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How startup Justice42 leverages its presence at ImpactCity to increase trust in the government with tech

Justice42 improves the accessibility of legal support with technological solutions. It is a spin-out of The Hague Institute for Law Innovation (HiiL) and an excellent example of ‘doing good and doing business’, and therefore valuable for the ImpactCity ecosystem.

“Navigating legal processes and understanding legal documents is often very difficult for citizens. This creates power-imbalance and harms the relationship between authorities and citizens, which has far-reaching consequences on our society,” says Kaspar Scheltema, co-founder at Justice42.

Trust in the government is at the lowest point in 20 years, and limited (perceived) access to legal support is one of the causes. In particular, society has witnessed large groups of citizens being wrongfully charged of fraud, while the legal system failed to protect them. The media extensively covered the devastating consequences of this on tens of thousands of Dutch citizens.

“These events have undeniably influenced the declining trust in the authorities. And while improving accessibility to legal support is not the single golden solution to restoring that trust, we are certain that it contributes,” says Kaspar. “Our technology-based solutions guide people through the complex legal system and select only information which is relevant for their case, translate the legal vocabulary into ‘normal’ language and even supply relevant legal documents. And in the future, by using the general available translation functions, they can also have it in their native language if they want. This empowers citizens and levels the playing field in their relationship with authorities, which is fundamental for restoring trust,” Kaspar continues.

To-the-point objection letters with the Municipal Appeals Platform

Their current prototype, the Municipal Appeals Platform, is an online support tool that provides citizens and relevant support professionals with information and assistance when considering filing an objection against a municipal decision. The prototype has demonstrated value for both municipality officials and citizens.

“We also foresee more opportunities by integrating AI in the tool to help citizens draw up an objection letter as well. They can insert their story in their own words, and the tool can translate it into more formal language, including references to the relevant articles from the law book,” Kaspar concludes. “Municipalities also benefit from better informed citizens and to the point of objection letters,” says Kaspar. The current prototype was developed in collaboration with the municipalities of Amsterdam and Purmerend. The next phase of the project will involve other municipalities.

Support of local ecosystems

In scaling up new digital technologies and service design models like the Municipal Appeals Platform, Kaspar finds it important to connect with other innovation ambassadors in the field to exchange ideas, experiences and network.

“Many people (say they) are interested in innovations, but are not the real ambassadors who have the courage and power to implement new technologies or service designs within their organisation. Therefore I really promote and enjoy ecosystems like UNConference and The Hague Legal Tech Alliance (THLTA). The Unconference at Titaan was a great opportunity to exchange experiences with other scale-ups, for example about how to build a team or raise funding. At THLTA, I have the opportunity to meet many innovation ambassadors in the legal field and share in an informal setting successes as well as failures, which provide very valuable lessons to learn from. It sounds simple, but to bridge the gap between managers and policy makers who don’t have any room for mistakes on the one side and innovators on the other, is a real challenge which requires a lot of courage and trust on both sides.

The Hague: city of Peace & Justice

Justice42 was founded in The Hague, which was a natural choice given the many legal and governmental organisations in the city, and the dedication of the founders to put impact at the core of their business. To further leverage the presence in the City of Peace and Justice, Kaspar was one of the initiators of the The Hague Legal Tech Alliance, together with amongst others the Council of State, law firm Pels Rijcken and the municipality of The Hague.

“We recognised that we have all these highly valuable institutions and professionals with an exceptional amount of knowledge in The Hague, who also share common challenges. By connecting these institutions and people, we are more likely to come up with well-functioning solutions for citizens,” says Kaspar.

“In the Netherlands, we are good at coming up with ideas and doing initial pilots. But when they are successful, the pilots often lack funding for scaling that solution up. For innovative companies in the legal space on the other hand, it is essential to get legitimacy and approval from the legal institutions. Close collaboration between the authorities and companies is therefore of great value and that’s what we are building with the The LegalTech Alliance.”, Kaspar concludes.

Balans tussen technologie en menselijke interactie

In the development of the Municipal Appeals Platform, Justice42 builds on their extensive experience with their first product, which helps former couples navigate their divorce process through an online tool. originated from a pilot by HiiL and the Legal Aid Council and was further developed by Justice42 with funding from the Shaping Impact Group, among others.

“The fact that it is a digital tool helps remove any suspicion of partiality. The setup provides opportunity to navigate the process at their own pace and reflect before submitting their answers. Also, the site is constructed with mediation-like questions such as ‘name a few things that your ex-partner does well in the upbringing of the children’, as well as providing factual legal information. This helps to prevent escalations, and increases the likelihood of reaching a satisfactory outcome for both parties,” says Kaspar.

Although the purposes of the platforms differ, some dynamics may be similar and Justice42 can build on their experience to make the Municipal Appeals Platform a success. “A key aspect of the success of our platforms is the availability of human interaction. We have case managers in house with legal degrees, who are available to answer questions at work days. This low-threshold, impartial service prevents people from getting stuck and frustrated, Kaspar elaborates. A combination of technology and human interaction seems to be the golden formula for successful digital services.