Justice by Design

Has our justice system developed as a series of ad hoc measures, policies and programs or has it been designed according to a planned vision? This question is being asked more broadly in Law Schools as legal academics and lawyers bring design principles to the question of where and how people access justice. It is a question which may lead to suprising, disruptive and absolutely necessary answers.
Margaret Hagan’s work with the d.school at Stanford University is a case in point – dedicated to “marrying legal expertise with design thinking to help people better understand the law and improve access to justice,” the project has already created more than 10 apps, including Law School Dojo and GRE Dojo, which use quizzes to help users gain a better grasp of the law and the GRE respectively. Her work is dedicated to fusing legal and design expertise to transform how people may access legal information, advice and dispute resolution.. Last Fall, Margaret collaborated with Professor Pina D’Agostino at Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Centre, IP Osgoode, and colleagues at York’s Lassonde School of Engineering to launch an IP Hackathon dedicated to new ideas in Patent Law.
Osgoode’s newest class, Legal Information Technology, exposes students to lawyers working at the forefront of legal tech in contexts of new legal services and new forms of dispute resolution. The course is taught by Monica Goyal, Nicole Aylwin and Darin Thompson, three leading innovators attempting to bring design principles to the integration of technology in access to justice solutions. In these contexts, students are asked not just to explore design ideas and frameworks, but to design their own tech solution to justice problem. As Nicole Aylwin of Osgoode’s Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution, which hosted the final student presentations in the course this past year noted: “Innovation requires new ideas, energy, passion, and sometimes it requires a different perspective than one is used to. Students bring all of that, they bring energy, great ideas, a different way of looking at the system. They have not been in the system for very long, and it is terrific to see them thinking not only about justice issues, but about related fields about technology and design and applying that to justice innovation issues.”
Another ambitious step toward a future of justice system design is the Justice Design Project (JDP) which has been created (and curated) by the Winkler Institute. The JDP is a week-long workshop for post-secondary students interested in law, design and access to justice. Participants will explore the justice system from the “user” perspective and approach access to justice as a design challenge – gather the information needed on how the justice system works, imagine how best to respond to the gaps and weaknesses of the current system, and develop a prototype that will improve it. By the end of the JDP, participants will have generated their own response to the challenges of access to justice – whether a new way of providing legal information through social media, or new ways of combining legal, social work and medical services in problem-solving clinics, or new ways of bringing courthouses to communities or imaginative approaches we have not even considered yet.
The user focused, design approach is particularly appropriate for the justice system because so much of the system we now have appears designed with the needs of lawyers in mind rather than the needs of the public. The JDP is also a dynamic setting in which to expand the reach of legal thinking beyond those already in Law School and committed to a particular lens on legal practice. As new voices and perspectives are added to the mix, the design choices and possibilities expand.
I can’t wait to see the ideas that the JDP participants dream up, to engage with Osgoode’s other related initiatives, and most of all to see the impact of a new generation that will come to see the justice system as a design in progress.