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Eliminating the law profession with an intelligent, flowchart-based legal system (version 2.0)

Most entrepreneurial legal needs are standard--whether it's forms to file or counsel. This concept proposes a system which steps entrepreneurs through legal issues to create forms or receive appropriate counsel.

Photo of James Moyer
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The main goal of this concept is to eliminate the need for paying attorneys when an entrepreneur is setting up a business. For this to occur a complete, well-maintained, intuitive website is required: entrepreneurs are guided through the requirements step-by-step to solve their legal conundrums, or create the legal forms required. I propose calling this system LawMaster. 

When a situation is unique (and unsolvable by LawMaster) the system can forward the problem to an attorney as required. 

As explained below, the more information and detail LawMaster collects, the more comprehensive its abilities become. 

How will your concept support web entrepreneurship?

Legal issues scare away potential entrepreneurs, and legal costs are a significant barrier to entrepreneurship. A fully automated, free site which easily and quickly helps with even fairly complex legal problems would make it significantly easier for entrepreneurs to concentrate on their businesses.

What kinds of resources will be needed to get this concept off the ground and scale it?

This requires pretty substantial investment. Each EU jurisdiction would have to contribute significantly: a legal team investigates countless legal issues which an entrepreneur would encounter. A system is setup to triage those legal issues so that they can be implemented step-by-step on the LawMaster system. The system is maintained to take into account new laws, procedures, legal cases and scenarios. A nifty side benefit is that the legal issues suffered by entrepreneurs will be catalogued in an efficient way. The information gained from that database can be used to simplify and improve the legal environment for entrepreneurs in the various EU jurisdictions (particularly where standardization across jurisdictions is possible.) This idea is actually rather revolutionary for government. While there are minor/localized situations of governments offering minor legal assistance (in non-criminal defense situations) this concept would be a comprehensive legal offering for governments.

How could we get started?

This project can be started either by individual EU members or done centrally by the EC. (Some of its benefits are obtained by long term centralization.) LawMaster Evolution 1 begins with learning the ecology of start-ups' legal lives. Those lives begin with business incorporation documents, continuing through the day to day or disaster to disaster legal filings that an entrepreneur would encounter. We do this by amassing an absurd collection of documents. We collate and scan them in. When they are catalogued, we are able to find patterns that represent start-ups legal needs. This "legal ecology" is transferred over to a database which indexes the information so we have lovely meta-data explaining the legal environment for start-ups: 99% of business start-ups in Elbonia begin with form Q ("Declaring my start-up's name") which is followed in 46% of instances by form Q1 ("Locating my start-up's name becase I forgot it") and in 6 months another 23% of businesses file form K ("Firing the owner of a start-up because he's a lazy bum.") 14% of Elbonian entrepreneurs end up suing themselves for severance pay after they fire themselves. We can then compare this to how other countries work, and improve on the experience in all. Now with the index, we can build the "LawMaster" website, which is a hybrid of a software wizard combined with a set of flowcharts: asking key questions to triage needs, showing next and future steps and then returning results. In summary, here are the key features of LawMaster Evolution 1: *Collection and cataloguing of legal documents related to entrepreneurship *Easy to understand interface which explains start-up legal requirements and consequences *Form wizard for creating legal documents for start-ups, with the potential for filing those forms electronically *Collection of statistics regarding business formation for comparison from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, so that policymakers can understand what works and doesn't work well For a sample introduction to LawMaster, examine the Introduction document. To get an idea of how an entrepreneur may experience LawMaster while setting up a business, examine the Evolution 1 document. LawMaster Evolution 2A takes the entrepreneur past the filing into the day to day legal needs of a running business. I talk about this as an second "Evolution" because LawMaster will have to take in considerably more information and grow in sophistication to handle the post-start-up business. Here are the key features of LawMaster Evolution 2A: *Using a wizard to ask questions to triage a legal problem. In the Evolution 2 example, a business owner is dealing with a company which hasn't paid an invoice. LawMaster asks key questions to figure out what is the appropriate course of action (continue normal collections or file a law suit.) *If a law suit is determined appropriate, LawMaster can then create the document and file it with the court. To see an idea of how this might work, see the Evolution 2A .pdf. Evolution 2B allows the defendant receiving the legal complaint to triage potential answers to the complaint (such as the invoice was indeed paid or the company has filed for bankrupty) and potentially file a response to the court. Moreover, LawMaster could also explain potential outcomes of various choices the defendant may make (such as not answering, or countersuing, or paying the bill partially.) LawMaster Evolution 3 answers the question--if LawMaster knows about the unpaid invoice, can triage and file a suit in a court, and then triage and file a response, why couldn't the system simply act as a go-between? LawMaster could inform the company who hasn't paid the invoice that the company waiting for payment has a strong legal case, and that a settlement may be advisable, and here are potential settlement scenarios based on information the company owing money feeds LawMaster. If this should fail, LawMaster could potentially act as an arbitrator between the two sides. LawMaster Evolution 4 asks if LawMaster can act as an arbitrator could it also act as a court of law? At least a lower court certainly. Finally, LawMaster Evolution 5 gains fuzzy legal artificial intelligence. Individuals could ask hypothetically complex questions such as LawMaster can then navigate the complex intersecting laws, obligations, and ethical issues presented by such a scenario and offer reasonable counsel. I've includes Evolutions 3, 4 and 5 not because they directly answer the problems of this challenge in an immediate way (though they certainly would be wonderful for an entrepreneur) but because they show the long-term potential of such an system, and the enormous gains that can be made from an investment. The technology for such a system is available now.

