Hello Emily. First of all could you tell me a bit about yourself and your professional background?
I grew up in Australia where I studied law and psychology at university. Committed to social justice, I became involved in my local legal centre and the pro bono department of a city law firm. I loved this work – it made me appreciate the power of the law and its ability right wrongs and transform lives. Looking to expand my horizons and learn from other jurisdictions, I moved to the UK and started working at the National Pro Bono Centre, first at LawWorks then the Bar Pro Bono Unit (recently renamed Advocate). At Advocate, I became heavily involved in our digital transformation programme and through this experience, was introduced to the world of UX Design. I left Advocate in July 2018 and then joined Etic Lab. The folks at Etic Lab let me foster my interest in e-justice (and its many guises) and the ethical implications of using technology in the justice space. I’m currently freelancing as a Product Manager/UX Designer in the social sector.
What is your involvement and role in the Access to Affordable Justice project?
So far it has been about connecting the right people. As we proceed, my role will be defined by the Project’s Board. I hope to help the team with user research, problem framing and the initial design work.
What is important about it for you and your practice?
If we are able to work out where the right place is for folks seeking legal help at various stages in their journey, we will be in a position to ensure the limited resources in the sector are used effectively. Ideally, it will also bring the sector closer together.
The project is founded on the substantial evidence of inequality in people’s capacity to access and engage with the legal system, and to resolve legal disputes. In your experience, what are some specific barriers people face, and why?
There are many but I have seen three that are particularly prevalent:
- The complexity of the legal issue: The issues people present with are complex, and often intertwined with health and welfare issues. Even if the legal issue is resolved, there are often other underlying issues that need to be addressed too.
- The interface: Legal jargon and procedure present as difficult obstacles to overcome for many trying to access and engage with the legal system. However, having said that I have met many litigants who have managed to become quasi-lawyers, experts in the particular area of law that their case is about. To get there, though, they have had to devote hours and hours to reading and research. It is encouraging to see the legal system change to address this issue, but there is definitely work that needs to be done in the interim and to ensure that any transition to a new and improved system is smooth and doesn’t leave people behind.
- Limited resources: The lawyers that I have been fortunate to know that can and do provide legal help are at peak capacity, often squeezing pro bono hours late at night and weekends as they feel like it’s their duty to give back.
Did (or do) you have any reservations about taking part, and what do you think other organisations’ reservations might be? How are these addressed by the project partners?
I didn’t have any reservations about taking part. I think other organisations though may be sceptical given how ambitious the project is.
What has the experience of working with Etic Lab been like so far? Was it different to how you thought it would be?
Etic Lab are a bunch of pragmatic thinkers. They base their actions in theory and are cautious but willing to try.
What do you think will be key to the project’s success?
At a macro level, the joining up of everyone working in the sector and on a micro level, seeing people get the help they need at the right time from the right place.
What do you think is its significance for the introduction of e-justice next year?
As in 2019? More resources injected into the sector is always a good thing – it will mean more people working on this issue from different angles.
What would you say to organisations who are unsure about taking part?
Hmm, tough question. The Project will not seek to take up too much of their time from their day-to-day. Their insight is invaluable, indispensable. The objective is to create processes and systems that are sustainable, long-lasting and future-proof, not just fleeting for the duration of the project.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Collaboration will be key.