Recent cuts to civil legal aid has seen a sharp increase in litigants in person, putting greater pressure on the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) to help those trying to navigate the complex legal system alone. RCJ Advice Bureau found that much of their solicitor's valuable pro-bono time was being taken up helping people complete court forms for straightforward civil cases such as divorce, meaning they were less able to help those with more complex needs. It was felt that many clients would be able to go through this process themselves if it weren't for the complex, unfriendly legal wording.
There were already many basic online tools allowing people to complete their divorce forms but crucially these services did not offer any legal feedback, resulting in many incorrectly completed forms being presented to the court. Applicants cases were simply being thrown out, meaning they would have to restart the whole process again, hindering their petition for divorce and having to pay the court fee again.
In partnership with the legal firm Freshfields, RCJ Advice Bureau decided to create an online tool which could gather the information required for the forms through a guided, user-friendly process using simple questions and no legal jargon. The ability for a solicitor to check the information before the forms could be printed and sent to the court was an essential feature so a mechanism for review and feedback was required.
We started with a workshop where we walked through the entire divorce process, looking in detail at the court forms, understanding the jargon and turning this into a series of simple questions grouped into themes. We mapped each of the answers to the relevant place on the court form, wherever possible we rationalised and distilled the questions to reduce duplication. A good example of this was asking for contact details once and mapping this to multiple places on the court forms. The questions use conditional logic to only reveal questions relevant to the client based on previous answers. This hugely reduces the amount of questions in most cases, creating a simpler more intuitive user experience.
We created a backlog of the features the system would need and prioritised this into what was needed to create the first iteration. This included; a tiered help system where the user can access further help and ask specific questions of a legal advisor, a robust workflow the solicitor to review and feedback to the client with questions or comments, reporting and an invitation system for different user types.
We created a simple process to allow clients to submit a case for review at any point in their journey. This is delivered to the solicitor's area where they are given a stack of cases to accept in order of submission. They can review a case quickly by flagging questions to clearly signpost to the client which areas require attention. Solicitors and clients are able to have a dialogue by attaching a thread of messages on specific questions, for focussed guidance.
We also created a separate fee calculator to determine where the client is eligible for a reduced fee and produce the required court form.
As a new product CourtNav had no brand identity, all that existed was the name. We created a visual identity including the logo and a visual system for the interface. We made use of iconography to create visual aids for users to recognise significant points in their journey. The application was branded to reflect it's position as a trustworthy, helpful tool.
The result is an application which allows clients to easily produce and print the court-ready PDF forms required for their divorce applications from a series of simple, gentle questions.
Efficiency has been increased as it has reduced the amount of time needed to review each case as well as being able to review cases from anywhere with an internet connection.
The application has been trialed at RCJ Advice Bureau in London with great success. Since launch, dozens have been able to go through the process, empowering them to attain divorces in what is for many, a very difficult situation.
More funding has been given to develop two more challenging modules for bankruptcy and to stop an eviction through the County Court. We are looking forward to deploying these modules over the coming months.
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