The Legal Design Team and Their Endeavors

My main academic interest throughout undergrad has been in law and the legal system. A few weeks ago after brief research, I came across a group called “The Legal Design Team.” They are an interdisciplinary team based at Stanford Law School and working at the intersection of human-centered design, technology and law to build a new generation of legal products and services. They have a track record of developing a few apps designed to help navigate different aspects of the law — from what to do with the deed of your house after a natural disaster to communicating with legal professionals for advice.

The Court Messaging System app has been the most effective. The initiative is designed to improve the number of people who actually appear for their scheduled court dates. The Legal Design Team believe that what is arguably the most widespread form of communication, SMS messaging, tied along with web interfaces used my court employees, can be combined to produce the most effective way to get individuals to attend their court dates. They have already established this system in various judicial districts to help improve attendance rates. It’s an interesting topic to see the connection between a back-end interface and a front-end interface. I plan on doing a small profile of the developers who’ve worked on the project, but mainly discussing what elements they used to create this website to aide these judicial districts.

Two of the key developers from the Legal Design who worked on this project are Briane Cornish and Margaret Hagan. Cornish,  who has facilitated and participated in legal tech and design workshops, was born in San Jose, Calif. and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y. She received her B.A. in English Literature and a Certificate in Ethics, Law and Society from Tufts University and her J.D. from Stanford Law School. Hagan is a lecturer at Stanford and a fellow at Stanford Law’s center on the Legal Profession, working to bring law and design together. Margaret holds a J.D. from Stanford Law, as well as an A.B. from the University of Chicago, an M.A. from Central European University in Budapest, and a Ph.D. from Queen’s University Belfast in International Politics.

The problem the app attempts to address is the alarming rates people with court appointments didn’t show up. The Court Messaging System is designed for two specific users: the court employee and the individual they are trying to reach. The designers first staged a specific scenario to gauge whether or not this tool would be effective. They first asked those who could benefit from the system what did they not like in the previous way courts communicated with people and was there anything they liked. The most important part for the creators was to make the system more efficient and in sync with the already-available technology. This was all in an effort to see if the scenario staged is could potentially be a real scenario. They then developed a system map, which functioned as a draft to show the operations of the would-be system. The idea was to decide which kind of interface would best be suited for civilians and the court employees based on the scenario they created, but this was not the final version of the system. It was a prototype they could show to would-be users of the system and receive feedback.

The main coding at hand was an effort to make the back-end interface, which was being used by the court employee, able to: provide for data entry, give confirmation emails of sent and received items, and customize user information and preferences. In order to develop a back-end interface that can be used with other front-end interfaces, such as mobile phones, coding languages such as AngularJS, jQuery and Bootstrap CSS were used.

The designing of an SMS system that allows for an automatic response and release of information to litigants is a key advancement of the legal future. It makes for a more efficient and effective form of communication that hasn’t since been seen in the legal system. The reminders and calendar events sent straight to an individual’s phone are key. The main goal of the designers was to combine their love for web design along with the legal system and provide a cost-effective solution to an issue facing many legal districts. Using these systems and allowing for continued customization and improvements, the Court Messaging system has already proven its worth. By addressing what were once alarming rates of missed court appointments, this project has an opportunity to be seen as one of the key advancements of the legal system.

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