The Legal Issues Centre (the Research Centre that I direct) has just released a series of animated videos explaining New Zealand’s civil legal process. We’ve set up a YouTube channel and have released an initial series of nine videos. The idea for this project came out of my thesis work on litigants in person. I had the privilege of talking to many people about their struggle to represent themselves in our civil courts and the difficulties they faced. One of those difficulties was understanding some of the many procedures and practices that lawyers come to know as part of their socialisation into the profession but are not written down, or not written in any place that is easy to find.
Litigants without lawyers are foreigners in the halls of justice and there are few New Zealand resources that act as a Lonely Planet equivalent to guide them. The Ministry of Justice has gone some way to helping out in the form of an online guide. My research suggested it would be useful to supplement these with some animated “explainers”. This is particularly as many of the litigants said they did not really trust Government produced sources and a source produced by a University would be seen as a neutral guide. The animated video also avoids the need for reading large amounts of text-based information. Even when litigants in person are able to read a lot of text (and not all can) there is plenty of research to suggest that multi-media resources support learning more effectively. I’m a close follower of Margaret Hagan’s work and have taught her legal design process to my students. I therefore thought it would be a good idea to walk the talk and go visual with this project.
We partnered with Auckland Community Law Centre in creating this series, to support their new pilot project advising self-represented litigants (the first of its kind in New Zealand). They have put a beta website up today linking the videos and they are working on developing a user-friendly site in the coming weeks. The videos themselves are the work of our two Legal Issues Centre Summer Scholars, ably overseen by our post-doctoral fellow Bridget Irvine. The initial script drafts were written by Law student Bayden Harris (who now knows a lot more about the mysteries of civil procedure than probably anyone else in his class) and our animator was the very talented Media and Communications student Jacinda Kumar. Bayden found and organised a parade of excellent voice actors to dub over the animations.
We did some testing with small audiences over the summer, including a feedback survey. We’ve now released them to the general public but we see this as an evolving process: we are keen to get more feedback to improve our design. So please let us know here or on Twitter what you think and suggest any topics or directions for this project.