The Current Landscape of Law and Justice Innovation

This section looks at the current state of innovation in critical areas of law and justice. It also includes within its sweep some areas that are more akin to strategies or elements of the justice system, but showed up prominently in this year’s Prize cycle and merited inclusion. The objective of this section remains to outline who is doing what and where.

1

Citizen Participation

Traditionally, citizens have had to rely on lawyers and other formal stakeholders to access justice as there are many barriers to their participation in the justice system. Increasingly, however, new roles and pathways are being built to invite citizens to engage more directly with the justice system  as seen in the work of 13 AP20 initiatives. Nine of these are setting up platforms through which citizens can voice their grievances, learn about their rights, appeal for greater transparency and accountability, and even influence policy. The remaining 4 are also building the capacity of communities and creating roles for citizens, either as dispute resolution professionals or as paralegals, to be able to participate in the justice system. A majority of the initiatives are leveraging media and storytelling tools to empower citizens to make their voice heard. 

Mobile Vaani (MV)

Gram Vaani’s Mobile Vaani programme is creating a federated network of media platforms to share content relevant to the local community, such as localized information on rights and entitlements, local news and feedback on government efforts, as curated by citizen volunteers. Using IVR technology, the platform can be accessed on any basic mobile phone by calling a specified toll-free number. It also allows citizens to contribute information by easily recording a voice message. MV is currently operating 25 separate networks in districts across India in partnership with 150 organisations.

Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF)

IFF is bridging the gap between the ‘public’ and ‘public policy’ by creating a bottom-up model for digital rights advocacy in India. Their jargon-free and relatable content, filled with pop culture references and humour, has been able to inform and engage the public effectively. SpeechBill.in, their online campaign which attempted to repeal criminal defamation and consolidate civil defamation, generated over 4,000 signatures and led to consultations with Lok Sabha MP Tathagata Satpathy, who filed The Protection of Speech and Reputation Bill, 2016. This model has been replicated by the SaveOurPrivacy campaign to publicly present a draft law for data protection in India.

AP18 Winner – Idea Prize

Civis: Civis is a platform that works to enable effective dialogue between governments and citizens on draft laws and policies. They empower individuals to co-create the laws that impact them before these laws are finalised. Civis aggregates, simplifies, translates and analyses feedback on draft laws, which is then shared with the government. They have worked on 100+ laws with citizen leaders from over 211 cities in India. They have also worked with 5 government bodies to facilitate effective consultations on laws at both the national and city level. Up to 52% of the citizen feedback facilitated through their platform has been incorporated into certain laws like the Transgdender Rules. With a focus on constructive dialogue, Civis is building the capacity of both citizens and governments to engage with one another.

Photo of Antaraa Vasudev
2

Contract Automation and Management

The lack of consistency and standards in drafting contracts has been a roadblock to contract automation and management in the legal industry. Template contracts (mostly in the telecom and manufacturing industry) are now lending themselves to automation with tools like NLP that can navigate through some of these roadblocks. Twelve AP20 initiatives are working specifically in the field of legal contract automation, of which 8 are using tech tools like apps and interactive dashboards that allow users to track the lifecycle of a contract. A leap in contract automation, however, will require standardization in the industry practice of drafting contracts and changes in the state machinery to enable digital signatures, e-stamping and e-registration in a manner that fits seamlessly with contract automation systems.

SpotDraft

SpotDraft is arguably the first Indian contract review and management solution of global standard. Their clear understanding of the exact pain points of contract review and management has led to the creation of a highly user-friendly solution with features including bulk contract review, renewals, identification of critical clauses and deviations from standards, the ability to extract data from historical contracts, and an AI-powered native editor. Their understanding of how enterprises work has also led to a product that supports organizational workflows and protocols and makes adoption that much easier.

The Legal Capsule

The Legal Capsule is a contract lifecycle management (CLM) platform for companies to manage all their legal documents on the go. They also have a B2B model to ease the process of digitizing contracts. The product is an end to end solution that makes it easier to create, collaborate, negotiate, e-sign, store and manage agreements and forms all in one place. Among other features, it provides online e-stamp papers, management of recurring payments through an e-NACH system, e-KYC, automated renewal reminders, dedicated legal support and ODR mechanisms for contract needs of all kinds. They have priced themselves in a way as to be accessible to SMEs as well.