Virtual Team:

I couldn't thank Paul Reader enough for his work in creating the sample LawMaster screens. Many good innovations occurred within those documents. It couldn't have been done without him, or at the very least, it would have been much more painful and inconvenient for me. :) Vanessa W. also helped with some interesting thoughts regarding UX design.

Evaluation results

12 evaluations so far

1. How well does this concept address a significant pain point felt by European web start-ups?

This is a major pain point for European start-ups - 91.7%

This is a "nice to have" but not a serious pain point - 8.3%

I really don't know - 0%

2. How novel do you think the concept is?

Never seen it before - very novel! - 50%

This is common in some places but not in many parts of Europe - 33.3%

This is not novel but a good iteration - 16.7%

There are already other solutions out there that address this problem - 0%

3. How easy is this concept to implement and maintain?

It could be implemented quickly and easily maintained - 8.3%

It could be implemented quickly but will require regular updates to ensure it is accurate and relevant - 16.7%

It is a big undertaking and would need a lot of support and cooperation from people and organisations to make it happen and to maintain it - 75%

4. What type of organisation is best placed to take this forward?

The European Commission should own this one - 50%

This belongs with member state governments (e.g., the UK, Belgium, etc) - 0%

This is best being owned by a private company - 8.3%

This feels like a non-profit - 8.3%

This is a start-up itself! - 33.3%

5. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

It rocked my world! - 75%

I liked it but preferred others - 16.7%

It didn’t get me overly excited - 8.3%

View more

Attachments (3)

evolution-1.pdf

LawMaster Evolution 1 sample

evolution-2a.pdf

LawMaster Evolution 2A sample (collecting on an invoice)

introduction.pdf

LawMaster Introduction

68 comments

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Photo of IMPANIX US

Hey James,

Thanks for sharing such great post. This is very helpful to many of the readers like me, who owns a startup comany.
I started a startup of Accounting and Bookkeeping services named as, Impanix(https://www.impanix.com/). And very new to this startup market.
This article helps me in growing my business globally.

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congratulations on sharing a winning concept! The EC is keen on supporting a way to reduce legal complexity for web start-ups as they grow.

Photo of Paul Reader

Well done James!
I shall be interested to watch how this evolves - in both dimensions - as a really useful tool for entrepreneurs and as a unifying device for European regulation and codification. Thanks too for giving me the opportunity to collaborate.

Photo of Ashley Jablow

Agreed! It's been great to see this concept evolve throughout the challenge.

Photo of Paul Reader

Great to see this as evolutionary James - and particularly your vision of it growing not simply more complete in information and functionality but also more intelligent too.

It makes me think of Google's evolution from a pretty good search engine to what we see today.
I think too of the growth and development of Open Office as a community project, growing despite the persistent existence of commercial alternatives.

LawMaster seems ideally placed for community development as a resource, aimed to contribute uniquely to entrepreneur support, but having broader potential too. Occupying the legal niche it sits alongside and becomes complementary to other concepts like Founder's Dictionary, Matching Entrepreneurs & Experts, Entrepreneur Loan, Open Funding - in fact most of the business aspects of entrepreneurship.

Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks Meena - its great to share ideas here on OpenIDEO and see concepts develop...

Photo of Paul Reader

Great idea James!
I am working on a similar concept from a slightly different perspective.
Your point about standard legal requirements is interesting and I think accurate in relation to contracts etc. together with differences based on regional jurisdiction - all of which could be incorporated in such a site. As you say the effort to establish it is considerable and it would require regular maintenance - a firm such as CCH
( http://www.cch.com ) has vast experience in this area and at least in Australia is one of the foremost commentaries on legal, accounting and business matters.
Some interesting links I looked at in the USA site (listed above) were in their Toolkit:
Small Business Guide
( http://www.toolkit.com/small_business_guide/index.aspx );
About ( http://www.toolkit.com/about/ ); and
Limited Free Membership
( http://www.toolkit.com/pmembership.aspx );
When I was Public Enquiry Manager in the Hobart branch of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) about 30 years ago the whole ATO relied on CCH to provide up to date changes in its own legislation. This was, of course, pre-internet and although the government publisher would publish annual copies of the Income Tax Act, as soon as government made a change to the act CCH would publish changes to its loose-leaf copy that my staff would spend time bringing up to date.
CCH although American in origin is a part of Wolters Kluwer
( http://www.cch.com/about/AboutWK/ )
which is a European listed company.

