Game Changer for NFP Legal Advice
28 June 2016 at 9:31 am
Australia’s community sector is set to benefit from a “game changing” new web app which promises to cut down the time it takes start-up Not for Profits to find relevant legal information.
Justice Connect’s Not-for-profit Law service has teamed up with Melbourne University Law School (MLS) and intelligent software provider Neota Logic, to launch the first national legal web application providing automated legal help to Not for Profits, charities and community groups.
The app guides start-up groups through key structuring decisions by asking a series of simple questions, and then producing a bespoke, downloadable report providing relevant and useful information based on the user’s answers.
Not-for-profit Law director Juanita Pope told Pro Bono Australia News the framework app was a “game-changing way of helping the Australian community sector with common start-up legal questions”.
“In the past, if community-minded people wanted information and help to start a new group, it would take many hours of a lawyer’s time to provide this advice, or the group would need to spend significant time researching on the internet, including on our online Information Hub,” Pope said.
“Now, thanks to this app, they need only answer the questions in the online form, and a custom report will emerge that can guide them in the tasks they need to complete.
“I think definitely the cut down in time involved for finding and collating legal information is a big benefit for the Not for Profit, but as well, the fact that the Not for Profit gets a tailored report that will direct them to appropriate resources for them might be useful. We are envisaging that it is the sort of document that a Not for Profit might table at a board meeting and have discussion around some of the issues they will need to consider in starting up.
“As well as yes / no pathways, the app has the capacity to allow organisations to fill in free text responses that record the organisation’s thinking, and so hopefully it can be used as quite a comprehensive document recording both the issues and some of the resources and also some of the thinking of the organisation at that start up phase.”
The report provides guidance on suitable legal structures, registering as a charity, and tax concessions to consider.
Pope said the legal landscape for Not for Profit organisations can be complex, particularly for start up groups, and the new app would help them get off to a good start.
“The legal landscapes for Not for Profit organisations in Australia is extremely complex and fragmented and there are lots of choices at the start up phase which can make big differences down the track and can be expensive and time consuming to fix,” she said.
“There is also some really technical areas that organisations or groups need to consider up front, so that is why we started with the “getting started” part of our Information Hub.
“This app will hopefully help organisations to navigate that material and find a way through it that is tailored for them and that means they have the best chance of getting off to a great start.
“With 600,000 Not for Profits in Australia, we can’t help every single one with individual legal advice and so what we try to do is to find ways to provide some help to as many Not for Profits as we can, to assist them to self help so that hopefully maybe they might be able to get through a legal issue without requiring individual legal assistance, or if they do need legal assistance they’ll have a level of background understanding to enable them to make a tailored and specific approach to a lawyer, whether that is pro bono through our service or some other service or on a paid basis, so it helps efficiency really.”
Pope said they were excited by the app and have plans to develop similar apps in the future.
“Digital innovation is generating exciting opportunities to be able to provide more legal help to those that cannot afford it, in an efficient way, reducing the need to provide repetitive advice, and saving pro bono resources for complex cases,” Pope said.
“We do have plans to do some similar apps in the future in different areas of law so they will be addressing different parts of the Information Hub, we’re looking at those areas that are particularly complex and where we know there is high need for legal assistance.
“I think these sorts of tools can mean we are well placed to trial some innovative new approaches, so we are very excited about it.”
The app was developed through a subject – Law Apps – run by MLS, where law students, supervised by subject-matter experts use Neota Logic’s platform to create apps that deal with common legal problems.
Gary Cazalet from University of Melbourne, said students received substantial and ongoing advice from Neota Logic’s experts both in Australia and the US during the development, enabling students to create applications of the “highest quality”.
“This results in the creation of fast, accurate and cost-effective answers to common legal problems,” Cazalet said.
Julian Uebergang, Neota Logic managing director for Asia Pacific, said they were proud to be involved.
“Neota Logic is proud to collaborate with MLS and Not-for-profit Law to develop applications that perform important functions for Not for Profit organisations, particularly organisations that promote access to justice,” Uebergang said.
According to a report prepared by Deloitte Access Economics, Not-for-profit Law’s online work in 2014/15 enabled community groups to deliver 2,763 additional client services because of time saved.
Pope said they were thrilled the latest app would further free up time for Not for Profits.
“We are looking forward to seeing it free up time for Not for Profits to do what they’re best at – be that protecting the local creek, running a community house, or providing shelter and assistance to women struggling with family violence,” Pope said.