3

Criminal Justice and Prison Reform

As a nation, our approach has always been to seek harsher penalties for crimes, instead of deepening our understanding of the underlying causes of such crimes and working towards addressing them. In addition, our justice institutions are in dire need of reform, especially the prison system. Prisons in India suffer from extreme ‘othering’, rather than serving as spaces for rehabilitation. Agami Prize 2020 saw 25 initiatives working actively in this area, offering solutions that range from legal representation for the most vulnerable and services for the institutions themselves, to rehabilitation programmes that enable former prisoners to reintegrate into society.

Phoenix ‘A Smart Prison ERP’

Phoenix is a unique offering that promises to make prisons humane. Born from the founder’s deep personal insights into the conditions in jail, Phoenix has digitized critical prison operations while still in keeping with the Jail Manual. Its notable features include a canteen transaction system that is directly linked to online payment systems and gives biometric access to prisoners; an e-custody system to ensure timely and accurate delivery of custody certificates before courts, which would also free up the manpower assigned to this tedious task; and a Court Production Management System that automatically generates production lists, without errors. Phoenix is currently impacting 4 lakh prisoners through full-scale deployment in all prisons in Haryana and pilot projects in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.

Project Second Chance

An empathetic intervention, Project Second Chance works with incarcerated youth to equip them to become change agents. Through a fellowship programme, they come together with young liberal arts graduates to start interventions inside and outside the prison that are sustainable, scalable and systemic in nature. The Second Chance Fellows work full-time in prisons during their 12-month tenure, with a focus on developing educational, livelihood and life skills programmes and facilitating sessions and workshops for youth at risk. There have been over 20 fellows so far, and many of their projects have been incubated by UnLtd India, TFIx, Changelooms, School for Social Entrepreneurs India, Shakti – The Empathy Project, etc.

4

Legal Education

Legal education develops and nurtures the people that shape the legal system. Many political and social leaders in the country have also benefited from a legal education. With 25 AP20 initiatives, we’re seeing a steady rise in the number of initiatives that are enhancing access to and the quality of legal education. There is a concerted effort being made to not just upgrade law school pedagogy but also supplemental education and skill development. Seventeen AP20 initiatives offer online co-curricular learning spaces, skill development, mentorship networks and capacity building through online and offline training in partnership with civil society organisations and volunteer networks. Seven others are going beyond merely subject-matter interventions to proposing models for high quality degree-length education regardless of which law school students are able to formally enrol in. This could level the playing field by enabling a wider range of students to access quality legal education and skill development.  

Lawctopus Law School

Lawctopus Law School is a creative alternative to traditional classrooms by creating an online law school: with courses, live lectures, student hangout zones, office hours, career counselling, and even a placement cell. They aim to take a ‘warm’ learning experience through a blended approach, supplementing recorded lectures, quality reading material and live classes for doubt resolution with a team that sees and hears the student (via Whatsapp groups, email reminders, and even phone calls to those struggling with the course). Students can be formally enrolled in whichever law school whilst being assured Lawctopus Law Schools’s quality educational experience. So far, they have already catered to 1200+ students.

IDIA

IDIA: IDIA is making legal education more accessible to underrepresented, underprivileged and differently-abled students. Their student volunteers have driven IDIA’s agenda of inclusion, by both sensitising and recruiting prospective students, training them for admission, and mentoring them while at law school. Since inception, IDIA has sensitised 38,000 students, trained 450 students for the C.L.A.T. and other law entrance examinations of which 137 passed the entrance exam and 114 secured admissions into top universities. 20.3% of IDIA students are differently abled (visually challenged); and 32.8% of students belong to SC/ST communities. The IDIA community has increasingly become an effective voice for inclusion and quality at India’s law schools.

