The Apps for Justice Project: Employing Design Thinking to Narrow the Access to Justice Gap

43 Pages Posted: 14 Dec 2017 Last revised: 18 Dec 2017

See all articles by Lois R. Lupica

Lois R. Lupica

University of Maine School of Law

Tobias Franklin

ABA Center for Innovation

Sage M. Friedman

Murray, Plumb & Murray

Date Written: December 12, 2017


The lack of available resources to make civil justice available to all, coupled with the fact that existing strategies fail to account for the research on cognitive capacity and other deployment challenges faced by the poor, explain in large part why a high percentage of low-income individuals facing legal problems fail to take action to respond to their legal problems. Such a failure to respond in a timely fashion to a nascent legal problem can lead to an escalation of the initial problem and the emergence of new ones.

The access-to-justice community has begun to respond to this intensifying crisis in ever-more creative and innovative ways. Recent years have seen an expanding array of technology and non-technology-based tools designed with the purpose of helping people who cannot afford market-rate lawyers. Such innovations have recently led to adjustments in funding for legal aid programs and in advancements in self-help and assisted-self-help tools. These advancements include on-line client intake systems, self-help triage programs, legal diagnostic tools, robot lawyer chat systems, and legal expert system applications. These tools have the potential to be scaled to serve millions more people and make possible a system that provides effective legal help to everyone who needs it, when they need it, and in a form they can use.

The Apps for Justice Project has focused on the development of one such solution to the access-to-justice crisis. Launched in 2016 and funded with a grant from the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, Apps for Justice has developed practical, technology-based tools (applications, or apps) that enable low- and moderate-income residents to address their legal and law-related problems. The apps, written at a fourth grade reading level to best serve the widest audience, use plain language rather than legal jargon. Additionally, drawing on the literature from distance education, public health, behavioral economics, experimental psychology, cognitive psychology, and sociology, each app includes links to positive self-affirmation exercises and employs psychologically affirming language. This article describes both the evolution and development process of this project.

Keywords: Access to justice; law and technology; law apps; expert systems; design thinking; human-centered design; protyping; testing; user-experience; law school technology labs

JEL Classification: K1, K11, K36, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Lupica, Lois R. and Franklin, Tobias and Friedman, Sage M., The Apps for Justice Project: Employing Design Thinking to Narrow the Access to Justice Gap (December 12, 2017). Fordham Urban Law Journal, Vol. XLIV, 2017, Available at SSRN:

Lois R. Lupica (Contact Author)

University of Maine School of Law ( email )

246 Deering Avenue
Portland, ME 04102
United States

Tobias Franklin

ABA Center for Innovation ( email )

321 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60610
United States

Sage M. Friedman

Murray, Plumb & Murray ( email )

75 Pearl St # 300
Portland, ME 04101
United States

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