As part of our Women in Legal Tech event on the 2nd & 3rd November, we are releasing a series of interviews with inspiring women. Their stories offer advice and guidance for anyone thinking of entering the world of legal tech. Following the event, we will be collating all of the interviews in a free e-book. Keep an eye on our social media to get your copy.
More details of the Women in Legal Tech event can be found here.
Laura Kistemaker and Corry van Zeeland have been working together on ODR platforms for many years. The initially collaborated at HiiL on the Rechtwijzer project, before moving to their current roles.
Corry is currently head of the Rechtwijzer project (a portal for online civil disputes) with the Dutch Legal Aid board, a project she was instrumental in founding.
Laura is COO of Justice42, and has recently launched uitelkaar.nl, an online divorce platform which seeks to help parties through divorce in a transparent and low conflict manner. It offers help from real lawyers on demand.
Laura and Corry spoke to us about how to pioneer within the legal tech field, and the best way to build a public/private partnership. They also offered advice on aligning commercial interests with social impact.
As some may have read, the uitelkaar.nl portal was created as a second iteration of a less successful online divorce portal, developed by HiiL and the Dutch Legal Aid Board. How did you manage to turn the failure of the first Rechtwijzer platform into a success?
Corry: I never experienced it as a failure. It’s a part of innovation to build and experiment with something which inevitably doesn’t turn out the way you expected. In the first iteration, business models were a challenging thing for us. What I found important was that Laura and Kaspar (the CEO of uitelkaar.nl) said they wanted to continue with uitelkaar.nl in a different form, in order to learn from our mistakes and see it succeed.
Laura: The second phase which we built wouldn’t have been possible without the first version of Rechtwijzer. Even if we had known in advance that the first stage wouldn’t work, we still needed it. We needed the commitment of the government, of the public sector to put it on the map and provide funding, and that came through the first Rechtwijzer project. In both phases the role of the Raad voor Rechtsbijstand (Dutch Legal Aid board) was crucial.
Corry: At the Raad we always kept one thing in mind. Digital services are the future and we can help more people by using them. If you keep that in mind, it makes it possible to work through problems to achieve that ultimate goal.
Now rebuilding it – can you offer some tips for building a good public private relationship?
Laura: First, make sure you are aware of the differences between the private and the public sector. Make these differences explicit and talk about them. Startups are a lot faster moving that public institutions, for example. However, if you ask for an explanation people are happy to share reasons why things aren’t moving at the pace you were expecting. This can reduce tension. Also ensure you form a strong team. Have formal and informal meetings to strengthen bonds between the public and private side.
Corry: One of the lessons we learned is that roles were not always that explicit. The public sector may have different expectations or limitations for specific roles that the private sector does not. And vice versa. The best way to ensure everyone knows what they are accountable for is to do a stress test. Get someone to challenge the partnership and then see what you can learn from it.
How do you align interests between the public and the private? Between the need to satisfy investors and deliver social good?
Corry: It’s important to realise that as a public service we also must be accountable and spend money wisely and effectively. I think the way we solved this tension is in recognising that Justice 4 2 is a social impact organsation, and so has a focus on social good. What we also did was develop high quality criteria to determine which services the Raad offers to citizens. It assures us that we are offering the best services on our platform.
Laura: In one sense, yes we are a commercial business, but we are also a committed social enterprise. Our investors are social impact investors, so they want to see social value as well as profit. There is an overlap between the two. A good way we aligned interests with the Raad was by making things very transparent. The criteria we meet are available on the Raad’s website. It’s explainable to everyone.
Corry: Part of the criteria is that the Raad are the guardians of the citizens who will use uitelkaar.nl. Whatever decisions we make must always benefit the client. If you think about it it’s not that different from working with lawyers and mediators. These are commercial parties too.
We see that ODR has a lot of human elements to drive on the process, but there are also a lot of bots coming in. Do you see a day when bots will play a bigger role in ODR?
Corry: When I look at the target group of public legal aid, people with low income or little to no education, my answer is yes and no. Yes, in that I think chatbots or non-text support can help people understand what they are experiencing and what they can do. Still, around 30-40% of that legal aid target group do need human support. I think Roger Smith said “the best way is to combine the cold computer with the warm human touch.”
Laura: I also think that success lies in the combination of human and machine intervention. People do meet lawyers in our process. But I do see, that for our intake, which is currently text heavy, that machine intervention could improve the process. It would depend on the sophistication of the bot, but if we could turn part of that intake into a conversation with your computer, which would be recorded and shareable and wouldn’t frustrate people, that would be good.
What piece of technology/software has made the biggest impact on your working life in the last five years?
Corry: Its definitely my iPhone. It does everything!
Laura: Yes, me too! I don’t know what I’d do without it sometimes.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for legal tech in the next five years?
Corry: Getting justice into the homes of people. So ensuring fair access to justice and ensuring that the technology is really meeting people’s needs.
Laura: I agree. We need to lose the legal in legal tech.
If you were to start your own technology or legal tech business what would it be?
Laura: Hmm. I think I’m already covered on this one!
Corry: Yes, I think Rechtwijzer is my answer too.
How do you maintain a good work/life balance? And does technology help you with that?
Laura: I think technology can be an infringement as well as a solution. You can work from home and have access to all of your information, but obviously this means there is no divide between private and work life. Maintaining the balance is a personal thing. Know what your priorities and boundaries are and be happy with the balance you reach.
Corry: I think employers should become much more modern. A job should not be about working 40 or 50 hours. It should be about whether the job is done. Employers should look to maintain a caring distance, where they can say you’ve done a good job, or you’re working too hard. The idea that you need to show up for eight hours a day is out-dated.
What advice would you like to have had during your career (that you had to find out for yourself)?
Laura: It would have helped me more if I had known, or had the confidence that things turn out alright. You can stand things much better if you know that things will turn out ok in the end!
Corry: Trust your instincts and act if you feel tension. I find that women often doubt themselves, or their intuition in many situations. Trust that your gut feelings are right, and if you have negative feelings, address them.