5

Legal Journalism

Matters of law and justice deeply impact most aspects of society. Unfortunately, legal news and journalism is rarely accessible to those outside the legal circle. Furthermore, while the media narrative is a crucial factor in determining the response of citizens, there is a proliferation of fake news, insensitive reporting and misreporting. This leads to general civic apathy and has an adverse impact on victims of crime. Fortunately, an increasing number of media initiatives are focusing on issues at the intersection of law and justice and citizens’ rights. Eight AP20 initiatives are media organisations that are equipping journalists with legal knowledge so that they are better able to report on issues. They are also expanding the scope of reportage by linking it deeper with questions directly relating to law and justice.  

Article 14

Article 14 is pioneering ‘research journalism’ to deeply investigate and amplify issues of justice. With reputed legal professors and journalists on their editorial team, they effectively blend nuanced perspectives of law with journalistic flair and storytelling to build legal awareness amongst the public. Their series of investigative stories on ASHA workers’ wage disputes and lack of transparency in the national COVID-19 task force was shared more than 800 times on Facebook and Twitter and was picked up by reputed journalist Ravish Kumar for his prime-time show on NDTV. They were also called on by the commission formed by the Delhi government to investigate the Delhi riots in February 2020, on account of their story on Facebook’s role in the riots.

AP18 Winner – Idea Prize

Impulse Model Press Lab: One of 2 Idea Prize winners back in 2018, the Lab is an initiative of Impulse NGO Network, whose groundwork in human trafficking issues has helped them understand the critical role of the press in resolving cases. They have been successfully running a fellowship programme for media houses across 4 countries – India, Nepal, Myanmar and Bangladesh – to promote sensitive reporting on cross-border human trafficking in Asia. Building a coalition of journalists, the programme aims to improve the quality of reporting on cases of human trafficking, inculcate gender sensitivity among reporters, and provide technical information to media houses. Over 72,000 cases of human trafficking have been addressed through their work since 1997.

6

Legal Literacy

One of the main reasons why citizens have always been intimidated by the justice system is because of their inability to understand their rights and then navigate the system to either avail them or challenge injustices. To be legally literate is essential today, and as many as 73 AP20 initiatives have made this their core area of work. Of these, the highest number of initiatives, around 20%, are advancing legal literacy in gender justice; 15% are focusing on building legal capacity among the youth; 13% are ensuring vulnerable communities are made aware of the legal remedies available to them; while 6% are working on digital rights awareness. However, only 1 initiative is concerned with laws that exist to protect the environment around us, a critical area currently in crisis. To boost the capacities of those at the forefront of fighting legal battles, 7% of the initiatives in this category are concentrating on improving the knowledge available to lawyers, particularly those advancing social justice issues, by building cross-learning platforms and networks to aid and assist them. 

Constitutionofindia.net

The Centre for Law and Policy Research is establishing Constitutionofindia.net as a multilingual digital archive of user-friendly information on the Constitution and related documents, thus providing a dynamic way for citizens to learn about and understand the Constitution better. The archive is free, human tagged, open access and easily discoverable, making it an accessible resource on the history, values and text of the Constitution that can be used to further popular knowledge and engagement. The site gets thousands of monthly website views and ranks sixth in the Google search rankings for ‘Constitution of India’. They also organise quizzes, seminars and workshops in partnership with other organisations to enhance constitutional education and literacy, especially among students.

Land Rights Initiative (LRI)

Centre for Policy Research’s LRI employs a range of research tools to understand the applicability, interplay and impact of over 1,000 relevant laws and provide actionable insights. They publish concise, jargon-free research reports to simplify this complex area of knowledge for all. LRI is also launching a comprehensive, interactive website, with open APIs, on the land laws of India. By organising events for relevant stakeholders from academia, policy, government and civil society, LRI is not only helping to create an informed citizenry but is also building pathways for those in the legislature, executive and judiciary to make informed policy decisions.

AP18 Winner – Citizenship Prize

Indian Kanoon: Founded by Sushant Sinha, Indian Kanoon began by democratizing access to Indian judgments through its free and simple user-centric search engine. With millions of page views per month, it has become a necessary companion for law students and practitioners everywhere. Indian Kanoon is now moving into a new area with ‘Laws of India’, to make all laws completely accessible (including their sections, subsections and sometimes even subsubsections). With over 800 laws in its database, the platform offers all legislations in the standard Akoma Ntoso format, which makes it easy to manage and work with complex documents.

