What is MyLawBC?
MyLawBC is an innovative new online service that expands access to justice. Initiated by the Legal Services Society, this interactive application actively engages users to identify and address common legal problems. Users will follow a guided pathway, which identifies their needs and enables them to take action to solve their problem. This is an entirely new approach to providing Public Legal Education and Information (PLEI) in BC. We will launch MyLawBC by the end of February 2016.
For family law issues, MyLawBC includes a negotiation platform where former partners can work on resolving issues through online dialogue. Newly expanded Family LawLINE telephone services complement the online features for a uniquely integrated approach to online family law services.
What makes MyLawBC new and different?
MyLawBC is markedly different from other PLEI resources because:
- it engages the user in a series of questions and answers to help diagnose their legal issue,
- it lays out a step-by-step action plan to address that issue, and
- it includes a family negotiation platform, with the potential for additional dispute resolution services at a later date.
By having a “conversation” with the user, MyLawBC can customize the information provided to the user and only give them what they need to know. By supporting conversations between people in conflict through the negotiation platform, MyLawBC supports the early resolution of family problems.
What is a guided pathway?
Guided pathways are a way for the site to diagnose a legal problem and lead the user to appropriate next steps. As users navigate the site, they will be asked a series of questions. Their answers to these questions will determine the information and the resources they see and, ultimately, the action plan they receive at the end of the pathway.
Guided pathways are already familiar to many British Columbians in other contexts, such as taxes and health. MyLawBC is part of an international movement to provide legal information in new and innovative ways, taking advantage of continuing developments in technology.
What is the negotiation platform?
This is the tool that lets both people in a conflict chat with each other online and develop an agreement together that resolves the issues. For family law disputes, the negotiation platform encourages reflection on common goals and interests that may aid resolution. It provides a format using legal information and standard phrasing that will lead to a separation agreement developed by both parties.
What areas of law will MyLawBC cover?
When the site first launches, it will focus on:
- family law issues around divorce and separation,
- family violence,
- advanced life planning,
- wills and estates, and
As we move forward, we envision the site growing to cover more areas of law that touch the everyday lives of ordinary British Columbians.
How did LSS choose these topics?
We reviewed BC literature on legal needs, including LSS-Law Foundation funded reports, and consulted with PLEI providers to determine priority needs and audiences. We chose topics that respond to those priorities, taking into account available resources and taking care not to duplicate efforts where other agencies plan to respond to those priorities.
Does MyLawBC replace the Family Law website, Aboriginal website, and LSS’ other PLEI materials?
No. MyLawBC does not replace the Family Law in BC website, Aboriginal Legal Aid in BC website, or any of our other PLEI materials. It is an entirely different way to access legal information. MyLawBC will guide people to take actions that are unique to their situation, and support them to better understand, manage, and/or resolve their legal issues.
How will LSS measure MyLawBC’s success?
We will track the site’s usage to find what is or isn’t working in the guided pathways. In addition, we will gather feedback through multiple web surveys and in-person focus groups to ensure MyLawBC delivers the innovative solutions we aim for.
What public need does MyLawBC meet?
In almost any conversation about the barriers to accessing justice, members of the public express high levels of frustration with the overwhelming amount of information online and how hard it is to identify the correct and reliable resource for their needs. Research into how people find information online supports this view.
MyLawBC will make it easy for people to find what they need. It will empower them to take action to solve everyday legal problems. Instead of spending hours browsing various sites and trying to sort out which information applies to their situation and still not knowing what actual steps to take to move their own matter to a resolution, people can find an immediate answer to their problem that doesn’t involve reading about options that don’t apply to them.
How will MyLawBC help improve the justice system?
MyLawBC will increase access to justice for everyday issues, which will improve confidence in the justice system. It empowers people to take actions to resolve their problems before they escalate to matters requiring the courts. MyLawBC will support people in making decisions and accessing resources — from free legal services, including mediation, to advice on when getting a lawyer is the best option and how to do that. If going to court is necessary, MyLawBC will help users of modest means to access easy-to-use self-help guides and support.
Does MyLawBC support lawyers who want to improve access to justice in BC?
MyLawBC provides a collaborative tool lawyers can trust to help them make the most efficient use of their time with clients. Legal advice and costs can focus on the more complex and intractable problems. Lawyers who direct their clients to this resource will have better-informed clients and be better able to support the increasing numbers of people looking for unbundled or fixed-fee services. Lawyers will know that clients who use MyLawBC have access to up-to-date, reliable information and forms.
How is MyLawBC collaborative?
We actively engaged many non-profits, including among others, PLEI and community agencies, Access Pro Bono, the BC Elders Institute, and government departments, for assistance ranging from consultation, advice, and contributions to the project vision, setting priorities for topic areas, and the generative scrum process used to develop the guided pathways.
We will establish an advisory committee and other working groups as needed among stakeholders, which will help guide the site’s development. The MyLawBC platform provides the opportunity for future PLEI collaboration, as other agencies may lead the development of additional pathways or subject streams.
What consultations did LSS have?
We consulted with all major PLEI providers and justice system stakeholders in BC.
My clients have literacy barriers. Can they work through MyLawBC on their own, or will they need my help?
MyLawBC will be written in plain language and developed to be usable by people with no legal knowledge. Some people may still need help. We will emphasize user testing throughout development to ensure the site we build takes into account users’ needs and minimizes barriers posed by low literacy and computer skills.
How do members of the public access MyLawBC?
You can access all the services on MyLawBC by visiting www.mylawbc.com.
