Community-based organisation tries its hand at online game design
How do people without legal training deal with having to go to court? This is the tough reality facing litigants-in-person (LIPs).
It’s a reality that’s also getting worse. The crumbling legal aid budget has led to a massive upsurge in the number of people unable to afford representation and so facing court alone. One LIP charity revealed that the number of clients it helped this year has increased by a staggering 900% in just eight years.
These numbers are very worrying, and so too is the impact this growth has on the justice system. According to a report by the Judicial Working Group, lack of representation means people waste judges’ times, slow down court cases and drive up the cost of proceedings.
There are organisations which are trying to alleviate the situation for LIPs, such as local law centres, university pro bono clinics as well as the Personal Support Unit whose volunteers are visible at civil justice centres. Though many of these are unable to give ‘clients’ legal advice, they can offer information and support to people facing the complexities of the court system alone.
Alongside these, Help4LiPs — a community interest company, based in London — is also trying to pick up the pieces left behind by the government’s legal aid onslaught, and build bridges between the ‘establishment’ and the ‘community’.
Like a lot of these organisations, Help4LiPs sees its role in providing information and education: helpful tips and resources, written by legal professionals and free to access.
They are planning to add to their online offering with an interactive game, ‘Virtual Litigation – The Game’ which gives LIPs the chance to virtually take their case through the entire justice process, from the early pre-litigation stages all the way to the higher courts.
The brainchild of Help4LiPs co-founder, Jeff Lampert (himself a former LIP), one particularly interesting feature of ‘Virtual Litigation’ is that players are able to customise their gaming experience depending on their circumstances. On the first screen, users select what their dispute is about, what area of law it falls under, and what their budget is. The aim of the game is to move through the pre-litigation and litigation stages spending as little money as possible.
Over coffee and biscuits in Angel, Daniel Jani (pictured above), who is volunteer co-ordinator at Help4LiPs, explains:
The game is all about preparing LIPs, and getting them to think less emotionally and more strategically about their own case. The game forces them to make decisions at every stage and to follow them through, so then they’re able to look back and reflect on the consequences.
Video games like this have already taken off in the US. Just a few weeks ago, Legal Cheek reported that two law academics from Northeastern University have developed an educational litigation-themed game called RePresent. The game is a collaborative project between legal aid lawyers, game designers, academics, students and artists, but it’s aims are simple: provide LIPs with advocacy experience before “doing it for real”, and build “a community of support around the needs of self-represented parties” — aims no doubt shared by the Help4LiPs team.
Virtual Litigation is in the planning stages, and pictured below is a screenshot of the game in its draft version. The organisation is still in need of experienced games designers and more funds to get it off the ground.
The idea has, however, received a big, but informal, thumbs up from staff over at LexisNexis and the Bar Council.
Reassuringly for the Help4LiPs team, Legal Cheek’s readers have responded well to these video games. When we ran the story recently about the US game, the feedback was overwhelming positive. Jani is also happy to report that the team behind RePresent has reached out to Help4LiPs and offered its support.
Watch this space.