7

Legal Practice

To serve the justice needs of 1.3 billion people, it is necessary that legal practitioners have the tools and resources to evolve their practice. From precise legal research and streamlining documentation to digital identification, payments and e-signing, the 2020 edition of the Agami Prize saw 31 initiatives working to establish trusted systems for legal practice. Thirteen of these are using technology and data-driven intelligence to create disruptive solutions. In the legal research and analytics space, the growth of foundational technologies such as NLP and ML is leading to improvement in results that have historically been keyword dependent and devoid of any analytics. Four AP20 initiatives in this area offer commercial standard legal research and analytics tools.

Legitquest

Building on an interlinked database that integrates multiple sources of information such as cases, laws, news, etc., Legitquest offers one platform for all the research, analytics and even networking needs of legal professionals. Their AI-powered search makes research less time consuming and more efficient, and their analytics tools enable data-driven decisions for the best strategies relating to a case. With thousands of paid subscribers, Legitquest is being used by large numbers of lawyers and students, as well as members of the police and judiciary to gather accurate data towards better prosecution and quality decision-making.

Riverus

Riverus combines the latest technology with user-centric design to build systems that empower legal professionals to do their work exponentially better. Their Riverus Telescope is a ready reckoner, especially for tax law professionals, generating research and insights from an otherwise complex system. Hundreds of web crawlers download information from various courts, and data science processes extract intelligence. Human editors then use custom technology to efficiently approve or reject this intelligence to ensure that the user receives research that is genuinely useful for their work. The aim is to take this man-machine model and the proven design capabilities to all areas of law in due course.

AP18 Winner – Industry Prize

Provakil: Provakil is employing the latest in data science and management to put in place a data-driven enterprise that can address different use cases through separate applications, beginning with its case and practice management application for lawyers. Its founders bring the experience of having dealt with data challenges in other sectors, notably health, where data needs to be dependably aggregated from different sources, reconciled and then directed to specific user needs. While they are currently creating solutions focused on practicing lawyers, law firms and legal departments, they have also executed projects to demonstrate how court data can be utilised to make courts more efficient. 

8

Legal Research

Legal research is the bedrock of almost all work in law and justice. From addressing the information deficit to strengthening policy advocacy, research has a critical role to play in how we understand and improve our systems. Fourteen AP20 initiatives are diving deep to identify gaps in current research, enhance transparency, and generate actionable insights and feedback for different actors in the system. They are also leveraging legal research and analytics tools, including qualitative legal research, quantitative and statistical methods, geographic information system (GIS) and data analytics techniques, in their work ranging from creating databases of case laws to figuring patterns in bail behaviour. 

Finance Research Group’s Bankruptcy Case Database

The FRG’s Bankruptcy Case Database is creating the foundation for empirical research and data-based decision-making in the field of bankruptcy and the performance of commercial tribunals in India. Their aggregate data and case-level data from orders of the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT), combined with already existing data sets (e.g., from the CMIE Prowess database), can feed into rich analyses of the impact of structural reform as well as the behaviour of debtors and creditors in India. This, in turn, can potentially facilitate further analysis into the characteristics of firms that go bankrupt, the correlation between firm size and time for disposal of cases, etc. FRG is also leveraging their openly published pilot data sets and early findings to strategically engage think-tanks, the NCLT and judges, while also working with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs to recommend commensurate capacity building measures for the NCLT.

Criminal Justice & Police Accountability Project (CPAP)

An early-stage initiative, CPAP is enabling marginalised communities to anchor and drive the process of holding everyday policing procedures accountable. This is done by undertaking data-driven research and strategic litigation to increase cost on the system and create feedback loops. The CPAP team collects data on different policing functions such as detention, arrests and externment, which helps understand and reveal the impact of specific laws on the criminalization of certain communities. They draw data from publicly available sources like FIRs, Arrest Data and Right to Information applications submitted to the state and district crime bureaus.

9

Legal Transactions

Legal transactions have long been held back from being fully digitized due to their dependence on government services like registration and stamping and legal requirements around signing. In 2020, a convergence of factors such as legal changes, new government services, an overall push towards Digital India and the persistence of entrepreneurs in the face of a pandemic has led to truly digital-first experiences for many categories. Three AP20 initiatives are maximising this opportunity to create online identity and trust building tools that offer both B2C and B2B services for easing transactions in the legal industry.

