Here’s a thought experiment for you: if you took a banker from the 19th Century and dropped them into a modern high street branch, how long would it take them to get to work?
How familiar would the world of ATMs, electronic payments, internet banking, complex financial vehicles and so on be? Now exchange banker for lawyer – and the systems and processes by which law operates are, by and large, still the same.
Here in South Africa, the need for a shake-up of the way we provide legal services is clear. On the surface, our legal system is robust: we have an independent judiciary, which is accountable to the Constitution. But at the point of interaction the system often breaks down, whether it’s corrupt cops, wilful ignorance of gender violence or the cost and expense of drawing up and enforcing business contracts, every aspect of law is ripe for innovation.
And one way to help that is The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law’s (HiiL) Justice Accelerator programme. It’s currently recruiting legally minded entrepreneurs who want to do for justice systems what M-PESA did for cash in the informal economy. On offer is a mix of equity-free funding, local training, a spot at the annual Justice Entrepreneurship School in The Netherlands and access to a large network of potential partners, investors and like-minded folk from legal, professional and business backgrounds.
Can you imagine a world where Facebook chatbots dispense legal services, or those on trial have digital access to their case dockets and court calendars? Where advice for land claims or service delivery issues is just an SMS away? Or any one of a thousand other applications of common technology applied to justice issues in South Africa?
If the answer is yes, then put yourself forward for the Justice Accelerator. It’s currently looking for entrepreneurs, lawyers, civil activists and technologists – anyone who has an idea that can change the way law operates for the better. All applications are welcome: HiiL’s objective is to grow sustainable organisations in the sector, but we also want to help get nascent ideas off the ground by building a network of local practitioners.
Last year HiiL supported two organisations in South Africa, including Legal Legends.
In general, we find that justice innovations fall into three categories:
- Legal information, awareness and education: legal education & rights awareness, data and transparency;
- Access to justice, legal services and dispute resolution: legal services – ‘Lawyers 2.0’, dispute systems and procedures, human rights and protective measures;
- Inclusive justice policies: rule-making and governance, compliance and enforcement, advocacy and corruption fighting.
If you’ve got an idea or organisation that fits the bill, we’d love to hear from you.
Applications for the Justice Accelerator close on 30 June, and should be made via the website at www.innovatingjustice.com. We’re also holding several events over the next few weeks, including:
Open Maboneng, Johannesburg, Friday 9 June 3.30pm
Workshop 17, Cape Town, Thursday 15 June 1pm
Look forward to seeing you there.
Adam Oxford is an agent for HiiL in Southern Africa.