Photo of Paul Reader

Hi again James

CCH in Europe seems to be a trading entity rather than a resource.

Here are a couple of other links you might find interesting the first is a download on constructing a flowchart for a specific legal process in India

http://brain.edusoft.ro/index.php/brain/article/download/233/354

the second is a link to an online flowchart developed for legal research at RMIT (Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology now a university). Some of the links work and others don't but it is a good example of a simple interactive online flowchart that could be the type of resource you are thinking of.

( https://www.dlsweb.rmit.edu.au/bus/public/legal_research/content/research_methods.htm )

regards

Paul

Photo of Louise Wilson

These are useful links for all start-ups, Paul. I've been looking at the Business Link website in the UK for help with a start-up I'm part of. This page on 'when will I need legal advice' http://www.businesslink.gov.uk/bdotg/action/detail?itemId=1073791782&type=RESOURCES is an interesting one, James. It's a great idea to provide a flow chart for start-ups but understanding at what point you need the help might be useful. A lawyer is unlikely to turn work down even if it might not be required at that point in time. At the end of the day, a large amount of legal work can be downloaded from the Internet but if it's not your skill, you can easily scared away and a flow chart to guide is a brilliant idea.

Photo of Paul Reader

Another great link Louise and I agree that it is very important to know when you need to turn to professional advice. What I think this concept does is to allow entrepreneurs to begin to build a legal framework around their startup that can then be tweaked through professional advice. If you don't mind I should like to utilise a little of the information in the link you have given to support my associated concept.

Photo of James Moyer

Paul, thanks for the link to the Indian study. I see there is nothing new under the sun. :) And interesting thought with having the site maintained by a private company (such as CCH.)

Photo of Paul Reader

Hi again James
I would prefer to see the site independently maintained - the link from Louise is just one of many sites that provide general advice all of which will largely be in the public domain.
Like Louise I think the flowchart idea is great and to that end I am within the hour going to publish a build from your concept related specifically to IP (which represents a subset of your more general legal guidance site).
If you go to http://www.flowchart.com you will find that for the time being it is possible to create flowcharts collaboratively for free - which might give us both the opportunity to invite others to participate in designing prototypes - however I personally have two issues with real-time collaboration - first I am in eastern Australian time zone and I only have dialup internet access. That said I shall prepare a small flowchart based on my concept and make it public for others to contribute changes.
I'm a great fan of taking collaboration beyond the present constraints of the OpenIDEO platform - shared documents etc.- as a way of experimenting with the collaborative process.

Photo of James Moyer

Well for the moment I've backed away from flowcharts...but have I? I was thinking more of a software wizard thing (which hides the flowchart in the background.) What do you think?

Photo of Paul Reader

That's a good alternative - possibly something like what we used to call in the '70s an Expert System - asking the right questions to lead the user along a path to complete all the necessary components for a particular legal requirement. A flowchart is one way of creating such a path that traditionally appears to 'flow' downwards to an outcome and loops back at some points until necessary conditions are satisfied. Expert systems often seem to be horizontal in flow, like Gannt charts but the process is largely the same. However, there is more than one legal requirement to satisfy so, which ever model is adopted, the system requires more than one path and the number would tend to vary between jurisdictions (at least initially).
A series of 'visually' manageable flowcharts linked by hyperlinks and that have links to resources such as contract/agreement templates, government registration forms etc. would begin to satisfy this.

I have abandoned my flirtation with www.flowcharts.com as being too restricted (particularly the free offering) and am returning to my usual tool of CMaps. Take a quick look at http://www.cmap.ihmc.us (or copy and paste cmap.ihmc.us into your browser) This is a professional knowledge modelling tool that might be suitable for prototyping. Under the "box"(concept) labelled Concept Maps click the right hand link and choose Concept Map about Concept Maps.
This should give you a brief idea of how they can link together. - other links can be documents,videos etc. (Because I only have dialup internet access I have downloaded CMap Tools to my computers and upload what I construct - eg. http://cmapspublic3.ihmc.us/rid=1K1S4SRW0-1SJ351Q-W8P/Amnesty.cmap (this was my visualisation for the Amnesty challenge) It can be set up for collaboration, is free to users of the public servers and uni's and government departments can host a CMaps server for free.
Tonight I will try mashing up a small one based on some of the information from the link Louise gave above - and try to incorporate some sample resources.

Another approach might be to use a list with nested information, resources and links - like nested outlining in wordprocessed documents or FAQs.

In the end I think the important thing is that your concept provides the impetus for a user friendly approach to the legal basics which will save costs and lead entrepreneurs to those things they can do for themselves and those where legal expertise is desirable or vital.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

Couldn't it be a software wizard based flow chart? I really like the comprehensive visual aspect of the flow chart and the ability to go back to previous steps. I think seeing everything in front of you make the process more transparent and serves as a visual historical road map.

The flow chart would also allow users to look over their decisions in case they need to double check that they answered a question correctly. If the wizard flow chart is interactive it could let users go back and they wouldn't have to start all over. If they could save their flow chart experiences they could edit them if new information came about down the line. They could also duplicate them and reuse/edit them for other instances instead of having to create another similar one.

