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UTS Law students create winning AI apps for social justice

10 August 2017

UTS students and judges at the 2017 Law Tech Challenge. Photo: Anna Zhu

UTS Law students from the Brennan Justice and Leadership program gathered last Tuesday at the UTS Hatchery to compete in the 2017 grand final of the Allens Neota Logic UTS Law Tech Challenge for Social Justice.

The grand final competition was a culmination of the program’s inaugural year, which saw 20 UTS Law students and five Allens’ lawyers come together over several months to develop ‘smart applications for social justice’.

Built using AI software from Neota Logic, the applications were tailored to meet the requirements of four partner not-for-profit organisations – Inner City Legal Centre Sydney, Anti-Slavery Australia, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) and The Aurora Project.

The winning team, Turtles, created the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa Application for Randwick-based community legal centre, Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS).

Making strong use of accessible visual context cues and audio descriptions in a range of languages, the online app aims to make the complex visa application process – described as “impossible for people seeking asylum to navigate on their own” – easier for users from CALD backgrounds.

Turtles were announced winner after competing against the other teams to ‘pitch’ their applications to an expert judging panel. 

The winning team, Turtles, who created an app to help refugees with the complex visa application process. Photo: Anna Zhu

Richard Spurio, managing partner at Allens, said the team ‘nudged ahead’ to win the competition based on “the depth of thought put into the app, the quality of the design principles used, the answering of the competition brief, the demonstration of how the app delivered value to the NGO and, of course, its inherent innovation aspects”.

With solicitors at RACS struggling to work through thousands of backlogged refugee visa claims ahead of the government’s impending October deadline, smart applications such as the Safe Haven Enterprise Visa Application demonstrate the extent to which technology can improve access to justice.

Lecturer Philippa Ryan, who heads the program, said the winning app was so well received by RACS there was a ‘tangible plan’ to develop it for use later in the year.

The other competing teams – Electric Sheep, MLTEC, Social Justice League and JPD – created diverse applications that included an online job portal for Indigenous job seekers and employers and an interactive resource that answers questions about human trafficking and exploitation.

Modelled on an original program developed by Georgetown Law School in the US, the challenge is just one component of a Faculty-wide push to equip law students with both practical and theoretical knowledge of disruptive technologies.

“Technology is changing law and creating new legal questions,” explained Lesley Hitchens, Dean of Law at UTS. “Lawyers will have to be across new technologies in order to meet client needs.”

“While law firms have to rethink the structure of legal practice in an uncertain environment, law schools also have a responsibility to do the same.”

 Applications are now open for the 2018 Allens Neota Logic UTS Law Tech Challenge for Social Justice. Interested students are encouraged to attend the 2018 info session on Monday, 17 August.