What services does MyLawBC provide?
MyLawBC guides you to services and tools to solve legal problems, and provides a unique tool for separating couples to negotiate a separation agreement together.
Guided pathways are a way for the site to diagnose a legal problem and lead you to appropriate next steps. You’ll be asked a series of questions. Your answers to these questions will determine the information and resources you see and the action plan you’ll receive at the end of the pathway.
In addition, the site’s online negotiation platform will allow former couples to work together at their leisure and without being in the same room, allowing for a more thoughtful approach to reaching agreements.
Will MyLawBC allow me to apply for legal aid?
You won’t be able to apply for legal aid directly through MyLawBC. The site may recommend that you apply for legal aid and point you to where you could apply.
Currently, all applications for legal aid are made in person or over the phone. We’re investigating online applications separately from MyLawBC.
What if I get stuck — is there someone I can call to help?
LSS Community Partners and legal aid offices will all be able to help you navigate the site. There will be contact details for people experiencing technical difficulties. We plan to add additional user support services, such as live chat or a virtual assistant.
I am not tech savvy. Will I be able to figure it out?
The site is written in plain language and the guided pathways are built in steps that ask users basic questions with limited options for answers. You don’t need technical knowledge other than the ability to use the Internet. If you want to meet someone face to face for an overview of the site, LSS Community Partners and legal aid offices will all be able to help you navigate the site.
Will my personal information be safe? Will it be visible to the public?
MyLawBC will meet or exceed the highest security and privacy standards for online services. In the limited instances where personal information is stored, it will be secure. Your information won’t be visible to the public.
Won’t it just be easier to talk to someone directly about my situation?
We know many people benefit from in-person services. MyLawBC is not a replacement for in-person services, and it will encourage and direct users to appropriate face-to-face support.
However, in-person services are limited by location and time in ways that online services are not. MyLawBC will serve those who are able to work with online resources, prefer online services, or those who are unable to access in-person services. MyLawBC users will get the information they need to move forward while developing a deeper understanding of their legal issue. This will save time when they access in-person services.
MyLawBC also includes a self-assessment so that users can decide whether they should try to handle their case on their own.
My situation is pretty complicated. Can MyLawBC still help me?
The guided pathways that MyLawBC provides are designed to help you with your situation. They are customized, based on the answers that you provide. If your situation is too complicated for MyLawBC, it will refer you to other services that can help you solve your problem.
Do I need to fill out my information all in one sitting?
Guided pathways are short and can be finished in one sitting. The action plan you receive at the end of the pathway can be downloaded to print.
Your action plan may include self-help resources that are on MyLawBC or partner sites. Resources on partner sites will generally enable you to download and store documents to your own computer.
If you are going to work on a separation agreement on MyLawBC, you can work on it on your own schedule in multiple sittings.
How is MyLawBC funded?
LSS is funded by government and non-government revenues. Our most significant source of non-government revenue is a core grant from the Law Foundation. Other sources include interest-based grants from the Notaries Foundation and interest from LSS accounts.
For MyLaw BC, we reallocated core non-government funding, primarily that portion of the Law Foundation grant that will be eliminated in future years. This will fund MyLawBC’s one-time development costs.
As our non-government funding depends on interest rates, it is subject to increases and decreases. Directing some of this funding into online services that can withstand decreases and scale up in the event of funding increases enables us to provide consistent service delivery.
Will MyLawBC be expensive to maintain?
We’ve budgeted for ongoing site maintenance comparable to other sites such as our Family Law Website. By spring 2018, LSS will have gathered useful data on the site’s usage, which will allow us to make an informed decision for its future direction, including how best to sustain the site.
Why is LSS spending this money on a website rather than more in-person services?
We know in-person services are important. When we decided to develop MyLawBC, we allocated additional funding to support in-person services through our Community Partners and Aboriginal Services departments. A robust community service network across BC means we can better meet our mandate to provide not only legal representation, but also public legal education and information. People are a key component to the success of our online services. By delivering this information online we’re able to reach a wider audience than would otherwise be possible.
Why is LSS partnering with HiiL?
HiiL is a not-for-profit research and advisory institute for the justice sector in the Netherlands. Together with the Dutch Legal Aid Board, it developed an interactive legal information and empowerment site called Rechtwijzer (“Signposts to Justice”). This website is one of the main inspirations for MyLawBC.
HiiL provides not only an innovative and tested platform for providing legal information in guided pathways, but also the knowledge behind creating those guided pathways. No other provider could give us both the technology and the expertise that we need to make MyLawBC a reality.
How did LSS choose HiiL?
We investigated the options available for software to create the guided pathways. We found that HiiL (with its partnership with Modria) was the most qualified to work with us and deliver the end product we envisioned. The Rechtwijzer platform builds on solid experience with interactive information platforms, best practices for online dispute resolution for family problems, and research knowledge obtained from users, professionals, and top academics.
Rechtwijzer charges users; will MyLawBC charge users too?
Rechtwijzer has a robust separation section. This section walks users through the separation process from start to finish so that former partners can build their own separation agreements. It also gives optional access to mediators and adjudicators who help ensure a fair separation agreement for both sides; Rechtwijzer charges user fees to access this section of the site as a way to fund the service and to pay the mediators and adjudicators for their services. MyLawBC won’t include these services when it goes live, so it won’t charge for them.
Could MyLawBC include online dispute resolution services?
The MyLawBC platform is based on the Rechtwijzer platform and could be expanded to include online mediation and arbitration services. However, this is outside of the current project’s scope.