Berlin As easy as online shopping, enter data directly online and don’t worry about high legal bills: These are the arguments used to advertise legal portals such as Conny, Myright and Flightright for their services. Legal tech companies offer citizens the option of resolving disputes such as tenancy law and diesel scandal or flight cancellations at the click of a mouse. Of course, for a success fee or by assigning claims.
The citizens themselves are reluctant to go to court. Surveys show that a lawsuit can only be considered if the financial loss exceeds 2,000 euros. The cost risk is considered a major inhibitor. The process is perceived as complicated. And the claims cannot be asserted online in court.
So something like state legal tech would have to be produced. In order to make progress here, four digital talents are now to develop a prototype software solution for the Federal Ministry of Justice. It’s not about a ready-made online lawsuit tool. But probably about preparing a digital offer from the judiciary in concrete terms.
There is Eileen Einwächter, who has just completed her Masters in Digital Technologies at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich and is particularly interested in user-friendly interaction. Marcus Novotny has already worked on digital projects for McKinsey and Google Cloud. Michael Laßmann specializes in IT security and has worked as a developer for the past four years. Nils Thamm already saw the SAP Innovation Center in Silicon Valley from the inside and is a graduate of the Hasso Plattner Institute.
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You are in your mid-twenties and will now work together for twelve weeks in a Berlin concrete loft to support the ministry on its way into the future. As fellows, they belong to the “Tech4Germany” program, which is financed by the federal government. Since 2018, it has brought interdisciplinary teams together with the public administration for software projects.
The four fellows sketched an initial outline of the problem on a rollable whiteboard using colorful Hafties. On the PC, the process is now prepared in a much more complex way, for example with “clustered insights”. “We went to the court and accompanied the filing of a lawsuit from the post office to the clerk to the judge,” reports Einwächter.
How paper-heavy everything is still was a bit of a “shock”, adds ITler Thamm. The system runs flawlessly, of course.
With a view to tenancy law, the fellows also asked those affected which problems and hurdles they see in a lawsuit. “There is basically a lack of knowledge about the civil process,” reports Novotny. “Many suspect that they have a claim, but then don’t know what to do next.” The product developer’s conclusion: “A simple input mask for an online lawsuit will not be enough.” The citizens would have to be picked up.
Overall, an online solution is more difficult for the state than for legal tech providers, who then only take the necessary legal steps in the background.
One thing is clear: for an online lawsuit tool, the proceedings must be suitable for the masses, with simple facts and a low amount in dispute, without complex evidence and, at best, without an oral hearing. Programmer Laßmann also refers to the necessary connection to the sometimes different judicial IT in the countries, IT security and reliable user identification. “We already think about all of this so that appropriate transitions can be created later,” he explains.
For the Federal Ministry of Justice, the cooperation with “Tech4Germany” is free of charge, but in close cooperation. Once a week there is a fixed appointment with the fellows and, if necessary, daily coordination with selected “digital guides”.
One of them is Ministerialrat Philip Scholz. “It’s not about competing with legal tech providers,” he explains. “The judiciary itself should provide citizens with up-to-date services and make better use of the potential of digital applications.”
It is also about making the judiciary faster, more resource-efficient and more modern. A possible online tool would have to fit into a larger framework “in which there is already electronic files today and in the future, perhaps, judicial online proceedings that will be conducted entirely through electronic communication”.
According to their own admission, the fellows have already won “sympathy and understanding” for the authority. Novotny says: “There is a will to change in the ministry.”
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