Henry Ford 2.0

When you talk about innovation with someone, there is a big chance that at a certain stage during the conversation, Henry Ford gets quoted. He allegedly said that “if I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” This quote typically is used to express that meeting the needs of customers requires more than costumers themselves can provide. Innovation requires imagination to come with radically new solutions, and visionaries that help concretise the opportunities new technologies provide.

The justice sector increasingly adopts new technologies. Law firms widely adopt technology that improves their internal processes (legal research, case management, time writing, management dashboards, etc.). Many websites successfully help large volumes of people to get tailored legal documents. Courts increasingly adopt some form of technology.

I observe that deep innovation takes place in the sector that still has its professionals wear black robes and in some countries  even wigs. One of the things I also see happening is that technology is used to create a digital version of existing processes. By replacing paper files and fax machines with pdf files and email. Thus, new layers are added on top of procedures that have not really changed since Napoleon introduced them.

There is a big risk of creating a bugged system in this way, since the core of the design is not optimised for digital. More importantly, it is a waste of a great opportunity to use the full potential of online technologies by not using sufficient imagination and vision to better meet the needs of users of the justice system. Henry Ford maybe would have said that “you cannot put an engine in a horse.”

Justice Leadership


I am the co-founder and executive board member of the Justice Leadership Foundation. I currently am looking for young talents that want to join the foundation as an intern: http://www.hiil.org/data/sitemanagement/media/Justice%20Leadership%20Internship.pdf

When you google leadership you will find half a billion hits, mostly on business leadership. Every year, dozens and dozens of books are published on the topic of leadership in business. Any business school has at least one course and professor on leadership. How many law schools do you know that have a course on justice leadership?

What do we know about the personal characteristics that help to get justice innovation done? When you have to cope with ancient, undisputed values, principles and traditions, many independent stakeholders, and when there is no clear CEO and power is part of your core business?

The Justice Leadership Foundation seeks to develop better understanding of the role of leadership and to support justice leaders in their daunting task.

Our foundation hosts a group of justice leaders who represent decades of success yielding experience, in different positions and roles, in building, improving and sustaining Rule of Law.

Current members of the Justice Leaders Group:

  • Salaheddin Al-Bashir (former Minister of Justice, Jordan)
  • Ernst Hirsch Ballin (former Minister of Justice, Netherlands)
  • Kalthoum Kannou (Judge Cour de Cassation, Tunisia)
  • Tharcisse Karugarama (former Minister of Justice, Rwanda)
  • Athaliah Molokomme (Attorney General, Botswana)
  • Willy Mutunga (Chief Justice, Kenya)
  • Claudia Paz y Paz (former Attorney General, Guatemala)
  • Song Sang-hyun (former president ICC, Republic of Korea)

Crystal Scales of Justice Nomination for Rechtwijzer


Our Rechtwijzer platform made it to the final four nominees for the Crystal Scales of Justice Award.

This award is organised annually by the Council of Europe and the European Commission. It aims to stimulate, encourage and highlight justice innovations in courts and judicial procedures that have been developed by government agencies.

Our partner in The Netherlands, the Legal Aid Board, proves to be one of the justice innovation frontrunners, with its adoption of Rechtwijzer to help citizens with online dispute resolution for relational disputes like divorce, rent disputes, employment disputes and the like.

The winner will be announced during upcoming the European Day of Justice.

Official announcement of the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice.

Join our team


Opportunities to join the Rechtwijzer team

Our legal procedures have not been fundamentally changed or updated since they were launched by Napoleon. In the two centuries that passed since then, the world has changed, and people have changed. Our team brings justice processes to the 21st century and supports people in solving their legal issues with the support of online tools. Our Rechtwijzer platform provides a hybrid procedure that combines modern user-friendly online interfaces with the best offline support from legal professionals.

