When our original team published the Juris Whitepaper in Feb of 2018, we said to everyone interested at the time that this was likely a five to ten year project. Today, I’m happy to report that we remain on track for the future envisioned at that time, both as a project, and with regards to what we see developing with others like Aragon and Kleros. In fact, from what we have seen so far, global events of 2020 have only accelerated the need for a natively digital legal system, and we have remained committed to building its “bridge” to the real world.
Our publications above laid out the foundational how, the why, and the endgame. As outlined in last year’s update, we spent 2018 building a team, and focusing our mission and strategy to align with the real world. We spent the last year talking to users, building, testing, and iterating.
If you have been following Juris, you know that we have released tools like DepositLetter, and ClimateAction. But, today, we are excited to launch the first product that we are proud to simply call Juris 1.0. Let’s start by talking a bit about how we got here.
Bridges, Layers, and Lawyers
As we moved from the ideas and ideals of our early work, we began to realize that a “bridge to the existing system” requires work on three foundational levels: consumer, legal, and legislative. I’ll explain a bit about each, and you can play with the resulting products by signing up for Juris for free today.
The Consumer Level
This is nothing new to Juris as a project. We have always held out that any legal system is meant to serve the people. In fact it derives its power from the people. Thus, any tools that will ever stack up into anything we would like to call a “digital legal system” will start with tools to empower the consumer.
On this level, we’ve built our “Virtual Assistant” system. It starts with diagnosis through an automated online interview, and ends with education and automated next steps to help our customers defend their rights and stand up for causes they care about (more on that in a sec.)
The Legal Level
When you get started building a project and, more specifically, talking to investors about that project, you realize quickly that to suggest a focus both on the consumer and the businesses currently serving those consumers is somehow blasphemy. The B2C and B2B streams are never to be crossed!
Well, it turns out that you can’t build the legal system of the future without including the operatives of the existing system. For one, they control the regulatory bodies and bar associations, but they are also more than just a business that has sprung up around the legal system. They are “officers of the court” and a vital part of the infrastructure, providing aid and support to people dealing with some of the worst things they may ever deal with.
This, also, has never been a surprise to us. We’re lawyers, after all, and as we’ve always said, law isn’t “disrupted” so much as it “evolves”. Here we’ve built out our “Mailroom” membership to allow lawyers to go even more vastly digital, and to begin to incorporate Juris tools into their own workflows.
The Legislative Level
When we started to talk to our users about their experience using our consumer facing tools, one thing came up frequently enough that we took notice. Our users, faced with a tool that helped them send a demand letter to their landlord, immediately wanted to use the same sort of tool for other things. This part is obvious, but when we asked “what” we expected them to list off other legal problems. They didn’t. Instead, they said they wanted to write a letter to their representatives about climate change, or some other legislation.
We tested this by launching ClimateAction, which uses our system to auto-generate and mail a custom letter to a user’s senator demanding action on climate change. It was a big hit. This made us realize that there was more to the legal system than just the consumers with their legal problems and the lawyers helping them, but also the laws themselves. We found that people were bothered not only by the difficulty found in dealing with legal problems, but also the difficulty in making their voice heard by law makers.
We have rolled assistants like ClimateAction into our system as “Impact Letters,” and we are continuing to develop what we call project “Vocal Citizen” which will increase the number of these letters, and allow their delivery by hand instead of through the mail.
You might have noticed already, that for a digital legal system, there seems to be a lot of talk of letters. Well, let’s hit that before we talk about the product.
Good Old Paper
One of the first tricky things we learned was that paper isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Lawyers know this, because they deal with it all the time. They even have cute sayings like “chasing paper”. Hell, they’ve made it into a verb as they “paper” agreements for their clients by representing them with signed contracts.
It’s easy to imagine, when one says “natively digital legal system” that this is the end of paper. Alas, what we found as we chipped at the problem over the last year was a simple adoption hurdle: the first step in most legal cases (and thus most disputes) is still to send a letter. Whether that letter is to another lawyer, a company, the person you are threatening to sue, or the courts. Sometimes you can send that letter digitally, but in a large number of cases still, the law requires that you actually print a piece of paper and mail it so that you have a “paper trail”.
Crazy, we know, and we are trying with our system to break this, but for now, this is the legal world we live in, and so, letters and the systems to let users deal with them without actually touching paper or the post office are at the core of Juris 1.0.
Juris 1.0 represents the foundations of the “bridge to traditional institutions” we discussed two years ago. As it turns out, It turns out these foundations are made of paper before they are made of blockchains.
So, let’s take a look at what we’ve got in Juris 1.0
Our “virtual assistant” system is made up of intelligent interview flows which start by asking a user all of the questions needed in order to get the details of a case, or an understanding of the personal foundation underlying any given political cause. The answer to any given question informs the follow ups, and so on, until we have gathered all of the information needed to proceed. Based on this information our system is able to automatically offer next steps, and as previously discussed, often that next step is to fire off a letter, which our system will do automatically as well.
As we built our mailing backend, and continued to talk to our users, we realized there was no good reason not to open the power of this system to our users — even if they weren’t using it as an assistant. So, we have included the ability to upload and mail any PDF you’d like.
Letter Credits & Subscriptions
Access to virtual assistants and letter downloads are available via our free tier, where users can still mail things on a pay-per-letter basis. But, for those who know they want to send letters regularly, or who want to use the tools for professional needs, we are offering a subscription model built around “letter credits”.
“Personal Impact” subscribers will get one letter credit per month for five dollars, that’s half off core letter pricing, and they can purchase more at a cheaper rate as well. Credits roll over, so anything not used in a given month will still be available going forward.
“Mailroom” subscribers will receive ten letter credits per month, as well as access to professional features below.
Client Features (Mailroom Only)
Subscribers to our “mailroom” tier will also get access to client management features. With the addition of these features you will be able to add clients, manage their records, and send letters on their behalf.
The same as personal users, Mailroom users can upload custom PDFs to send on behalf of their clients. But mailroom users can also use virtual assistants on behalf of their clients to stream their professional workflow, and even send invites to their clients to complete the virtual assistant on their own with review, and payment shifting options to facilitate flexibility.
And finally, the link back to our mission to maximally empower people (and move toward a blockchain future) lies in how we think about record-keeping.
Anyone who has worked with digital systems knows that some of the earliest design conversations come down to questions of granularity, and data. What is the core of the schema to which everything else in the system will be attached? That is, what is the hub in the center of how we think about the interconnected world of data we will end up creating as we build, and as people use our system.
As we looked at the legal system we explored numerous schemes organizing around lawyers, around disputes, or around jurisdictions, and we landed in a place that probably won’t be a surprise: the people. Lawyers, jurisdictions, disputes: they all change. What is left stable are the people as they move from dispute to dispute, legal problem to legal problem, and through their life.
With this in mind, the true core of our system is the personal “record” and our obsession as we have been building has been with the way in which all of our tools link back to this record. When you visit your record within Juris you will see everything you (or a lawyer) might consider relevant to a case. You will see when the record starts, when certain assistants were completed, and if you use the system to send a letter you will see printing, packing, mailing and tracking updates attached to your record.
As this system evolves we will be adding the ability to track return communications from other parties involved in disputes, systems for evidence uploads, the ability to export your records in case you need them in court, and the ability to flip a switch and move your records off of our system and onto Ethereum (and eventually other) blockchain powered systems.