The technology of access to justice: Rechtwijzer 2.0

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I am excited to go to Austin and sit in a SXSW panel to discuss Justice 2.0. Great to share the podium with my friend and partner Colin Rule, founder of Modria and the “godfather of ODR” and Beth Trent of CPR, the leading organisation that helps global business and lawyers resolve complex commercial disputes.

As a big fan of the groundbreaking work Colin and Beth have done in the area of online platforms for consumer and business disputes that outperform courts, I see how ODR gradually changes the world of dispute resolution. During our panel, I will highlight an element of Justice 2.0 that is a bit closer to the justice system: a justice platform called Rechtwijzer 2.0.

At HiiL, we partner with the Dutch Legal Aid Board and Modria to develop an access to justice platform that builds on www.rechtwijzer.nl, the earlier diagnosis and triage website we built (Corry van Zeeland is the actual brains behind what others say might be a gamechanger). The Legal Aid Board has been working on www.rechtwijzer.nl as of 2007. This application offers legal diagnosis and triage, basic information about rights and obligations and concrete tools and other support for solving legal problems.

Rechtwijzer 2.0 takes this a few steps further. It offers a platform for legal information, advice and services, some of which are automated. It enables people to work on solving their legal problems in their own words, at their own pace, from their own homes. Together with the other person. With professional service providers readily available to help them. To mediate, advise, decide or to review the end result. Lawyers and adjudicators working with Rechtwijzer 2.0 offer their services online, unbundled and on a pay as you go basis against fixed fees.

Rechtwijzer 2.0 thus is a justice platform that builds on the actual behaviour of people with a legal problem. As legal needs studies show us, people with a legal problem across the globe show more or less similar behaviour: most people first look for information about their problem, rights, obligations, and options for solving their problems. People often first try to solve their legal problem themselves and seek help if this does not work. They generally want support with contacting the other party, communicating, negotiating. And also have a need for neutral information that help them determine a fair result.

Initially, Rechtwijzer 2.0 focuses on divorce cases in The Netherlands, but the platform can be easily configured to other problems and other countries. When we design justice processes on the basis of what works rather than on the basis of normative rules, international standards, best practices and even standardisation all of a sudden become within reach.

Justice 2.0 for me is much about designing these types of justice platforms. Justice as a platform that starts from the behaviour of people, the support they need and the things that work for this.

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Look and feel of justice: designs for the courts of the future

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We generally do not think in terms of UX design, user interfaces, look and feel when we think of courts, procedures or the justice system more broadly. Lawyers focus on legal code and rules and do not bother about developing user-friendly interfaces for the justice system.

What if we would? What could we learn from giants like Google, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.? Things like “do one thing well”, “build for yourself first”, “don’t assume you have the answers”, “prepare to scale”, “put your customers first”, etc. We could start by focusing on how the legal system can build on actual human behaviour, intuition and preferences. 

A little bit of UX design for our courts…

HiiL explored this together with Platform GRAS. Last year, I first developed a pilot project which yielded some inspiring results, including this “magic robe” designed by Lambert Kamps.

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It can be worn in four different manners giving the judge four completely different looks. Starting point for this was the observation that in fact judges do many different things during trial, picking up many different roles.

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After this pilot, together with Gabriel de Graauw, Sandra Grabs and my colleague at HiiL Laura Kistemaker, I developed the assignment for designing the courts of the future. It was part of our HiiL Trend Report Trialogue that found three strategies implicit to most courts:

  1. Courts as an instance of last resort: courts as a place where people can go if all else has failed.
  2. Courts to provide legal clarity: courts as a place that solely focuses on legal questions.
  3. Court to solve problems: courts as a place where all interventions needed to solve the (legal) problems of people come together.

Three interdisciplinary teams (combining architects, interior designers, graphic designers, urban planners, cartoonists, lawyers) each focused on one of these strategies and developed a rich collection of designs. The teams presented them during our Innovating Justice Forum last December in The Hague. It was very inspiring to see how the thoughts and tools of all these different worlds inspired the over 100 top notch justice sector professionals during the forum. To see how “these concrete visualisations of justice really helped thinking about abstract concepts of justice and the future of courts”.

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The designs were published as part of our Trend Report but we decided that this journey should not end here. Hence, during the coming month (4, 18 and 25 March), we bring together a diverse group of people in our Justice Innovation Lab. The design teams are joined by urban planners of the city of The Hague (that sees itself as the international city of Justice and Peace and thus should have a leading role in courts design innovation), the heads of facilities of the Dutch judiciary, people from the government buildings agency that is in charge of the courts, and court professionals who would have to work in these court designs. The goal is to see how we can make court design innovation happen.

As I said, a little bit of UX designs for courts. They could surely use it.