Visually I could see the paths not chosen be grayed out, but still visible. This design aspect could more easily allow users to check and follow the paths they have chosen. This could all be undone if they went back and chose another answer. The report type form based on the answers could also be interactive when clicking on key areas. Users could toggle back and forth between the two based on their needs and preferences. Actually, maybe this idea could be offered in a textual format and a flow chart format for users who prefer one way of working over the other. Unless this makes it too complicated, but I think it could be done. You are just offering two different views.
(The textual format could include a progress bar and/or numbered/labeled steps to allow users to return to any place along the path without loosing any of their information.)

Photo of Paul Reader

Great input Vanessa - I have started a simulation (using Powerpoint 2000) along these lines which suggests that tha "LawMaster" site would take you on a guided 'legal' journey that would record your decisions, let you see where you have been, allow you to change your mind (even say 2 years after starting if you change your business structure). Because the 'flowchart is so huge it has to broken into smaller linked flowcharts (although it could be like Google maps if I had the technology and expertise). Did you look at the flowcharts I listed for James?
( http://cmapspublic3.ihmc.us/rid=1KKML58F5-MBZ8MQ-109D/Web%20Entrepreneur%20Legal%20Knowledge%20Base.cmap
)
I'm not proposing this technology for the final product but its a good place to lay out some of the elements for inclusion - although it would be possible to lay out the whole flowchart, navigation is not intuitive, and its designed for a different purpose..

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

(Paul, beware this got long!)
Each green bubble on your main flowchart overview (the link above) could be its own entity (flowchart). When a green bubble is clicked on the main flowchart overview a sub flowchart could open up. I agree you would need separate flowcharts.

You may also need local navigation for those green bubble sections that have multiple green bubbles (For example: The Taxation Responsibilities bubble contains three individual bubbles called Trading Taxes, Income Taxes, and Property Taxes. Wouldn't all apply? At least a user would have to find out.). You may want to guide the user in addressing all three so they don't miss one using the local navigation.

In general for all flowcharts (or text pages) you may consider including breadcrumb navigation at the bottom/top of each flowchart. This would help a user navigate between each green bubble (on one distinct path after the top bubble called "What things do I need….") when an active sub (individual) flowchart is open on the screen. Although this may get fuzzy when things connect horizontally across paths vertical paths. Navigation among the main flowchart overview and the rest of the individual flowcharts would need some more thinking. I would just sketch out a bunch of ideas here, see how they could all connect or not. Consider other standard practice navigational themes. What mental model would the flowchart and its navigation represent?

Once in the individual flowcharts users could then begin reading and answering the yes / no questions to take them down a path. However, a text only version of the main flowchart overview may be another optional format you could offer. This could mimic more traditional navigation. You may need to sort out what should be more standard practice and what is more flowchart like.

For each flowchart you could also consider allowing the user to collapse the view of the flow chart to show the same information in a textual version on the same page or vice verse (with possibly a printer friendly option available). Like I mentioned before some people may like the flow chart format and others may not and just prefer text on the page (like the tax software wizard with a numbered and/or/ both labeled progress bar).

One other idea to consider for the flowchart concept would be to have the next bubble question appear after the user has selected the answer to the previous bubble question (i.e. similar to how some forms show you the next item after a previous one is completed or in MacOS a cursor on a folder that opens up the next folder). An interaction that limits what users see may help to not overwhelm or distract them. This may be especially useful since some content on the flowchart will not apply to users based on their answers. Consider letting them see the whole flow chart at start then once they start down a path everything below that point would not be seen until they answer the next question (or the other idea I mentioned about having future options grayed out until they are chosen). Another idea to consider would be to allow them to click on an option to see a full view of the entire flow chart if they prefer to see everything at once or to just get an overview at any point in the process.

I like this visual flowchart idea, but you should try to test it with some users. It would be best if they don't already know about your idea. Maybe you can make a simple interactive prototype in Axure, Flash or create a basic webpage. This would allow you to get some early feedback on the general flowchart concept. You should let different types of people try your prototype. You could go for the people who are the obvious "visual" types and those that may prefer text based research or instruction. You could screen for those that like visual instructions (think Ikea) and those that may prefer text based instructions (any manual with text based steps). I am sure you could think up a few more parameters here. Try for a mix of people based on type of learner, age, gender, occupation, etc. Your test flowchart doesn't even have to be as involved as the same one at the top of this post. You can make a much simpler version in order to gather feedback. What if the flowchart idea needs too much work or maybe it just should be only used for the overview or used only for individual sections. Find out early and then (or at the same time) try out the text based wizard option. It will be interesting to see what you discover! (Sorry all this just poured out of me. I hope at least some of it is helpful ;-)

Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks for your fabulous suggestions Vanessa all of which are very valuable.
I don't have access to Flash (although I have Wink) that's why I have been using the 2000 version of Powerpoint. I will look at Azure but. without broadband access, cloud development is horrendously slow for me (it took me several weeks to develop my OpenIDEATORS resource prototype
( http://www.experiment.vacau.com/ ) - and to my knowledge only one openideator has looked at it).
Thanks for spending the time to look at the CMaps - I dont know if you found the link to the second one (its in the funny little box below 'company' in the organisation structure area - thats the only way links work in CMaps)
Given my situation I'm probably the wrong person to be helping James to develop this - but I will do what I can.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great to have a User Experience Designer joining the productive conversation here, Vanessa! Might it also be helpful for folks to post examples of flowcharts/software wizards etc which they think do a good job of guiding users through various steps from other sectors beyond legal assistance? Vanessa & others – am guessing you've seen some good examples out there which might provide further inspiration.

