In November 2011, the Justice Education Society of BC began a pilot project to deliver virtual legal help services for British Columbians with civil legal matters in the Supreme Court of BC or BC Small Claims Court.
The project envisioned the delivery of three levels of triage to help self-representing litigants to be more able to work through court processes to address their legal issue.
Virtual Assistance: An expert system was developed that combines video-based assistance and interactive questions to provide users with guided pathways to the information they need. The system is fully automated, and it provides a human face to help users navigate to the information they need.
Chat and email Support: A knowledge base of questions and answers were developed to help provide hands-on support to website users. Law students provide live chat support Monday to Friday from 11am to 2pm. During offline hours, inquiries are submitted through an online form. The law students use the knowledge base to respond to user questions – live or by email.
Expert Support: When inquiries are too complex to be handled by chat or when they are too specific to be included in the knowledge base, then they are escalated to a contracted lawyer. The lawyer responds by email and provides legal information, but not legal advice.
The Virtual Legal Help Services project has been evaluated by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. The evaluation concludes that Virtual Legal Help Services provide British Columbians with a valued new support service.
91% of questionnaire respondents indicated they were satisfied or very satisfied with the virtual services they received.
84% said they feel more confident or very confident about their ability to deal with their legal issue.
Authored by Ab Currie, the evaluation report is now available online.