Thompson Rivers University

Law app could revolutionize court scheduling

May 12, 2016

Nawel Benrabah, a third-year law student, and her Law Hacks project team, present their SUMMONS app idea.

A group of TRU Law students have come up with a solution they say could revolutionize the court scheduling system, saving time and money and ultimately increasing access to justice for all Canadians.

SUMMONS is an app (currently in demo mode) that acts as an interface between court registries, the public and lawyers. The group came up with the idea for a project in their course Lawyering in the 21st Century, first offered at TRU Law last fall by Assistant Professor Katie Sykes.

The unique course fosters innovation in law—a conversation that is slowly gaining momentum, as discussed in the Spring 2016 issue of the CBA’s Magazine, National and an article on Sykes’ class in the August 2015 issue of Canadian Lawyer 4 Students.

“We had to come up with a way to challenge something in the legal profession and a way to improve it,” third-year student Nawel Benrabah explained during opening remarks of a presentation she delivered this afternoon to several members of the Kamloops Bar Association.

Benrabah and her SUMMONS team—fellow students Servesh Jeet, Nikta Shirazian, Megan Sahlstrom, Harman Bains and Houtan Sanandaji—are seeking feedback as they continue to develop their idea, but they know they are onto something.

“When we began looking into this, we realized there is nothing like this out there in the legal world.”

The app—which they say will always be free in the spirit of access to justice—may be used to schedule hearings and receive live updates of court schedules during the “interlocutory” or interim time between the beginning and end of an action, when many appearances may be necessary.

Currently, once a hearing is scheduled, there is no formalized way to know the time of day (other than morning or afternoon) it will actually occur, resulting in scheduling inefficiencies and potentially lengthy wait times. Since time is money, the wait times may end up reflected in the client billing, or, if individuals self-represent, the incurred cost is reflected in time taken off work to appear (and wait) in court.

“Our group all had experiences where we had to wait in court. We wanted to address that. The idea came from those red flashing buzzers that some restaurants use to call up patrons waiting for a table,” Benrabah explained.

SUMMONS also takes into account the complexity of the matter—a file number indicates the type of matter and considers average hearing times. The platform also has e-filing and e-signature capabilities. And, like Google Maps, it uses GPS technology to determine where you are and how long it would take you to arrive at the specified courthouse. Users would receive notification (i.e. via text message) of when their hearing is that day.

The mobile technology will only function, however, if the current court registry software is updated. Right now, it lacks the ability to communicate with the modern technology required by apps.

The group is hopeful that will happen, and say they have judges advocating for them on a provincial level, thanks in part to the networking abilities of TRU Law’s Judge-in-Residence (Ret.) Justice Richard Blair.

“The next step is a presentation in July to the Vancouver judiciary, which will include the Chief Justice of BC,” said Benrabah, adding they can plan how it works on paper but they need the real life perspective of experienced members of the legal community to be able to optimize the app or address challenges.

If all goes according to plan, the app will be piloted in Kamloops as early as next year. Future plans also include adding a desktop app, courtroom computers (for those without mobile devices or a computer) and a linguistic component for those who need the information in another language.

For more info:
Nawel Benrabah, third-year law student

Katie Sykes
Assistant Professor, TRU Law

Check out CBC media coverage on this story

Video: TRU Law Students Innovate for Justice



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