Hacking our way to better legal services

Solving challenges in our legal system with user-centred design, agile methodology and rapid prototyping.

First off, welcome to our new Medium publication: Legal CoLab. I’m Michael Calle and I’m a product manager working within Victoria Legal Aid as part of the Code for Australia fellowship program.

What does that mean? I get that a lot…

Code for Australia (CfA) is a purpose-driven organisation that embeds teams of technologists into government organisations as part of a fellowship program to help drive innovation and solve the problems of tomorrow (applications are now open for the 2017 fellowship).

As part of Code for Australia’s 2016 Fellowship program funded by the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s Public Sector Innovation Fund, the original team of fellows (Rikke, Becca and Christian) were embedded for six months last year within Victoria Legal Aid (VLA), an organisation that provides legal assistance to those who need it most through a range of services.

Following a successful six months, VLA extended the team’s contracts for another six months and I was brought aboard to fill Becca’s big shoes as the Product Manager of the team.

L-R: Christian Arevalo, Michael Calle & Rikke Winther-Sorensen

Getting on board

Since coming aboard I’ve been working to get my sea legs on the VLA ship by shadowing lawyers in court (badass), listening in on Legal Help calls (triggered my customer service centre PTSD) and asking a million questions to everyone and anyone within earshot (turns out the law is pretty complicated).

The bulk of those questions have been fielded with grace by my fellow Code for Australia fellows on the VLA project: Rikke and Christian, and our VLA guardian angels: Khoi & Toby. Over the last six months they’ve been working on applying agile methodology, user-centered design principles and rapid prototyping to Victoria Legal Aid’s biggest challenges.

The team launched two protoypes as part of the initial fellowship program aimed at combating problem areas identified during the initial discovery phase of the project that we call SMS Reminders and the Legal Aid Checker.

SMS Reminders 📱

For each client that forgets about a scheduled appointment with Legal Aid, lawyers and admins lose precious service hours that could have been used to help other eligible people with their legal matter.

Once the team understood the strain this placed on Legal Aid’s services they got to work on building an improved SMS appointment reminder system for admin staff and receptionists with an aim to impact no show rates.

Built on existing workflows and technology, SMS Reminders allows admins and receptionists to send reminders far more easily, helping them decrease the time spent sending these reminders by 83%.

On the client side, the reminders have helped to decrease no-shows for lawyer appointments at pilot offices by 85%, massively improving the office’s service capacity.

We’re now rolling out SMS Reminders to each VLA office and are looking into ways that we can provide the app to the broader legal community.

Check it out on Github here.

The Legal Aid Checker ✅

For those without a solid understanding of the legal landscape, wading through countless websites to find information relevant to your legal matter and then searching for how best to get help can be a nightmare.

To help users identify their legal matter and match them with the most relevant legal services available the fellows built the Legal Aid Checker, a self help guide that helps users understand their legal matter with relevant content and where to go to for help.

The Legal Aid Checker recently went live on the VLA homepage and has already helped thousands of visitors better understand where to turn for legal help.

After mentions in the Australian Financial Review, Australasian Lawyer and Lawyers Weekly, we’ve also begun discussions with other legal service providers to help them get their own version of the Legal Aid Checker live. All our code is open source with sections derived from a similar open source project from Gov.uk. Share away!

Check it out on Github here

Time to head out into Orbit 🛰

With both of our prototypes out in the wild we’re now turning our attention to an even bigger challenge: streamlining, simplifying and systematising the process for legal referrals in Victoria. With different services, guidelines and eligibility criteria at play both internally at VLA and externally at Community Legal Centres, we’ve got our work cut out for us as we hack our way to better legal services.

Over the next six months we will be working to help understand the problems inherent in current referral processes through user research, develop iterative prototypes to propose solutions and develop a working proof of concept alongside Legal Aid’s ICT and Client Access teams. This work will also incorporate our previous work on SMS Reminders and Legal Aid Checker as part of a more holistic and integrated approach to VLA’s many services.

We’re knee deep in user research on Orbit so make sure to follow us and keep up to date on the journey!

If you’re interested in talking to us about our projects or catching up to chat get in touch!

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