Currently, hundreds of people in The Netherlands got a fair and sustainable divorce using the platform. Very soon we will expand to other countries and other legal problems (including debt problems, landlord-tenant issues and employment problems). As our impact grows, our team does as well. We have the following opportunities for professionals who want to join us in innovating the core of our legal system and help build justice processes that are designed to meet the needs of people:

Business or system analysts (full-time working from The Hague, The Netherlands)

As an analyst, you help us create online dispute resolution procedures, capture business and system requirements, and configure our Rechtwijzer platform. We love analysts with an eye for detail and a strong disciplined focus on delivery. If you have up to 3 years of experience in Information Management, ICT, Business Administration or equivalent professional experience, we might be a match. Since we like to communicate with you, we need you to be fluent in English.

Project and client support managers (full-time working from The Hague, The Netherlands)

As manager, you enable our client organisations to get the most out of our products, so that they do a great job in delivering online procedures, You translate questions and technical glitches into stories that our techies can build fixes and solutions on. Our dream manager keeps his/her head cool and is a very strong communicator. Someone who is highly service oriented, with an eye for the needs of both the client and our own organisation. If you have up to 3 years of relevant experience and a background in Project Management, Information Management, or professional equivalence, you might be the colleague we are looking for. Do you have a legal or other relevant education with project management experience? You are also very welcome to apply. Fluency in English is required.


If you are working on getting your degree, and are excited about justice innovation and online dispute resolution, we offer you internship opportunities. Currently, we look for young talents who are skilled in:

  • online marketing and communication,
  • event, project and process management,
  • information technology,

or are more generally contributing to great delivery in justice innovation, in a tech start-up environment.

If you are interested in joining us, please contact me and share your CV.

New beginnings in technology for justice


“In three months, my ex partner and I developed a divorce and separation plan that we both felt comfortable with. We really cooperated when drafting it, and got help from the tailored model solutions and self-help tools. It may sound weird, but we felt proud of this accomplishment. When we submitted it to the lawyer for review, she said that the plan was well-balanced and fair. Then she told us that she would have to rewrite everything again, translating it into difficult legal language because otherwise the judge would not understand it.” These are the words of one of the users of the Rechtwijzer Divorce Platform, whom we will call “Rachel”.

Rachel’s experience shows that our platform contributes to empowering people when they have to cope with a tough situation in their lives. It also shows how full innovation in the justice sector requires joint effort, from various angles. Making this work is not just about great justice technology, but also about innovative legal professionals with lean minds and a sense that they can bring more value to clients.

When we ask our users about their experiences during our ongoing user satisfaction surveys, they consistently rate the platform 8 out of 10. Two months is the average time it takes to come to a first draft that is ready for review. By then, they have spent less than 400 euro on average to complete their divorce and separation plan.

Currently, the Rechtwijzer Divorce Platform only is available to people like Rachel who live in The Netherlands. Next month, a trial in England starts and in a few months people in British Columbia can use it as well. Development of new modules for debts and landlord-tenant problems are also lined up. In the meantime, the interface and process flows get better every day, the number of support tools continues to increase, and our service providers develop more effective online interventions, almost on a daily basis.

The Rechtwijzer team is growing, so we can keep up this high pace of innovation. Talented new colleagues continue to join our team. They work with some of the best software engineers and user experience designers. We recently built the organisational structure behind Rechtwijzer that helps us with bringing additional resources and staff, which I am honoured to lead.

HiiL Innovating Justice thus fully commits to developments like Rechtwijzer that can make the difference between a good and a bad justice process. Between having the experience of a fair procedure that services your situation, and having the experience of completely losing control and maybe even feeling excluded. Elon Musk, one of the great innovators of our time and founder of PayPal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, famously said that “any product that needs a manual is broken.” This is true for justice processes as well. Our team continues its work to empower people, so they can work their way to justice, also without thorough understanding of legal codes, rules of procedure, large bodies of case law and the other many manuals of the justice system.

Configuring justice


‘Responsiveness’ may not be the first word that comes to mind when thinking of improving our procedures.

