Written by Bill Doogue. Partner, Doogue O’Brien George Criminal Defence Lawyers.
Robot Lawyers is live at www.robot-lawyers.com.au
The genesis of the robot lawyer concept was a legal practice management conference that Andrew George and I attended in Melbourne. The conference was run by ALPMA and was excellent on a number of levels. They had a lot of very interesting speakers about the future of law and legal practices.
What that prompted for Andrew and I was a discussion about how technology could help a lot of people appearing before the Courts. As criminal defence lawyers we see a large number of people appearing in court unrepresented. The Magistrate is generally trying their best to get information from the person, but they are often under pressure themselves from the large number of cases before them and the person may have difficulties explaining their position.
You will often find people talking about their case afterwards saying “I wish I told the magistrate about my problem” or something to that effect. Often, people are overwhelmed by speaking in public and so they are not able to articulate their position. They may be nervous, anxious and perhaps intimidated by the Court setting and the public nature of the process. These are all barriers to getting information across to the Court.
It struck us that the way we could help the most people to access justice was to provide a service like Robot Lawyers that asked the basic questions a lawyer would, then return that information in a way that is digestible for a Magistrate.
The reality is that legal aid services and other services that help unrepresented people are working on very limited budgets. As an example, Victoria Legal Aid are unable to provide representation for simple driving matters. They have to use their budget wisely and to try to make the most impact and that is one of the lines they have had to draw.
If a person can be represented by legal aid or can afford a lawyer then we would strongly recommend that they do. But for the person who cannot afford a lawyer then helping them to present their personal information to the Court in a simple manner through Robot Lawyers seemed a good idea.
It would seem that more than 20% and perhaps up to 50% of people who appear before the Court for minor matters are unrepresented. This seems to be similar in a number of jurisdictions and the fluctuation is going upwards as the number of legal aid services diminishes.
So with at least 300,000 criminal cases of all sorts being initiated each year in Australia it means there are a large of people who need some help.
Robot Lawyers asks the type of questions relevant to penalty that every lawyer will ask of their client. The aim of the Robot Lawyers is to make sure that none of this foundation material is missed. If the Magistrate has most of the key information at hand it will make their job easier and hopefully deliver a better outcome for the unrepresented person.
We have spoken to a number of lawyers about this project. All of them, so far, have seen the benefit for the unrepresented person but some have wondered whether we will lose clients in the process.
Possibly. But it is our view that the improvement in access to justice is the responsibility of all lawyers. We believe that lawyers do add real value in the criminal justice process and that clients will continue to access us when and as necessary.
Technology and law has finally reached the point where it is going to deliver enormous savings for clients and for Courts. With the enormous spread of legal start-ups in the last two years you can see the changes that may occur. The Courts have the capacity to fundamentally change how they deliver justice, both through guided decision-making processes and also superior administration processes. All of these are very exciting concepts.
As soon as we started testing Robot Lawyers we have had a large number of suggestions about other processes that could be done in this matter. Interesting times ahead for the Robot Lawyers!
We would appreciate any feedback about how we could improve this service.