Legal research is the bedrock of almost all work in law and justice. From addressing the information deficit to strengthening policy advocacy, research has a critical role to play in how we understand and improve our systems. Fourteen AP20 initiatives are diving deep to identify gaps in current research, enhance transparency, and generate actionable insights and feedback for different actors in the system. They are also leveraging legal research and analytics tools, including qualitative legal research, quantitative and statistical methods, geographic information system (GIS) and data analytics techniques, in their work ranging from creating databases of case laws to figuring patterns in bail behaviour. 

Leegality

A comprehensive solution for the otherwise tedious processes of e-signing and e-stamping, Leegality is transforming the way transactions are executed by digitizing the lifecycle of a document. Building upon the framework of the Information Technology Act, Indian Evidence Act and Stamp Acts, it uses a highly automated, end to end digital process, eliminating the need for physical signatures, stamping and related processes like courier/delivery, storage and other physical compliances. Leegality counts among its clients hundreds of organisations, including Federal Bank, HDFC Ltd, Airtel Payments Bank, L&T Financial Services, IndusInd Financial Services, HDB Financial Services and Power Finance Corporation.

DOQFY

Easing legal document management for enterprises, DOQFY is building a user-friendly and secure document automation SaaS platform, with built-in electronic signatures, workflow management and document builder tools. The platform also offers personalised templates and e-stamping services. DOQFY has collaborated with the legal teams of various organisations, including banks, to ensure compliance with local laws while saving over 80% of the time spent on this and over 45% in costs for companies.

10

Online and Alternate Dispute Resolution

Mounting court backlogs, made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, and increasing interest in alternate dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms, particularly mediation, have led to a tremendous growth of this ecosystem in the last 2 years. A mechanism traditionally confined to family matters is now demonstrating its applicability to many other types of disputes such as commercial disputes. This has encouraged the emergence of several initiatives, including 19 AP20 initiatives, which are innovating solutions for ADR. They are creating networks of mediators; platforms to connect mediators as well as assist enterprises in their dealings with staff, distributors, wholesalers and customers; and software to support mediators and their cases. From apps to online platforms where cases are resolved end to end, 9 of these initiatives are blending technology with human expertise to achieve the goal of resolving disputes efficiently outside of courts.

Legal Education and Aid Unit (LEAD) by Aajeevika Bureau

LEAD’s strong network of 200 paralegals across Delhi, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Maharashtra provides pre-migration counselling to workers at pre-identified ‘source’ centres of migration, to promote awareness of rights and entitlements and good work practices such as maintaining documentation and attendance diaries. The LEAD team leverages mediation as an effective tool suited to informal work conflicts to settle disputes. Employers tend to participate in these mediation processes as the burden of proof in formal systems is on them and they rarely maintain proper documentation. As of June 2020, LEAD has succeeded in resolving over 9,000 cases through mediation and dispute resolution. Their helpline receives an average of close to 5,000 calls a month, and they have also retrieved wages in favour of workers amounting to over 25 crores.

Aiding Resolution Through Advanced Methods (ARTAM)

Creating new roles and a new pedagogy for citizens and college students respectively, ARTAM is introducing a consensual dispute resolution mechanism like mediation to students at the college stage itself. Once introduced to these mechanisms, the hope is that this means of resolving a dispute will become the more natural way for them to settle disputes and they carry that culture forward with them to society at large. These individuals can then go on to set up community mediation centres, especially in economically backward areas, and act as peer mediators to help solve disputes locally and efficiently instead of ending up in the court system. Led and run by students, ARTAM’s training module has been built by known academicians and mediators, and they have trained close to 500 students till now.

