By Jim James, Founder EASTWEST PR and Host of The UnNoticed Podcast.
Originally from Guatemala, Colorado-based Mauricio Duarte gave up his life as a lawyer to join A2J Tech as its Chief Operating Officer. A2J Tech is a social enterprise that builds technology to improve access to justice.
Image from LinkedIn
Access to justice is a worldwide problem, with 5 billion people having unmet justice needs. These range from lack of access to courts down to simple legal services and information. Even in the US, a market that is relatively more robust, around 86% of the population still doesn’t have access to justice.
As attorneys, in general, have expensive fees, many people can’t avail of such vital services. This inaccessibility also renders many people unknowledgeable of their rights when they get caught in a conflict.
Legal Services Made Accessible and Affordable
A2J Tech uses two approaches to make justice more accessible. One is to leverage technology to provide free do-it-yourself-style legal solutions. For instance, if you need a legal document or a form, A2J Tech offers an automation technology that can provide you with just that. The second is to make solutions and legal services that cannot be provided for free, more affordable.
Screengrab from A2J Tech’s website.
In their effort to make justice more accessible and affordable, Mauricio and his team encountered two big challenges.
Coming from the legal industry, attorneys are used to using sophisticated words when speaking. They use complex words to explain something that is rather simple. In reality, those who lack access to justice are those who probably don’t have access to the internet, or those who didn’t go to college or have dropped out of school because of some circumstance. The challenge, for them, is to translate legal information — such as those in the statutes that the Congress passes — into a more accessible language. This will allow people to understand their rights better.
Another challenge is the lack of access to the internet. In today’s digital age, there are still people who don’t have access to a desktop. Some are even lucky to at least have a mobile phone or a tablet. For Mauricio, access to justice has a strong and direct correlation to access to the internet. With this in mind, he and those at A2J had to create solutions that don’t necessarily depend on the internet.
Looking at the bigger picture, A2J needed to make legal information more communicable and come up with offline solutions to provide a bigger impact on the population.
Addressing the first challenge, Mauricio mentions how working with other professionals such as copywriters has helped their company. They work hand in hand to achieve, for instance, a sixth grade-level reading: He researches and gives the content; the copywriter makes it more understandable.
He considers working with other professionals game-changing for the legal industry. To be more effective, you have to think that you don’t know everything; you have to rely on other professionals who can provide more value and bring more to the table.
A2J also uses tools to ensure that their wordings are apt for their readers. Combining these human and technology elements helped them create solutions and content that are understandable.
Image from Unsplash
To resolve the accessibility challenge, A2J uses this vision: When creating a product or a solution, you have to build it for a mobile phone first — not a desktop. Today, the odds are more people will have access to a mobile phone than to a desktop. In the process of creating a mobile-friendly solution, you also have to perform tests and make product iterations. Once you’re satisfied with how your solution looks on mobile, you can then move into creating a desktop or laptop version.
For them to cater to people without mobile phones, A2J created what they call legal kiosks. Instead of having people rely on an internet connection, they can simply go to the kiosk (which can be located in a public library or a governmental office) and access the legal solution that they need.
Automating Eviction Forms
One of A2J’s projects that proved to be helpful to many people is the COVID-19 Eviction Form.
When the pandemic hit last year, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an order to prohibit tenant eviction during these tough times. For tenants living in a housing project to not be evicted, they would need to meet some eligibility requirements, fill out a declaration form, and submit it to their respective landlords. The legal letter must adhere to the language that the CDC uses.
Considering it an opportunity to make justice more accessible, A2J focused their efforts and resources on creating a solution that would automate making eviction forms. Within 48 hours — just in time before the order took effect back in September — Mauricio and their CEO gathered the whole team and worked hard to come up with a platform wherein users can generate their declaration letters.
Even without getting third-party or angel-round financing, they were able to launch the project. Now, they have already helped around 40,000 people.
What Mauricio observed was that within the 48 hours that they worked on the solution, everyone involved was passionate. They know that what they’re making is something impactful and meaningful. The product ended up achieving growth organically. A2J didn’t need Google or Facebook advertisements or press releases. They simply posted on their main platforms (LinkedIn and Twitter). Then, they launched COVID-19 eviction forums in English, Spanish, and Portuguese to make their effort more inclusive.
As things progressed, they noticed that the usage of their platform peaked in October through December. These spikes can be attributed to referrals. Even without a marketing budget, their solution was able to reach more people through users simply recommending it to other people who may need it. Now, even non-profitable organisations tackling housing issues are using their solution. Getting featured in different media platforms also followed.
Image from Unsplash
Mauricio’s takeaway in this is that you don’t need to have a big budget and grand marketing plan in order to make your product successful. You just need to make a good impression. And it involves testing your product, making sure it has a good user experience and user interface so that your users can refer it to someone else. Now that the CDC extended the effectiveness of their order until June 30, 2021, A2J expects their users’ tally to reach 50,000.
Making a Positive Impact
If you’re creating a meaningful solution — especially if you’re in an industry wherein accessibility is an issue — your target audience will see the need to use it and start referring it to other people.
Mauricio advises not to simply build things and expect people to come and patronise them. You have to offer something meaningful; something that will have a tangible, positive impact on people’s lives. If they will see a need for it, they will come naturally, especially if you’re providing it for free.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t think that being successful means having big expenditures on online advertisements or on hiring a digital marketing agency. You also don’t have to be an expert on social media (Mauricio, for instance, is only an attorney who uses Hootsuite to post content on social media platforms). As long as what you offer is meaningful, you can achieve organic growth.
A2J’s COVID-19 eviction form is a good example of the so-called cascade theory. It states that if you share information that is new and easy to understand, people are more likely to cross the threshold of reservation and share it with others.
To learn more about the solutions they offer, visit https://www.goa2jtech.com. You can also find them on LinkedIn and Twitter. And if you’re creating a product, take a cue from A2J and offer a good or a service that is needed. Regardless of marketing, you’ll find that consumers will come to you and share your product with others as well.
This article is based on a transcript from my Podcast The UnNoticed, you can listen here.