Photo of Paul Reader

Agreed Meena, Vanessa is bringing a wealth of talent to this concept (and probably others). Great point about examples already out there - John Cho has contributed one in the Hong Kong site relating to starting companies.- most of my experience in this area is proprietory and pre-internet (lol). Do you know where I could put my Powerpoint (when I have done another 24 hours development) for critiquing? I won't have time to add a file repository to my OpenIDEATOR Resource site until after refinement finishes.

Photo of Meena Kadri

I don't think the examples have to have anything to with start-ups – more of inspiring parallel user experiences. Sorry – no idea about loading your Powerpoint – they're large files aren't they? Can you convert to PDF (much easier for folks to access) and post somewhere?

Photo of Paul Reader

Agreed again Meena - I'm looking for examples "anywhere" - just mentioned John's link for acknowledgement and completeness. At the moment the Powerpoint presentation is smaller than 1mb and bundled with its player is less than 3mb I have tried converting it to Flash but the animation doesn't convert well. I could convert it to a pdf and lose the animation and transition (and I may yet do that). - will still have the problem of where to put it for accessibility from OI though (maybe I could upload to my IP FastStart concept and reference it from here - if I can still make changes to that concept)/

Photo of Meena Kadri

Scribd http://www.scribd.com/ handles Powerpoint – not sure if it's free? Worth investigating?

Photo of Meena Kadri

Or just had a bit of a Google and Slideshare handles Powerpoint and is free: http://www.slideshare.net/

Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks for going out of your way to find these Meena - sorry for slow reply had to do my (almost) daily 2 hours of paid work in between posts. Will investigate these now.

Photo of James Moyer

Well at this point I've definitely backed away from flowcharts. :) I agree with Vanessa that they some people will love the visualness of seeing the flowchart, and that can be added as a secondary element for those who want to see it, and of course the flowchart is enormously useful for the backend...but I feel that a really useful elegant, intuitive flowchart for the frontend is...too complex to worry about at this moment.

I am however using Paul's flowchart contributions as a guide for me. Speaking of which Paul, if you want files added to this, just email them to me (james @ moyer dot com) and I'll add the files. (I *really* want to outsource work to you, I just haven't figured out how to do it yet. So in any case please continue doing stuff...and I shall pray to the gods of broadband that they pay you a visit there in Tasmania.)

Photo of James Moyer

Before I go on, let me mention how this idea came about.

I have often pondered the reasons why people need to consult with a lawyer (in a personal not business context.) Many times these transactions are rote (such as no-contest divorce) but they aren't easily accessible to the layman.

There are many reasons for this:

1.) Laws are written terribly.
2.) The process of law is naturally kind of hidden (even to attorneys.) 3.) There are enormous variations within one state. My own Ohio has 88 counties and each county has weird little procedures that, again, can be mysterious to even attorneys from one county over.

All of this is stupid, inefficient and arguably cruel.

There isn't any oversight body to help people interact with the law in a simpler way. There is an Attorney General but he is the lawyer for the state, and is helpful to people in a limited context.

But perhaps a department/office could be established to make the law friendlier and easier to use--eliminating the need for an attorney. Starting with a flowchart based wizard for even the most complex of legal issues, better written laws and standardization of practices between counties.

And I called the individual in charge of all of this the Lawmaster General.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Interesting James. That same sense of confusion and poor communication + desire to empower from the bottom-up also informed this great concept which was a winner of the Vibrant Cities Challenge earlier this year: http://www.openideo.com/open/vibrant-cities/concepting/decode-the-codes/

Photo of Paul Reader

That's a great link between the challenges Meena.
I will resume thinking about visualisations for the front end as soon as I get home from work in about 3 hours
Vanessa is right about breadcrumb trails and an indication of which elements of the process have been visited and decisions taken. What I'm thinking of at the moment is, say, organisation (business) structure can (in UK) be sole-trader, partnership, company.
A visitor to the site should be able to explore the pros and cons of these options then (having decided the most appropriate for their (current) situation (with the possibility of altering the structure at a later time) but having made an initial decision should then be able to drill down to the detail for setting it up with links to government business registration sites for example. John's HK example is a good one for company registration there.
As for broadband here we are waiting (3 years) for 100mbps fibre based services (unless the conservative opposition gains power and cans the project).
More later...