Autonomy and Agami’s E-ADR Challenge (2019) Winner

In 2019, Agami, in partnership with ICICI Bank and with the support of experts such as CAMP, launched the E-ADR Challenge to identify and accelerate powerful innovations that can utilise technology and ADR to transform the future of dispute resolution in India. A venture founded and led by a group of then final year law students at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (NUJS) ODRways (now Sama) was declared the winner. The other finalists were Centre for Online Resolution of Disputes (CORD) and Resolve Disputes Online (RDO). Sama has since grown to provide ODR solutions to over 20 enterprises and has also supported 5 Lok Adalats to go online. The Challenge also saw the emergence of lasting coalitions and collaborations, and the birth of a vibrant ODR community called Autonomy. With a growing number of start-ups, the focus is now on unlocking the necessary policy, regulatory and ecosystem support for ODR in India.

11

Pro bono or Affordable Legal Services

Despite state mechanisms for legal aid, the majority of citizens, particularly from marginalised groups, still do not have access to quality legal services. Even those who can afford services struggle to find trusted lawyers for their particular needs and price points. The legal services industry has only a few of the basic systems that enable effective consumer protection in other sectors, such as adequate choice of services, delivery standards and grievance mechanisms. The second edition of the Agami Prize saw 58 initiatives working in this area, providing pro bono, low bono or market-based services. Of these, 10 are working within the criminal justice system, 8 are offering online dispute resolution services, and 8 are empowering citizens towards availing their rights and entitlements. A further 6six AP20 initiatives are creating marketplaces for legal services beyond connecting with a lawyer, such as problem diagnosis and free legal advice, while 4 are working to help citizens prepare their cases better.   

LegalKart

LegalKart is building a comprehensive tech-enabled ecosystem where users can get professional legal advice and support via a phone helpline. In a country like India where making a call is the easiest option for a citizen, LegalKart is a simple port of call for those who first seek to understand their legal issue. This is followed up with systems that match the user with an appropriate lawyer for their needs. LegalKart has served over 12,000 users so far and has 10,000+ verified lawyers in 800 cities. 

Parichay

19,06,657 persons were excluded from the final National Register of Citizens for Assam. Parichay, a collaborative legal aid effort among law schools, trains and facilitates law students to assist lawyers representing NRC-excluded persons at the Foreigners’ Tribunals in the appeals process. Parichay’s student volunteers are supporting lawyers across 8 districts in Assam, and they hope to expand their reach to be able to benefit at least 5,000 excluded people.

12

Rights and Entitlements

For many citizens, the idea of justice has less to do with litigation in courts and more to do with their ability to secure rights and benefits under various laws and schemes. Lack of awareness, resources and skills, coupled with systemic biases, hinders their ability to rightfully claim such rights and benefits. This is an area of focus for 10 AP20 initiatives, which are using helplines and active on-ground engagement to equip vulnerable groups with the knowledge and support to avail what is sanctioned for them as per legal norms. Interestingly, 7 AP20 initiatives are dedicatedly looking at the issue of land rights through the lens of research, database building and the use of technology to improve access to land titles.

Haqdarshak

Haqdarshak is combining research and technology with a strong service network to advance access to welfare schemes. Their research team has codified over 6,000 central, state, municipal and private welfare schemes and translated them into local languages. Their product is designed to enable any person to determine which scheme or benefits they are eligible for. The information is accessible and is supported by services such as the Haqdarshak app, the Citizen app and the MSME app. Recognising that merely providing access to digital information is not sufficient for most rural citizens, Haqdarshak has also recruited and trained a cadre of women to act as ‘Haqdarshaks’ – agents who help communities become more aware of their rights, process their claims and address grievances at their doorstep in return for a small fee. Their platforms have reached over 3 lakh citizens, facilitating their applications and enabling them to receive their due benefits.

Transerve

Transerve is a data platform working in a coalition with Tata Trusts and the Odisha government to ensure the allocation of property titles to those living in slum settlements across Odisha. Their approach uses geolocation to pinpoint people’s occupation of certain properties and demarcate their boundaries in highly fluid environments, combining it with primary data gathering to assess people’s claims, double-check the boundaries and collect a wide range of secondary data to support title claims. They are also developing structures and collaborative frameworks to utilise the data and enable different stakeholders to create a pioneering solution. This is a clear use case for how geospatial technology can be used in conjunction with primary sources of data to create property rights for the urban poor. Extending this approach to other states could benefit millions of urban poor.

Back to Agamiscape