In countries like the Netherlands, we follow a lengthy legislative process if we want new rules of procedure. Starting with a working group of experts, a lengthy report with proposals, a slimmed down list after consultation with stakeholders, we aim to take big steps that require much time.

New ways emerge.

This month, I spent some time working with our partner in Chennai, India. Modria has a local branch there. A large part of their team of developers previously worked at eBay and PayPal. Rechtwijzer is built on the same software that powers the  resolution centres of these two internet giants. It robustly processes over 60 million disputes per year and runs in the cloud. Safely. Another important feature is its configurability.

During my trip, I learned more about the potential and configuration power of the technology powering Rechtwijzer 2.0.

The design of Rechtwijzer does not depart from regulatory limitations. Instead, it follows the dispute behaviour of people: what steps do they generally take, what information could help them, what support is appropriate during which stage? Research learns us much about these questions and we designed Rechtwijzer accordingly. The real litmus test, however, is bringing it to the real world. Only through an ongoing dialogue with our users we learn what is ‘just-in-time’ delivery of legal information and when is it ‘too early’ or ‘too late’.

Improving procedures thus is more a matter of tinkering. Trying new things and bring it back to the users to learn from them whether it works. With Rechtwijzer 2.0, it is more a matter of configuring the software that powers our procedures. In small, quick steps. Rather than pursuing wholesale change of the rules of procedure.

At HiiL, we are currently building design, development and configuration capacity. So we can become more responsive to the justice needs of our users. How long before our courts and Ministries of Justice hire their first justice technology engineers?

Developing justice technology: ongoing dialogues with the end user

Roger Smith published  a new report in which he provides an initial review of the Rechtwijzer 2.0 application that we developed for the Dutch Legal Aid Board and currently are configuring for the Legal Services Society in British Columbia as well. It is encouraging to have such a distinguished access to justice researcher qualify it as “the cutting edge in delivery of legal services on the internet”.


He also raises some questions:


“Will people pay for it?” People have to pay a modest fee to get access to the problem-solving support, tools, dialogue-interface, model solutions and online delivery of professional neutral interventions. The fee is needed to ensure that the application can constantly be tested, updated and improved.


“How will the professionals in the supply chain respond to the repackaging and unbundling?” Innovation of dispute resolution services tends to trigger some resistance by some (and let us not forget that there typically is a substantial number of early adopters as well, also in the legal profession)


“How can courts and tribunals accommodate and connect to it?” An application like the Rechtwijzer 2.0 has the potential to create value throughout the supply chain.


I feel these questions are spot on. Experiences from (professional and other) users are crucial to answer them.


We need to find out in practice how we can optimise it, make it acceptable and how to make it work for others in the justice supply chain. It is only through the interaction with end users that innovations like the Rechtwijzer can accelerate.


That is why it is so important that we have started our dialogue with the users. Some weeks ago, the Dutch Legal Aid Board accepted the first cases to the Rechtwijzer 2.0 application for divorce and separation in The Netherlands. This allows us to learn from real experiences and user feedback. So we can learn how we can make the Rechtwijzer work in a way that answers the questions of Roger Smith positively. It speaks for itself that we carefully monitor and support these initial users.


From a justice technology architecture perspective, these experiences are also crucially important for testing the front-end and workflow innovations we designed at HiiL, like for example:
  • Problem-solving intake that does not focus on right and positions but on interests and initial ideas
  • Dialogue interface that empowers
  • Joint agreement drafter that facilitates real cooperation through a Google Doc’s type of feature
  • Model solutions as building block agreement texts for people to start from, adapt and customise
  • Wide availability of added value services and self-help tools
  • Availability of repackaged, unbundled neutral dispute resolution services


Initial user feedback, research and our previous experiences suggest that these type of justice technology innovations help the field of online dispute resolution move beyond fast, fair and efficient. Let us listen to our users to learn how to really make justice technology work for them.