Innovation can come from existing resources and doesn’t necessarily have to involve spending lots of money. What’s important is understanding what resources are available and how to efficiently use them, says a UNSW Law student.

The winners of UNSW Law’s Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice competition were recently announced. UNSW Law student Kevin Shaji and his team ranked first in the competition following the submission of a pre-recorded 15-minute video presentation to a panel of judges.

Designing technology solutions for access to justice

The course is sponsored by Gilbert + Tobin and aims to teach students a range of technology tools and how to lead a technical project to improve legal processes.

“In this course, students are running a full project. They have a client they need to engage with, they need to do testing and evaluation, they need to explain their process, the solution and pitch it to a broader audience,” says Professor Lyria Bennett Moses, Director of the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation at UNSW Law.

“It’s not a typical law course. Students have to think about tech – but not just learning how to use tech – but how to use it to design a solution to a problem.”

Students work in teams of five to solve the client’s problem. “The challenge is to come up with a solution where tech can be used to assist. Students can either use the tech tools we teach in the course or a different tool,” she says.

In fact, the winning team chose to use tools that were not taught in the course, and Prof. Bennett Moses says they instead chose to focus on the best way to solve the client's problem.

What did the winning application achieve?

“Law can be quite black and white and can be very theoretical. But in this course, we had a real client with a real problem, and we used real technology to drive real solutions. That’s what made it so much more engaging,” says Mr Shaji.

The way the course was structured also enabled students to embrace many opportunities and obtain different perspectives from a variety of speakers.

“We have classes where speakers on creativity and project management attended and covered all relevant skills that we need to succeed in the workforce. A lot of the times, students don’t get a chance to practise such skills in class – which makes the ability to solve real problems so unique about this course,” Mr Shaji says.

His team was assigned UNSW Legal as client and the challenge was to relieve the administrative strain on the legal team.

“Different centres and institutes in the university should register their business names under the law. But it is not a very efficient process to track all the business name registrations,” Prof. Bennett Moses says.

“So, Kevin’s team built a tool on top of the Microsoft suite, that creates a simple Microsoft form for centres wanting to register a business name. The backend can then be used to calendarise things and generate reports. The application was found to be a great tool for UNSW Legal, with a full end-to-end solution for a real problem.”

Mr Shaji’s team worked together with UNSW Legal in a very agile way and sought feedback throughout the project.

“Through the use of Microsoft Power Apps – which is like an app creator – we built a customer integrated customer relations management platform, that allows users to see all the information collected. This has enabled them to run compliance checks and it was easier to track all information in one place,” Mr Shaji says.

This also came at no extra cost to UNSW Legal. “We used existing resources to create a new solution. And I think this is why sometimes innovation doesn't have to be about spending thousands of dollars. Innovation can take place using whatever resources you currently have,” says Mr Shaji.

What other applications qualified for the competition?

Another interesting application focused on helping people find relevant information to assist migrant workers.

“Many times, migrant workers’ rights are ignored. They are underpaid, don't have leave entitlements, or can't access medical care. And so, this tool helps to explain which international law rules are applicable to a particular person’s circumstances,” Prof. Bennett Moses says.

The application is relevant for people who advocate for migrant worker rights and international human rights. It will be presented as part of an International Migrants Day event run by Migrant Forum in Asia and the Diplomacy Training Program.

The two other applications created a chatbot for Austlii using its Datalex expert system platform and helping law students navigate plagiarism rules in an engaging way. All applications presented were practical and addressed the issue that the client is facing.

The T-shaped lawyer

The "T-shaped lawyer” is an expression often used to describe the necessary skills legal professionals require from studying a law degree, Prof. Bennett Moses explains.

“The bottom of the T is for depth. It’s about understanding the law – knowing the rules, how they work and how to apply them in a case scenario,” she says.

“But other skills are also important when going into legal practice. Students need to have an understanding of other areas such as IT, marketing and accounting – although not in-depth.”

Prof. Bennett Moses says it is important for students to be able to communicate with clients, think creatively, have good project management skills, design thinking skills, presentation skills, and the ability to work well in a team – skills that are not necessarily taught explicitly in a typical law degree.

“When you're doing contract law, you're learning about contracts. You're not learning client engagement – you're doing the deep part of the 'T', but this course focuses on the top part of the ‘T’.”

Prof. Bennett Moses says the goal of the course is to give students the soft skills required for a successful career in law or legal technology.

Tips for students looking to enrol in Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice

Mr Shaji shares three key tips for law students looking to take part in the next competition:

1. Be adaptable. “You never know how things are going to go and you don't know what the feedback will be,” he says. Mr Shaji’s team had to go through a few platforms, change interfaces and work in an agile way to action feedback as quickly as possible.

2. Have a strong functioning team. Teamwork is really important, and you need to make sure that everyone is regularly communicating. “What really set us apart was the diversity in the team,” Mr Shaji says. His team had different strengths and managed to leverage these, adding value and working towards a common goal.

3. Really understand your clients and their needs. “They're the ones who are going to use the application and they're the ones with the problem. So, it is important to really understand them. And you have to always work with empathy. You have to understand their thought process, anticipate the risks that are going to be on their minds and in turn, think of how you can mitigate those risks,” says Mr Shaji.

To learn more about the Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice course, please visit this link.