Computer game to help litigants in person developed

Academics in the United States have designed an online game to help people with no lawyer represent themselves in court.

Courtroom game

Dan Jackson and Martha Davis of Northeastern University conceived the game to help prepare litigants in person (LIPs) in Connecticut.

The game is different from other guides for LIPs in that it seeks to provide players with skills “such as how to address the judge, how to cross-examine a witness, or the pragmatic details of navigating a given judicial system,” rather than on imparting legal knowledge or processes.

The game starts with an animated sequence showing the player having a disastrous experience in court. “Fortunately for the player,” write the game’s designers, “the opening sequence is just a dream, and he or she now has the opportunity to prepare properly for the court hearing.”

The first part of the game walks the player through preparing for court, covering specifics tasks such as gathering relevant documents, arranging witness participation and lining up childcare.

The game then moves to the courthouse, where players interact with staff in different departments and learn the right place to go for help in different instances.

It then moves to preparations on the morning of the player’s hearing, followed by a sequence set in the hallway outside the courtroom where “the player learns how to navigate a confrontation with the opposing party’s attorney, and how to respond to well-meaning strangers who want to share some advice.”

The final part of the game is set in the courtroom, and covers “practicalities such as where to stand and how to address the judge, as well as some of the basics of trial advocacy, including offering documents into evidence and conducting direct and cross-examination.” At the end of the game, the player is presented with information on how they did and offers areas for improvement.

Litigants in person are an increasingly common feature of the legal landscape in the UK, as legal aid cuts mean many people cannot afford legal representation. Indeed, according to plans set out by former family justice minister Simon Hughes, law students are to be brought in to advise litigants in person in divorce proceedings and other complex family cases.

Last year, The Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx published guidelines for lawyers on how to deal with people who represent themselves in court.

Anyone can play the game at the CTLawHelp website.