Professor Lois R. Lupica is working with Maine Law students Sage Friedman ‘17 and Toby Franklin ‘17 on an innovative project that offers a potential solution to the problem of unequal access to justice. The Apps for Justice Project was launched early this year with the goal of utilizing technology to bridge the access to justice gap. This gap has reached a crisis level for low- and moderate-income individuals who face well-defined legal issues in the areas of family law, landlord-tenant disputes, and immigration.
The Apps for Justice Project was funded with a grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, and uses the Neota Logic Platform to develop and create practical, technology-based legal expert systems in the form of applications (“Apps”). These Apps provide guidance, information and action plans that enable low- and moderate-income individuals to effectively address their specific civil legal problems, either alone or with the help of affordable counsel. In designing these Apps, the team endeavored to mirror the problem-solving process lawyers follow: the application of abstract principles to specific cases, beginning with diagnosis, proceeding to inference, and then to treatment.
Over the past months, the Apps for Justice developers created two prototype apps:
- The Maine Family Law Helper – designed to be used by legal services and low-bono lawyers to reduce the cost of representation
- The Maine Tenant’s Rights App – designed to help tenants address problems with their rental units and landlord
In the Maine Tenant’s Rights App, a tenant with a rental problem is guided through a series of questions to diagnose their specific legal issue. With this information, the system makes an inference as to whether the landlord is violating the law. This inference is then matched to an action plan in the form of a personalized script to be used by the tenant to call the landlord and ask for help and an app generated follow-up demand letter. If these actions do not resolve the tenant’s problem, the action plan directs the user to contact information for the relevant code enforcement officer, and a script to help the tenant make the call.
The Apps have received an overwhelmingly positive response during the testing phase.
Next step: The Apps for Justice Lab
Maine Law seeks financial support to expand upon the great work of the 2016-2017 Apps for Justice Project Team by creating a unique curricular offering: The Apps for Justice Lab (“Lab”). J.D. students enrolled in the Lab would explore and apply the potential of technology platforms to create solutions to the access to justice crisis in Maine. Utilizing their skills in legal analysis, design theory, creativity, problem solving and innovation, students would work in teams to produce functional apps that would allow a low- or moderate- income/asset individuals who cannot afford full-scale professional legal assistance to independently address their specific legal problem.
Lab students would:
- Work with a legal services provider to identify a legal or law-related problem commonly faced by low- and moderate-income individuals.
- Research and develop skills to deconstruct law and non-law related solutions to a specific legal and related non-legal problem.
- Develop design and algorithmic thinking skills to map out the identified solutions.
- Create a user-friendly app, able to be effectively deployed by the target population, that can be brought to market.
The Lab would provide a rigorous educational experience that would prepare students to practice law using 21st century technology.