Most people do not expect to face legal troubles in their lives until they are slapped with a civil lawsuit. In Singapore, half of the participants in a survey conducted by the World Justice Project experienced a legal problem in the past two years. What the survey also revealed was that not everyone knew where to seek information or advice. Furthermore, many do not have the means to hire a lawyer. Although there are legal clinics and a pro bono office in Singapore, help is only offered to a small number of applicants due to restrictive acceptance criteria. Therefore, many people choose to represent themselves. People who represent themselves are also known as litigants in person.
The average layman finds the law complex and confusing. This is because the law and the legal system is designed with lawyers in mind. Lawyers spend years of their lives training and studying, learning how to navigate the highly difficult legal system. Litigants in person are underdogs in a system that works heavily against them. Although self-representation is an established right in Singapore, litigants in person simply do not have the same amount of resources and information as lawyers do. There is a pressing need to reform the justice system to make it easier for litigants in person to represent themselves. Legal tech has the potential to close the gap to access to justice faced by litigants in person.
One way in which legal tech can assist litigants in person is via legal document assembly software. Court procedures can be very confusing and litigants in person may not know what to include in their court documents. Templates created by legal document automation software can assist litigants in person to fill in forms quickly and accurately. Under a legal document assembly software, all a litigant in person must do is to fill in the blanks to the questions asked by the software. The software can help litigants in person save their valuable time in figuring out the different court procedures and what to include in the forms. If priced reasonably, legal document assembly software can encourage more people to pursue the avenue of self-representation and close the gap to access to justice.
Legal advice chatbots can also assist litigants in person in their claims. Some benefits of using chatbots are that they are available 24/7 and they are cheaper than hiring actual lawyers. When faced with a legal claim, a litigant in person may be overwhelmed by the immense amount of information online and may not know which ones to refer to. A reliable, regulated, court-sanctioned legal advice chatbot would be extremely useful to litigants in person as it can redirect litigants in person towards the right resources. A chatbot can also assist beyond providing procedural advice and it can even suggest resources such as case precedents and academic journals to assist litigants in person with their cases. More advanced chatbots can even go one step further in providing legal advice to the litigant in person. However, this comes at a risk for the litigants in person should the advice not be effective or reliable enough. Therefore, there is a need to audit and check the software behind the legal chatbots regularly to prevent misinformation or abuse.
Legal tech is not the problem. Legal tech has a lot of potentials to close the gap to access to justice faced by litigants in person. The question here is whether these technologies are made available to litigants in person. What is needed to solve this problem is a benevolent collaboration between the government and the business sector to collaborate, fund, and create the technology that can assist litigants in person. Only then can litigants in-person benefit from the legal tech. Only then can society come one step closer in closing the gap to access justice.
 World Justice Project, 2017 General Population Poll, Singapore.
 Helena Whalen-Bridge, “Automated Document Assembly, Access to Justice and Consumer Risk”, (2021) 33 SacLJ 315.