New startup uses blockchain to boost legal access for those in need

 
The ANIKA team were runners up for the 2018 Global Legal Hackathon. Picture: ANIKA Legal Facebook Page

By EDWARD WONG

Four Monash law students and recent graduates are using blockchain and artificial intelligence to connect law students with people in desperate need of legal help.

ANIKA Legal  started out as an entry in the 2018 Global Legal Hackathon, with the group finishing as runners up in the final in New York in April, and in #LGRoadTrip18 Legal Geek  Around the World Tour in July. 

ANIKA co-founder and Monash law graduate Perveen Maan said new technologies could help provide both greater access to legal aid and more experience for law students unable  to find work in their field.

Law students will draft legal advice with the help of ANIKA’s artificial intelligence, then send the draft to an experienced lawyer for review.

“People who can’t afford a lawyer or are rejected by Victoria Legal Aid can easily gain access to pro bono legal advice prepared by a law student,” Ms Maan said.

“Since it’s so competitive to get a clerkship these days and access to legal aid can be an administrative nightmare, ANIKA kills two birds with one stone.”

ANIKA co-founder Perveen Maan. Picture: LinkedIn

According to a recent study by the Victorian Access to Justice Review, as many as 160,000 Australians are turned away from community legal centres every year due to convoluted dispute resolution processes and a severely underfunded administration system.

However, there are almost 15,000 law graduates each year in an industry with only 66,000 solicitors, as reported by Lawyers Weekly.

The team has invested their own funds into the project and is focusing on perfecting their business pitch by entering startup competitions before seeking further capital from angel investors.

ANIKA is another name for Durga, the Hindu goddess of law and justice, and is also the name for the essential doctrine of constant change in Buddhism.

Aron Mazur believes the future of the legal profession is still “human”, despite advances in technology. Picture: LinkedIn

ANIKA co-founder and final-year law student Aron Mazur said client cases stored on the blockchain can act as digital precedents that serve as inputs for its deep learning artificial intelligence algorithms.

“The cases we record on the blockchain will provide fuel for the deep learning system to better pair future clients with tailored legal advice,” Mr Mazur said.

Mr Mazur said young lawyers should learn about how new technologies could improve the legal system instead of worrying about how they might undermine job security.

“In New York we had our fair share of concerns over the validity of the pro bono advice prepared by student lawyers and the integrity of the blockchain system, but this only gave us more opportunities to clarify those doubts,” Mr Mazur said.

“It takes a lot of courage to stand up to people who doubt your idea. Many have asked, ‘does ANIKA’s digital platform even need a blockchain’? My answer to that is that I’m a firm believer of fixing and improving existing system through innovative solutions,” he said.

When asked whether ANIKA’s artificial intelligence had the capability of developing intellectual property of its own and who would be responsible should it engage in malicious and negligent behaviour, Mr Mazur said its operations were highly basic and that the “deep learning” mechanism wasn’t capable of evolving.

ANIKA’s launch video.

The ANIKA team’s efforts have caught the eye of corporate officials from consulting firms such as Integra Ledger and Neotalogic.

“The founder of Integra Ledger was highly supportive of our idea. He understood that we’re not reinventing the wheel here but just streamlining it with technology,”  Mr Mazur said.

The team was invited to pitch their idea at the Evolve Law Summit in Chicago in May and at the Awesome Foundation $3000 Mega Pitch Night in Melbourne.

ANIKA Legal is now looking for volunteers who are passionate  about access to justice to jump into a user-research project.