Photo of Paul Reader

Here is an e-learning link that might have some elements of a possible front-end approach ( http://www.suddenlysmart.com/examples/Patient_Management/player.html ) its taking too long to load for me to evaluate before I go to work in 10 minutes.

Photo of James Moyer

And you're in Hobart? Only other person I've known from there was operating a site for enthusiasts of Saabs and I thought he had broadband.

I actually like the suddenlysmart interface, at least it gives me something to ponder while I sleep.

Do you know of anything I can use to create mock-ups of a software wizard? I guess I can user Powerpoint.

Photo of Paul Reader

yes I'm in 'greater' Hobart (lol). My suburb is low income but on the same exchange as the second wealthiest suburb - they tell me no ports are available, and wireless is horrendously expensive. My wife, 7 minutes drive away in another suburb. has broadband. The patchy coverage is typical of Tasmania which is why we are at the top of the list for statewide fibre. The current government has an objective for 100mbps coverage (fibre to the home) for 93% of the country - but its 3 years away for me.

I am trying a mock-up in Powerpoint although I've moved it to Impress (Open Office) at the moment - I can save it to Flash but it loses animations and transitions (just becomes an automated slide show - which is better than nothing - but not a lot better than a pdf).
I can (almost) emulate animation but not transitions by capturing individual slides in Wink which can be ok.
I can build a mock-up in Authorware (I can even import the Powerpoint) but since Adobe abandoned it and developed Captivate I can't package it suitably for release on the web.

I will keep lugging away and send you a copy of what I have developed so far.in a few hours. Hope you sleep well.

By the way which version of Powerpoint are you using?
I guess at least that would be a common format between us - although 2007/2010 don't support callouts or WordArt.

Photo of DeletedUser

DeletedUser

James, I know the flowchart idea may be harder to visualize offhand. Some may like it and some may not. I really don't know. You would have to let representative users tell you after trying some prototypes.

I wouldn't write off any delivery method too soon without going down the discovery path further without some more research, prototypes and feedback. I think it could really go either way and you could develop a hybrid of sorts. Like I mentioned before maybe only the main overview is a flowchart type style. A reference for users of the big picture to help them find their current state among all the legal information which can be daunting. The flowchart idea still sounds a little more cutting edge to me, but execution would be more complicated than a basic website or tax software type wizard I am guessing. It may all come down to resources.

Even so, see the below links for some software options Paul could download and some inspiring interactive flowcharts and static flowcharts. Some are pretty neat! I was also inspired by infographics and data visualization examples. See some books below as well.

Paul I think you said you only had dial-up service making working online not possible. Software you can download (I believe.). I have not tried them though.
http://uxpin.com/
http://www.justinmind.com/

Interactive flowchart examples:
http://www.sonypictures.com/movies/howdoyouknow/site/infographic/index.html
http://www.marketvisual.com/d/4f12ba4e-b6b2-40b9-aa37-688ecabacf5f
For this one be sure to click on DEMO - http://castersblues.com/project/interactive-flowchart/
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/bestcompanies/2011/word_cloud/index.html

Flowchart/infographic examples:
http://geographer-at-large.blogspot.com/2011/11/map-of-week-11-07-2011-flow-of.html
http://www.coolinfographics.com/blog/tag/environment
http://theinspirationroom.com/daily/2011/canal-plus-film-making-flow-charts/
http://naturoids.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Supply-Chain-FLow-Chart-01.png
http://www.truthstudio.com/viz_us_impacts.html
http://visual.ly/

Books about data visualization could also be useful. Just imagine them in an interactive form. Here are a few books I came across: Visualize This (http://www.amazon.com/Visualize-This-FlowingData-Visualization-Statistics/dp/0470944889/ref=pd_cp_b_1), Envisioning Information (http://www.amazon.com/Envisioning-Information-Edward-R-Tufte/dp/0961392118/ref=pd_sim_b_8) and The Visual Miscellaneum (http://www.amazon.com/The-Visual-Miscellaneum-Colorful-Consequential/dp/0061748366/ref=cm_cmu_pg_i).

There are more books on the subject and I think they could offer some inspiration that is a little more out of the box from your typical flowchart. However, the final product would need to definitely be easy to use and not confusing. Some of the infographics verge on confusing and others are beautiful, innovative and engaging (i.e. color coding a path is helpful).

Some examples make you want to dig in and they reduce the complicated nature of the topics by putting them into smaller digestible chunks. This is what a flowchart solution to your idea could be like. It could help entrepreneurs more easily and enjoyably take in the daunting topic of the legal hurdles they will face. Would it be a stretch to say it could be so engaging that entrepreneurs would be more proactive regarding their legal issues? Would the legal aspects of becoming an entrepreneur be less scary and off-putting with a nice how-to visual map? Just maybe.

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Thanks for these terrific links Vanessa (some of them time-out on me due to slow connection) - I particularly like "How do You Know" as an example of something that is immediately engaging. Interestingly the Autodesk example ( http://sandbox.castersblues.com/infographic/ ) refers to a "journey" which is the terminology I have adopted in my simulation and of course conjures images of the various "roadmap" concepts included in the challenge.

