Being unable to afford legal counsel and therefore assuming the role of self-represented litigant can be a doubly stressful situation for many individuals. With the development of the A2J Author® software program, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law is making justice work much more smoothly for judges, clerks, and petitioners alike.
Introduced to the legal community in 2004, A2J assists employees of courts, clerks’ offices, and legal services programs without Web programming experience to develop Web-based user-friendly instructions and forms for use by self-represented litigants. Through A2J Guided Interviews®, many different documents can be completed online that are ready for filing with the court.
The software, built by a team headed by John Mayer (M.S. CS ’93), executive director of the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, is being used in 40 states that have created some 800 different kinds of legal forms. Thus far, self-represented litigants have used more than 750,000 individual form sets, says Ronald W. Staudt, Chicago-Kent associate vice president of law, business, and technology, who worked with IIT Institute of Design on the original analysis behind A2J.
The program has become so popular that now more individuals need to be trained in document preparation.
“We’ve developed a course that teaches law students how to do this,” says Staudt. “From a pedagogy point of view, they learn very important core competencies that generalize in a lot of different directions and prepare documents that can actually be used.”
Mary Neal (LAW ’08), executive editor of the A2J Student Editorial Board while at Chicago-Kent, wrote some of the first online training materials. Now, she creates and maintains A2J interviews as the automated documents manager for Illinois Legal Aid Online. For a 12-month period ending March 2011, 2,486 name-change document sets were completed, along with 1,472 child-support modification sets and 2,214 Cook Country fee-waiver sets.
“The defining strength of A2J is intelligent presentation of information,” says Neal. “We can pack an incredible amount of information into an A2J Guided Interview, but the user reads only as much as he or she needs or wants to read.”
Mayer is currently working on extending the reach of A2J beyond its Microsoft platform capabilities to include Apple devices such as iPads and iPhones.