Neota Logic has announced the launch of the Beta version of a new product in December. This is to be called Canvas and will deploy ‘AI-powered automation to digitize your expertise and deploy professional web applications in minutes’. The idea is that any amateur can produce their own professional-standard application. We know little about detail or price. But, the implication of this sort of development could be important for those in the access to justice sector.
You can see why Neota has developed Canvas. This is a company with a global profile and a savvy approach. It is headquartered in New York but has offices in Australia and London. Among its commercial clients, it boasts KPMG, Allens (an Australian firm linked to Linklaters), US firm Gilbert and Tobin and London-based Simmons and Simmons. But, it also powers Ontario’s Ryerson University’s Legal Innovation Zone’s Family Law Portal. And it makes a point of its commitment to education and pro bono: ‘… we are investing in our Professional Education and Pro Bono Program, teaching our technology in 18 leading universities around the world and collaborating with global initiatives such as Law Without Walls and Global Legal Hackathon. To date, we have trained over 600 students in Neota in 5 countries and provided young professionals with opportunities to work on real-life Access to Justice issues through our Pro Bono Program and in doing so opening up new career pathways for them.’ Among its universities are prestigious Georgetown where it sponsors the ‘irontech lawyer’ competition) Limerick, London South Bank (where, full disclosure, I am a visiting professor) and the University of Melbourne.
The aim of this educational activity is ‘to present courses in which students learn how to create software applications that “think like lawyers” to conduct analysis, provide guidance, generate documents, and facilitate interaction between clients and lawyers. As students gain hands-on experience building applications, they simultaneously learn traditional legal skills and how to serve the 21st-century needs of clients—all while promoting access to justice.’
The individual commercial logic of Canvas is presumably as a feeder system which will, in time, deliver customers to Neota’s more sophisticated packages. The more general point is its positioning in the legal services market. There has been a debate, particularly in the US, about whether modern lawyers ‘need to learn to code’. Well, they pretty self-evidently don’t. Life is too short. But they may benefit from understanding how code can be used and how that can change legal practice.
‘Build Canvas’ simple point-and-click interface is as easy to use as drawing on a whiteboard. Drag and drop tools. Connect with arrows. Within minutes you’ll have a functional web application capable of sophisticated reasoning and complex outcomes.
Test Canvas comes with a suite of powerful and functional tools built-in. Ask questions. Apply formulas and calculations. Compose messages. Send emails. Canvas’ simple UI makes testing and prototyping your ideas intuitive and elegant.
Share With Canvas, you can publish your application to the web with a single click. Share, collaborate and gain feedback immediately. Start scaling your expertise immediately. Rapidly creating and sharing apps has never been easier.’
I should emphasise again that no one can say whether Canvas will actually do these things – or at what price. It is not yet launched. But never mind about that. And other products are, of course, available in the build your own legal app market. But you have to commend Neota for, at the very least, its clear marketing and articulation of a role. And the particular importance of this lies in where we are at the moment in relation to the development of technology in access to justice. Organisations are using ‘trickle down’ business management processes developed for the commercial market like case management systems. But they are, frankly, a bit stuck at the point of using the interactive capacities of the net. Most information and assistance is still lineally presented. Most processes are traditionally performed. Here and there, we can see interactivity in the form of such developments as self assembly documentation programmes, chatbots and guided pathways. But not, frankly, that much.
Neota and/or similar providers could provide a way for a massive expansion in the use of technology among law centres, legal aid practices and other providers of legal services to people on low incomes. Their products would have to be good enough; accessible enough; and cheap enough. But, if they can do what Neota has written on the tin, the road would then be open for people much more easily to collaborate in providing innovative ways of driving forward their services to their users. They could play around with what can be done without committing to expensive consultants. At the very least, they could develop ideas much further before doing so.
And, such a move could even not only be worthy – but a lot of fun. So, go get some lego. We can play around with Legaldesign while we wait for Neota or some other provider to deliver a viable DIY legal app creator for external or internal use.