According to lord chief justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, Great Britain is now embarking on the most fundamental reform to the court system since the introduction of the county courts in 1846. Courts are going digital, and they may need help in doing so. Hence the two-day hackathon in London the other week, during which 200 caffeine-fueled lawyers, designers and coders hacked away through the night preparing to present solutions that may help modernize the justice system.
Nine out of a total of 30 teams got to pitch their ideas before a jury made up by among others three High Court judges. Our podcasting partner Peter Wright (DigitalLawUK) was part of the Wavelength/Law Society team, which won first prize with their voice interaction agent Colin (the Courts OnLINe help agent) designed to work with the Amazon Alexa AI assistant.
- It was great to compete against teams from Oxford & Cambridge University as well as teams from firms like Pinsent Masons who arrived with a large amount of specialist IT equipment, Linklaters, Kennedys who arrived with 3 coders that they had flown in from India, and even Australian firm Gilbert & Tobin who had flown a team in specially from Sydney, says Wright.
What does COLIN do?
- The joint Wavelength/Law Society team developed a system that operated using the Amazon Alexa system, as well as via mobile App and website, allowing for verbal interaction around a housing disrepair issue, with a system that listened to the problem, noted the evidence, drafted a letter to a landlord, kept track of replies and next steps and made recommendations on going to the housing ombudsman, Court or finding a solicitor where it would recommend a range of specialists who could handle it for a fixed fee, and a bundle of evidence was then available to help the solicitor or support court proceedings. So we covered about 4 of the 8 areas within the challenge, says Wright.
- A clear win was delivered for the Law Society, which I don't think even organiser Richard Susskind expected, with the award presented by Lord Chief Justice Thomas who was very impressed with our Court On Line system (or COLIN for short). We don't get the opportunity to celebrate many clear victories at the Law Society, and we have a great one here in a field that the Law Society has been making a real effort in.
- Sophia Adams Bhatti in particular was integral in putting a Law Society team together with Wavelength Law at very short notice. She presented both the first round pitch and the winning pitch excellently, proving to be a polished unflappable speaker who contributed to a presentation that talked about people and their problems and how our system could help them, as opposed to many pitches fronted by mumbling male tech experts or law firm partners who just spoke to a presentation about a system, says Wright.
Adams Bhatti, director of legal & regulatory policy at the Law Society, elaborates on the concept:
- CoLin is designed to let people have a conversation, as if talking to a knowledgeable friend, and help them get the advice they need to solve their problem. It is able to generate letters, outlining in easy to understand ways the various steps in a legal process, reminding people when key deadlines are approaching, as well as organising information generated from the user into an electronic bundle for use by a client's advisor and the courts.
While CoLin is only a proof of concept, it demonstrates the huge potential for this type of technology to improve access to justice.
The runners-up, TeamPM from Pinsent Masons, presented ‘MobiMapper’, a case visualisation and argument mapper which narrows the issues of a case into a single document that a litigant in person might bring to court.
Jimmy Vestbirk, organiser of the hackathon and founder of Legal Geek, writes:
“We believe online courts are the perfect application of technology to improve access to justice. Legal Geek, the world's largest community of LawTech startups, is proud to co-host a hackathon which could generate ideas to shape the future of our court system. This was a once in a life time opportunity for students, coders, designers, legal professionals and innovators to shape the future of online courts.
The Hackathon was organised by the Society for Computers and Law, Legal Geek, the Judiciary of England and Wales and HM Courts & Tribunals Service and hosted by the University of Law.