The Rechtwijzer Rides Again

The Dutch Rechtwijzer, after a short pause, has been reborn – with, at least initially, a stronger Dutch orientation and less of the international razzamatazz. There has been some tweaking of the product – but the changes are designed only for improvement. The basic package remains untouched. Behind the scenes, the organisational structure has been streamlined in order to add flexibility.

The new product goes by its Dutch name: uitelkaar.nl. It is produced by what is effectively a tech startup company, justice42 (that is justice for two – geddit? Plus, it turns out that the founders are familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy). Shareholders include the Belgian and Dutch social impact funds bankrolling the project and The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law which hold two  originally developed the Rechtwijzer. Enough funding has been provided for three to four years of development. The fund eventually want their money back but, even more, they want to see measurable social impact. The consequent target entails persuading 5 to 10 per cent of divorcing partners to use the platform.

Compared with most startups, justice42 is in a favourable position. It has inherited a project that has attracted international acclaim and high satisfaction ratings from its admittedly too few users. In its two years of operation, 2500 people used the old system, with 900 going all the way to divorce. Thus, there has been pretty good proof of concept. The Legal Aid Board, which was invested heavily in terms of both staff time and money, has been content to allow the new administration to administer the legal aid that subsidises low income users. Otherwise, the basic cost is 425 euros per party.

The website takes the user through the same stages from free intake and assessment to the production of an agreement for lawyer approval and then forwarding to a judge for the final court consent. You pay a fixed price for additional elements like arbitration and mediation. The new site only opened for business on 8 September and, rather charmingly, a board in the company’s offices is charting referrals on a daily basis. Some of the early trade came from those whose progress on the Rechtwijzer was interrupted by its demise. Already eight couples have made it to the end but the project has yet really to get into its stride.

One improvement has been the incorporation of more human assistance to users. Justice42 staff provide call centre assistance and a manager reviews the case at the end of the process before it goes to the lawyer for approval. Another – which will be less immediately apparent to users – is the end of the cumbersome tripartite arrangement between the Legal Aid Board, HiiL and US software developer Modria. Justice42 controls the whole operation with, at present, a small staff of seven assisted by two Dutch IT firms. Finally, more attention will be paid to marketing – which previously was the responsibility of a Legal Aid Board hamstrung by its public responsibilities.

The international strategy is different from that of the Rechtwijzer which had, from the start, a highly visible international profile. Indeed, it may have been more visible internationally than domestically. Judtice42’s intention is to prove itself in the Dutch market and then move out internationally. And good luck to them. This is still potentially a world leading product.

Hiil’s characteristically bullish Professor Maurits Barendrect is proud of the reincarnation of the Rechtwijzer  project to which he has given so much time in recent years. He announced proudly, ‘This agreement builder shows the answer to the access justice crisis and the bankruptcy of the adversarial system’. Justice42’s CEO, Kaspar Scheltema, commented rather less controversially: ‘We are proud that our platform is centralising the needs of our customers: providing personalised suggestions on custom-made divorce plans; and empowering people to develop their agreements in their own words with a quality check from divorce lawyers who are, in turn, able to handle their cases more efficiently’.

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