I will look at the software suggestions but with only a 4-day window remaining will probably concentrate on Powerpoint/Impress and try to convert them to pdf and flash for upload.

Here is an interactive flowchart that has grown out of the paper-based "expert" system that I immediately thought of when I first saw this concept. ( http://www.utas.edu.au/dicotkey/ ). It's a field guide to identifying Tasmanian plants. In this case the decisions are implicit in the choices made with the final object being the identity of the plant under examination. It's a simple page based layout with information links, all the information is self-contained. but doesn't provide breadcrumbs (which I agree would be useful in the context of this LawMaster concept).

The infographics are sometimes a great way of providing the information on which to base decisions - particularly if statistics are involved.- and as you say if the application is designed well it could be so engaging as to encourage entrepreneurs to do their own legal "leg-work".

By default my Powerpoint depicts a hybrid (albeit limited in scope).

If this concept makes it through the evaluation phase and forms part of the winning suite of concepts then resources for actual design and development are less of an issue - since that part is in the hands of the OpenIDEO team and the EEC sponsor.
Basically whatever is designed and developed during this refinement phase is aimed at "selling" the concept. Developing actual prototypes during the concepting or refinement phases (like James McBennett's Founder's Dictionary http://www.openideo.com/open/web-start-up/concepting/founders-dictionary/ ) (which I see you making great contributions on too) tend to be the exception rather than the rule.
Priyanka's Matching concept ( http://www.openideo.com/open/web-start-up/concepting/connecting-entrepreneurs-and-experts/ ) is great example of the design approach that gives the overall idea and leaves scope for imagination beyond refinement.

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DeletedUser

Nice plant example. It is rather flowchart/wizard like. I could almost envision it with tabs or the breadcrumb idea like we have been discussing. In my mind there should be some way for user to be able to get back to previous sections and let them know where they are in the process. The progress bar comes to mind again. I wonder if it could count down the number of sections to come or estimated time to complete. This may not be possible due to all the choices, but some type of indicator would be nice. Therefore, the idea of an overview of some sort interests me or some way to look ahead at a glance.

Some forms of wizard like software make make users wonder where they are going and how long it could take to complete. The past idea with the flowchart being grayed out for sections yet to be completed could also be done in a wizard like atmosphere. It could possibly be done with grayed out tabs. There could also be some way of letting the user look ahead, but still see what they have completed so far. It would be great if the system could save their progress and let them come back to it later as well. These tabs could be very basic and break each section up into even the simplest form of an indicator such as beginning, middle and end. This could also be too simple, but a question count at the top of each of those three tabs could give more information to the user as to how long this may take to complete.

There is a lot of good brainstorming here. I hope this concept makes it to the final phase. I think this concept could really help budding entrepreneurs. One thing to keep in mind is knowing your target audience. Who are they and what do they do now with regard to using (or not using) legal counsel and how could your tool be tailored to help them in the best possible way. For instance those users with some business experience may not need the tool as much as those with little or no business experience. At what level would this tool be geared toward: beginner, intermediate or expert entrepreneur. I don't think expert, but finding the line between beginner and intermediate will be challenging. Although figuring out your target audience among other things mentioned will help you find the right design path. Good luck! ;-)

Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks Vanessa - I'm tidying up the mock-up and waiting on James' approval but here is a sneek preview of a partial mockup. ( http://www.scribd.com/doc/93455325 ) I couldn't get satisfactory animation/transition online so its displayed statically. Also I'm too far down the development track to change style/structure before the deadline.

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Vanessa, I wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed the comments you added. I was particularly enthused by the two wireframe/prototyping sites, which I could see being quite useful at some point in the future. (I've also flipped through Tufte's Envisioning Information but that is a pretty intense book, even when I'm in my most nerdy UX moments.)

I was backing away from flowcharts only for the purposes of this refinement which is funny because Paul (thankfully) ended up doing all the work anyway so he could have decided to use flowcharts my opinion be damned. :) I haven't really seen a flowchart implementation that really lights my fire in regards to how this system would work, but I'd like to see it, because I think it does offer valuable information (a user can see what's coming down the line and think "ok...I'm not really happy with that potential outcome, so perhaps I should explore another one.")

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There have been so many good ideas both for UX and concept foundations. Modern search and indexation methods mean a plethora of ways to both present and navigate data. This last passage of discussion has given me another idea on the prospect of an underlying flowchart but we will wait to see what the community thinks of the updated concept.

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DeletedUser

Paul, the mockup helps you get a taste of what LawMaster can do. The more you prototype and show people the more insight you can gain. James, the flowchart idea may be more of a pie in the sky type of execution. However, down the road you will be able to explore all the options. Keeping an open mind and a willingness to try different things later is all you need to be concerned with at this point. You have to start somewhere and this process is all about iteration! ;-)

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Thanks for the encouragement Vanessa - would love to continue the prototyping, still have so many thoughts going round in my head, including revisiting aspects of flowcharting. For the moment I will sleep on it, and await the verdict from the community, OpenIDEO Team and EEC committee.

