The story of CoLin – 24 hours in the lives of caffeine fuelled legal engineers

The word is out - we won the inaugural Online Courts Hackathon! 

The Hackathon was jointly staged by the Society for Computers and Law, Legal Geek, the Judiciary of England and Wales, and HM Courts & Tribunals Service. Half of the UK’s top 20 law firms came along with leading UK universities competing, with teams flying in from as far away as India and Australia. There were around 400 applicants for the event, with a closing address and presentation by the Lord Chief Justice.

Our eclectic team of legal engineers comprised Ben Gardner, Drew Winlaw & Felix Schulte-Strathaus (Wavelength.law), Peter Wright & Sophia Adams Bhatti (Law Society), Beatriz Martinez-Gatell (UX Strategist) and Mark O Grady (Software Developer @ Errington Legal Recruitment); a talented group of policy makers, technologist and folks with the skill to bridge the implementation gap between them. 

The organisers of the event identified eight real life challenges that face online courts: form filling, order drafting, continuous online hearing, argument building, outcome prediction, negotiating & settlement, dispute classification and bundles. It became clear in our team’s early design planning that these are all important issues that could undoubtedly be re-engineered and digitised, however, we quickly came to the realisation that the fundamental theme underpinning all of these problems is access to justice

So, rather than simply focusing on just one challenge, we decided to create a digital assistant that would help ordinary people identify if they have a legal issue, and then guide them through the legal process towards a resolution. Thus CoLin (Courts onLine) was conceived and our journey to bring this concept to life (in the 24 hours allotted!) began... 

What can I say about the next 24 hours… we worked fantastically hard, experiencing waves of inspiration and frustration, made new friends and consumed our body weights in sugar and caffeine. By the end we had trained Amazon Alexa to chat with (fictional litigant) Steve, built a website, mapped out a decision tree around Steve's issue, created fantastic artwork and pulled this all together into a presentation.

“The Wavelength/Law Soc suggestion was by far the most ambitious, taking the challenge beyond anything that I suspect the organisers envisaged. Their concept went from a diagnosis of a chest complaint in a doctor’s surgery through each stage of a possible claim against a landlord, using slick ‘pathfinder’ technology and voice interaction with CoLin …. It was imaginative and innovative and a deserved winner...”   SCL

At this point, we were shattered but ready to face the judges… and the rest, as they say, is history!

Our winning presentation to the judging panel is linked below, accompanied by a copy of the script so that you can read along. 

This is a lovely example of our core skill of Legal Engineering in action. Do get in touch to find out more.

CoLin - Your Legal Pathfinder

Meet Steve and his daughter Katie

  • Steve has just taken Katie to their GP who has diagnosed Katie with a reoccurring chest infection that is likely caused by damp in their rented accommodation. Steve is worried and does not know what to do. He searches Google and finds an app, CoLin - Your Legal Pathfinder.

Meet CoLin

  • CoLin is a digital assistant who will help people identify if they have a legal issue and guide them through to resolution.

Steve, meet CoLin

  • Steve can talk to CoLin as if he is talking to a friend. CoLin prompts Steve with a series of questions to identify if Steve has an issue and to gathers the facts about a it. Once these facts have been gathered, Steve can log into the website.

Capture and analysis

In the video you have seen a fragment of the questions CoLin would ask in this scenario. We mapped this decision tree in full and identified the key information that would needed from a legal perspective.

Capture and analysis

Steve logs into CoLin and sees that his conversation has been captured (bottom middle section), and that CoLin has outlined the next steps available to him (top middle section). In this case CoLin has recommended writing a letter to Steve's landlord.

To help Steve CoLin has used the information gather during the conversation it had with Steve to pre-populated a letter. The text highlighted in yellow was captured during their conversation. However there is some information Steve needs to fill in, highlighted in blue. Steve can ask CoLin for help completing each section and will receive prompts and suggestions for what needs to be entered. Once the letter is complete Steve can email it straight to his landlord.

... Let's fast forward a couple of months and see how Steve's issue has progressed...

Unfortunately, Steve's issue with damp in Katie's bedroom has not been resolved. We can see from the 'next steps' section the actions taken and the correspondence with the landlord and the ombudsman has been capture, bottom right. At this stage, CoLin has advised Steve that he will need to go to court to resolve this issue.

CoLin can help Steve find a solicitor by clicking the tender button. Doing this presents Steve with a number of local solicitors how can help him. In this case they are all offering fixed deal pricing providing Steve with transparency around costs.

If Steve engages a solicitor then they will be given a complete chronologically ordered history of Steve's issue bundled ready for the court.

What can CoLin do for you?

CoLin is your legal pathfinder who will help you identify if you have a have a legal issue and then guide you through to resolution.

You interact with CoLin as if you were seeking advice from a friend and it keeps a record of what you said and did along the way.

Finally, CoLin helps to streamline the legal process by bundling all the information capture during the process in an electronic format that can be provided to a solicitor and presented at court if required.


             ... that's legal engineering, right there!

Ben Gardner