ways apps can improve access to justice.
Professor Lyria Bennet Moses, Course Convenor and Director of the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation, says it’s vital to prepare for the evolving technological context in which the legal system operates.
"We need future lawyers who can understand legal technology projects from the inside, in particular where they can solve problems in the delivery of legal services," says Professor Bennet Moses.
Throughout the course, students work with real clients to build apps that provide legal services for those who need them most, including:
- Students living around campus navigating the tenant/boarder-lodger distinction (with Kingsford Legal Centre)
- Social housing tenants accessing repairs to which they are entitled (with Redfern Legal Centre)
- People who need pro bono legal services in NSW (with the Australian Pro Bono Centre)
An app that links regional indigenous issues to human rights instruments took out the annual pitch competition held at the end of the course.
Joshua Kan, a final-year Juris Doctor student and the Project Manager for the winning Diplomacy Training Program (DTP) app, says that it was essential to develop an understanding of legal technology through his education.
"Law can be a very traditional profession, but it is experiencing more and more technological change," Mr Kan says.
"I think the course itself provides a mindset about how to leverage legal technology effectively in practice, and I think that will make me a better lawyer."
He says his team's application improved training for human rights advocates in an underserviced sector.
"DTP's current training program provides manuals that teach advocates about the relevant international law and how organisations work," explains Mr Kan.
"Our app aims to link human rights advocates on the ground to the relevant international law instruments when they need it, such as relevant treaties and their ratification statuses, Universal Period Review recommendations on a particular state and sustainable development goals. This is done in a quick, two-step process, that allows the advocates to use the resource online or offline, and it is built to be easily updatable, so the information provided in the app is up to date."
Mr Kan says the course taught not only legal technology and how it can help facilitate access to justice, but also develop design, project management and communication skills.
"Our weekly lectures were given on specific topics, mostly by guest lecturers to give us the skills we need on the project such as legal project management, design, creativity, and exposing us to other legal tech software. My favourite lecture was the course on creativity as we were exposed to a different way of thinking, at least different from how we would deal with traditional legal problems. It was instrumental in the success of our project," says Mr Kan.
"In addition to actually designing the app, we also learnt to liaise with clients, manage client expectations and understand the client's needs when designing our legal tech solution. This aspect of the course taught me a lot about project management and dealing with clients who have skills that are very useful for legal practice or any other career paths."
Kevin Mulcahy, Vice President of Education and Community Programs for Neota Logic provides the software development platform used by the students to create the apps. Mr Mulcahy says the course helps address the growing need for the delivery of legal services through technology.
"It has become very important for the next generation of lawyers to understand the intersection of technology and law and for law schools - through courses like this - to give students the hands-on skills they need to thrive in the new era of law practice," says Mr Mulcahy.
Caryn Sandler, Partner and Chief Knowledge and Innovation Officer at Gilbert + Tobin is a sponsor of the course. Ms Sandler says the course enables students to "futureproof their careers by exposing them to non-traditional skill sets that are highly attractive to employers."
"Design thinking and technology literacy are now critical elements in the efficient delivery of legal services, and we are delighted to support this important course year-on-year," says Ms Sandler.