A team at Brigham Young University is looking to make the law more accessible to those who can’t afford a lawyer.
LawX, a legal design lab starting this fall at the J. Reuben Clark Law School, aims to create products and solutions to make navigating the legal system easier.
The students will brainstorm, design a solution, test prototypes and implement a final solution, all in one semester.
“We won’t just be thinking how to solve problems,” said Kimball Parker, the founder of the legal education website CO/COUNSEL who will also oversee LawX. “We will build the solution.”
Parker said there’s a current crisis of a large population of people who are unable to afford to pay for expensive legal representation. He said only 1 percent of those sued in debt collection cases have an attorney.
“The overwhelming amount of people who are getting sued don’t have a lawyer,” he said.
Innovation in the area has lagged, he said, because it’s not profitable.
“This is a serious issue because navigating the law is very difficult and the consequences are high,” Parker said. “If you make the wrong move, you can lose a lawsuit. Period.”
But with BYU and its resources behind them, they’re hopeful they can come up with effective solutions, which could include software or pursuing legislation.
The lab’s first project will be focusing on making sure people without a lawyer can answer complaints on time.
Parker said when someone is sued, the person who is suing them files a complaint to initiate a lawsuit. That written complaint contains numbered paragraphs detailing how that person believes they were harmed and why the defendant should pay up. The person being sued must answer the complaint within a specific time — usually 21 days — or they’ll automatically lose the case.
“Many defendants who don’t have a lawyer, they just don’t answer the complaint because they don’t know what to do, which means they default and they lose,” Parker said.
Responding isn’t difficult, he said, but most people don’t know how to do it. They don’t know that they have to answer each numbered paragraph, and that there’s only three responses allowed by law — admitting to the information, denying it or saying they don’t know.
The lab team will be made up of a handful of second- and third-year law students, along with a fellow who will do extra work such as helping a product continue after the semester ends.
LawX is a product of Parker and Gordon Smith, dean of the law school. The two have been in contact for about a year and a half.
Smith is out of the country and was unavailable for an interview.
Parker anticipates the lab will work with other departments at BYU for solutions.
He said the lab, which will feel like a startup, will give students experiences they don’t get in other classes.
“The students are going to get their hands dirty in this, and that’s going to give them a perspective they’ve never had,” he said.
Future topics LawX might tackle including finding ways to make getting a protective order less complicated.