Thompson Rivers University

Law students compete in Battle of the Apps

April 20, 2017

Erik Thorsteinsson (left), Charlotte Hall and Tyler Martens presented their app creation to a panel of judges at Battle of the Apps on April 13. The students' apps are designed to enhance access to justice.

A class of TRU Law students has unveiled four new apps that they developed this semester, presenting their creations to a panel of judges at the first ever “Battle of the Apps” competition on April 13.

Each group developed an app as a project for Assistant Professor Katie Sykes’ new course Designing Legal Expert Systems: Apps for Access to Justice.

“The goal is to facilitate broader access to justice for all, to automate the application of legal knowledge,” explained Sykes.

The groups were each assigned a non-profit organization to work with and learned how to use no-code software from Neota Logic (licensed by TRU Law for the purpose of this course) to create decision-making trees to build out the app.

“Our app is able to proficiently organize copious amounts of user facts into useful legal forms,” said Gurdeep Randhawa, whose winning group developed an app that will be useful for lawyers volunteering with RISE Women’s Legal Centre in Vancouver, an organization that assists victimized women.

Randhawa says she was excited to be involved with such an innovative legal learning experience.

Students Gurdeep Randawa, Scott Duncan and Kenneth Taylor (third to fifth from left) pose with volunteer judging panel Ann Rounthwaite, Digital Communications Coordinator, Provincial Court of BC (far left), Katrina Leung, Founder, Intuos Law and Co-working Lawyer, Clio (third from right), Dr. Haytham El Miligi, TRU Computing Science (second from right) and Hon. Thomas Crabtree, Chief Judge, Provincial Court of BC (far right). Prof. Katie Sykes is second from left.

“I enjoyed the course because it created a space for forward thinking and an integration with today’s digital era along with legal knowledge,” she said.

Sykes says the group’s app for RISE has tremendous potential to enhance access to justice.

“Complex court forms that are difficult to complete can be a barrier and take up a lot of time, both for self-represented litigants and for lawyers,” she said.

“Their app helps to make the process more streamlined and user-friendly.”

Meanwhile, another group developed an animal cruelty reporting app in conjunction with Animal Justice Canada and the BC SPCA.

“The idea is that not everyone knows if what they are seeing legally qualifies as abuse, and if so, who they would even report to, so it’s an app that makes it easier for people to report these things and to make it accessible to everybody,” explained Erik Thorsteinsson of his group’s app.

Listen to Thorsteinsson and fellow team member Tyler Martens talk about their app on the April 13 edition of the Jim Harrison Show:

Passionate about innovation and access to justice, Sykes based her course and the project on a similar offering at Georgetown Law, and as far as she knows, hers is the only course of its kind offered among Canadian law schools.

The next step for the groups will be to work on fully implementing their apps, going live, and making recommendations for any future iterations.

Summary of the apps:

*Winner* – RISE Women’s Legal Centre App: Gurdeep Randhawa, Kenneth Taylor and Scott Duncan

Background and impact: RISE Women’s Legal Centre in Vancouver assists women who are victims of violence, abuse and unequal power dynamics. A legal form app will aid in the efficiency and accessibility of legal services, specifically helping women in the area of family law and child protection law.

Users: Upper-year law students and lawyers volunteering with RISE Women’s Legal Centre.

Functionality: The app will generate thirteen family law-related forms in the province of BC. The user will input their data at one time and will choose which form(s) they are in need of, and the app will then fill the forms. The app will help streamline and manage RISE’s client intake procedure.

The NSRLP Intake Interview App: Greg von Euw, Emily Raven and Joseph Iwanicki

Background and impact: The National Self-Represented Litigants Project (NSRLP) works to promote dialogue among those affected by the self-represented litigant (SRL) phenomenon. This app creates a document for SRLs that clearly lays out their legal issue and other appropriate information so they can more easily access legal services.

Users: SRLs seeking a convenient and cost-effective way to have their legal needs met and to connect with professionals offering unbundled or limited scope services.

Functionality: The app serves two purposes—it gathers information from the user through self-guided assessment and places the information into a tailored letter for the user. Secondly, if the user chooses to, they can access contact information for lawyers in their area who practice the related type of law.

CIPPIC: Copyright Demand Notice Response: Nick James and Bianca Mutis

Background and impact: The Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC) is a foundation and clinic based at the University of Ottawa, whose mission is to fill voids in public policy debate on technology law issues and to provide legal assistance to under-represented  organizations on related matters. This app specifically assists targets of copyright demand letters and helps users assess the risk of being sued.

Users: Everyday Canadians who have been contacted by a copyright holder stating that their copyright has been infringed.

Functionality: The app is designed to educate users on how much risk is posed by the copyright troll by assessing the level of risk, and by identifying cost-efficient solutions to manage the risks identified based on the user’s risk tolerance.

Animal Cruelty Reporting App: Erik Thorsteinsson, Tyler Martens and Charlotte Hall

Background and impact: The Animal Cruelty Reporting App is designed with the goal of providing those who witness animal abuse with a quick, easy-to-use platform to report animal cruelty wherever they are. The greater underlying goal is to normalize animal cruelty reporting, supporting partner organizations Animal Justice Canada and the BC SPCA.

Users: Anyone witnessing animal abuse or cruelty who wishes to report it.

Functionality: The app serves as an immediate resource for people who are confronted with animal abuse and wish to report it and have it investigated. The app will allow users to report in an efficient manner.

For more information:
Assistant Prof. Katie Sykes

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