In response to the surge in self-represented litigants bringing family law matters before the courts, Legal Aid BC (LABC) created MyLawBC.com.
MyLawBC offers users two interactive dispute resolution tools. The Mediation tool takes people to the Family Resolution Centre where free online mediation helps separating parents to develop their parenting plan. The Dialogue tool allows parents to collaborate on a legally-valid separation agreement.
“We wanted to empower people to know that they can do it on their own,” says Candice Lee, Manager of Digital Delivery at LABC.
MyLawBC has eight guided pathways, which allows users to diagnose their legal problems by answering a series of questions, and download a subsequent action plan for resolving the issue. It offers helpful guides for drafting separation agreements, handling family violence, dealing with foreclosure, as well as other administrative supports like how to draw up a will or a representation agreement.
Since its launch in May 2016, MyLawBC has had over 166,000 visits to the site and roughly 22,049 people have learned about creating a separation plan. Over 445 couples have used the Dialogue tool to collaborate on a separation agreement.
LABC engaged in a thorough research, design, and prototyping process to arrive at the Family Resolution Centre. They first gathered funders, mediators, the courts, and other stakeholders in the legal community to establish the most critical family law issues facing British Columbians. They then worked with experts in specific subject matter areas—like domestic violence, women’s issues, and advocates from rural communities—to gather insights about the day-to-day issues with which clients approach them and the challenges they face in developing services to meet those needs. After this research, they worked with the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HIIL) and Tyler Technologies to design the platform.
One factor that LABC considered when designing the platform is that digital experiences can be alienating for people navigating what is often a highly emotional topic. Designing experiences to navigate difficult decisions in an online environment can be a challenge, says Lee. Because people are reacting to what is on screen instead of interacting with a person, putting effort into user experience is crucial. “People can sometimes get stuck on a word that emotionally impacts them at the time,” commented Lee, “people can have an emotional experience with what’s in front of them.”
MyLawBC encourages people to get legal advice before signing a binding agreement, and connects them to free advice services. The LABC team continues to iterate on the tools, incorporating user feedback to make improvements. They expect to do a full upgrade of the platform in the coming months. In the fall of 2020, LABC also plans to launch a similar mediation-based tool for help navigating child support. Future iterations of the platform will include spousal support and property division tools.