UNSW law students build winning citizenship eligibility bot with Josef

What do you get when you pair a community legal centre and law students using legaltech? A powerful digital access to justice tool.

A group of law students have won the Shark Tank competition for a course at UNSW Law and Justice for an intake and advice chatbot they built using Josef.

For the course Designing Technology Solutions for Access to Justice, students Samuel Pryde, Jason Dong, Checker McCarthy, Tina Sharma and Nicholas Parker partnered with the Immigration Advice and Rights Centre (IARC) to build a chatbot that offers advice to potential applicants of Australian citizenship. 

The course – sponsored by Gilbert + Tobin – gives students the opportunity to use different technologies, like Josef, to improve access to legal services at various non-profits. 

Professor Lyria Bennett Moses

Professor Lyria Bennett Moses

Professor Lyria Bennett Moses, who teaches the legal design course and is the Director of the Allens Hub for Technology, Law and Innovation at UNSW Law and Justice, said the subject offers students a broad range of skills beyond prototyping legaltech tools and apps.

“They learn about project management, how to work in a team, and how to work with an organisation. They learn creativity and how to think outside the box, along with presentation skills,” she said.

“Students really get a sense of what can be done and of what can’t be done, and I want to emphasise that these tools aren’t magic… they have constraints, and you have choices to make.”

Abode: The citizenship eligibility intake and advice bot

The course is not only a valuable learning exercise for students, but also benefits the overburdened lawyers at the under-resourced community legal centres they partner with. 

It also serves help seekers: trying to find out if you’re eligible for citizenship is a confusing, jargon-laden minefield that thousands of people in Australia go through every year.

IARC provides free legal advice and assistance in relation to immigration, citizenship, and refugee and humanitarian visas. Director Greg Rohan said they receive hundreds of inquiries every year about citizenship eligibility. So it made sense for UNSW law students to build a Josef bot, named Abode, that assesses citizenship eligibility, triages urgent or complicated cases, and creates documentation, like advice letters, for help seekers. 

“Automating the simple issues frees up our capacity to focus our time on the more complicated matters. ”
– Greg Rohan

“Most of the citizenship inquiries are relatively simple questions about eligibility, which we identified as ones that could potentially be handled by a bot,” Greg said.

Those with more complicated issues, concerning identity or character for example, can be triaged and assigned to a lawyer at the centre. 

“Automating the simple issues frees up our capacity to focus our time on the more complicated matters, where we can help the client resolve their legal issue,” he said.

IARC’s lawyers currently devote an entire day every week to conducting advice sessions over the phone, in follow ups to inquiries usually made by email. These advice sessions run for at least 15 minutes, and require lawyers to collect answers to many of the questions needed to give an immediate eligibility assessment.

The bot, which was designed to complement and integrate with existing workflows at the centre, aims to eliminate the task of gathering information.

This lets lawyers spend more time speaking to and building rapport with clients who have the most pertinent legal issues, while addressing the majority of inquiries at speed and at scale.

Nicholas Parker

Nicholas Parker

A simple and empathetic user experience

Student Nicholas Parker said the course took students through concepts of user testing, rapid prototyping, and creative design from a UX and a UI perspective, which they applied to the Abode citizenship eligibility bot.

“We had to collect a lot of information from users because IARC has certain limitations on who they can provide advice to, and we wanted to collect personal information in a way that was easy to understand, but also didn’t feel invasive, or feel like a negative experience for users,” he said.

“There’s also the question of being able to deliver legal concepts in a way where the language is able to be understood by the largest possible cross-section of people… by removing the legalese and including a more plain spoken form of English, without becoming inaccurate.”

The bot also removes the need for help seekers to book a formal appointment with a lawyer, and instead get the information and help they need speedily.

“What this bot allows someone to do is answer questions about their citizenship eligibility from the comfort of their own home – or from anywhere – and be able to revisit it, which was another crucial accessibility consideration we had.”

Nicholas said despite not having a technical background, Josef was easy to use. “It allows me to do things that, traditionally, I would have needed to have some kind of software understanding, or coding, to be able to do.”

“Josef gave me an understanding of all the other things that are possible through legaltech,” he said.

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