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Hats off to the level of collaboration on this one guys!

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Version 1 to 1.2: Added more explanation to getting started, Elbonian examples. Named it LawMaster but didn't actually bother putting that anywhere else. Probably should.

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Version 1.2 to 1.21: Added Paul Reader as a virtual team member. Team player? Something like that.

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Hi again James - here is the mashup - there are links between the two cmaps, a link from the overview to this (concept) page, a link to the page Louise posted and a link to a UK company registration interactive pdf. (I will also add a link to a 'model rules' [Articles of Association/Incorporation/Constitution] from the jurisdiction with which I am most familiar.
This is the link to the 'overview' cmap ( http://cmapspublic3.ihmc.us/rid=1KKML58F5-MBZ8MQ-109D/Web%20Entrepreneur%20Legal%20Knowledge%20Base.cmap
) which, if you wish, you can include in the body of your concept or as a link attached to another image. I am looking for somewhere to put jpegs that dont need membership for download - for the time being they are in photobucket ( http://s1181.photobucket.com/albums/x437/satiutni/LawMaster/ )

If you would like to alter the maps themselves (which you are welcome to do) you will need to register and download a copy of CMap Tools at ( http://cmap.ihmc.us/download/ ) - I have opened them to collaboration - you will need to use CMap Tools "Places" and navigate to IHMC Public Cmaps (3) Users (create your own folder ....) and a folder called OpenIDEATORS within which is a folder called LawMaster - there are hundreds of public folders so it takes a while to navigate. Sorry for the diatribe!

As you say, whatever tool is used to create it the effort will be "substantial" - but I think the beauty of the whole concept is that in building it the EU would probably look to both centralise and simplify.the process, hopefully making it easier for start-ups to get underway.

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Version 1.2 to 2: I added Paul's three created files, fleshed out what the 5 LawMaster Evolutions could do, corrected anachronisms from the ancient ideas I had a couple weeks ago...

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DeletedUser

Hum good concept if it wasn't already pitched to VC in the US. Did you read the Ycombiner and masschallenge pitches? At least be honest and quote your sources so people can see how your take is a bit different. The timing of your post suggest you copied from them. Both of the other startups have been around for years. But due to "legal" supposely have been delayed. Which means it is probably a good thing to jump start it in an open source fashion. I am not sure if any startup is ever going to have the legal resources to accomplish this task.

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Hi China twin - to the best of my knowledge this was suggested from a position of genuine novelty - however you miss the point - if the "concept" is already "pitched" its in the public domain and "fair game" - as for development it was not ever envisaged this would be done as a start-up (as in the web-start-ups that are the subject of the challenge). It would be an EEC developed endeavour drawing on professional resources across jurisdictions.
Having said that - it has been fun imagining how it might look and function.

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Hi China Twin.

Thanks for your comment. We encourage sharing inspiration sources here, so thank you for pointing out there are similar concepts in development. We found the link to the MassChallenge one but if you could include the YCombinator link that would be great.

You'll appreciate that there is a lot to keep abreast of in a challenge like this, so it is preferable to provide the volunteer community with information rather than suggesting they've copied anything. Additionally, this challenge is focused on Europe, so many concepts may be drawing on what's happening in other geographies. In particular a concept that addresses legal hurdles will be very different across geographies, so a European focused one will by definition be different than anything in the US.

Your point on an open source solution is interesting. That could be a good way to lower the barriers to getting such a concept developed. It is definitely addressing a big need for start-ups, so seeing anything along these lines get implemented will be great for the community.

Photo of Paul Reader

My apologies China Twin.

Thanks OpenIDEO for tempering my comments with some sensibility.
My enthusiasm for this concept got the better of me.
I think an open source solution, backed by knowledge drawn directly from the participating jurisdictions in EEC, has a lot of potential.

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DeletedUser

I like how this concept is presented. At the recent MassChallenge.org one of the entrants was this very concept (http://masschallenge.org/profile/123-agree). Although it is not mentioned on their public pitch, the purpose of this start-up was to address the legal problems start-ups face in handling legal issues. Their system attempts to apply the principals of BPM (business process management) along with document assembly to automating the process of creating and managing legal documents created.

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DeletedUser

Excuse my previous comment, it is not the exact concept, but closely related.

Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks Joshua - hope to have the demo/mock-up available to look at in a few hours.

Photo of Amy Bonsall

Guys, love the great collaboration going on here and the richness of the discussion! This is a tricky one as you say in the concept description, but if done well could be incredibly valuable to entrepreneurs.

A couple of thoughts: could you have "sample" guides for typical types of companies being set up? E.g., if you are a web startup with less than 10 employees, you need to do A, B, and C... etc.

Also worth looking at how other bureaucratic things are smoothed out. Check out Turbo Tax (http://www.turbotax.com/) in the US, which is an automated way to file tax forms. Also maybe anything that helps with standard legal things: divorces, wills, etc.

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Thanks for the suggestions Amy - am working on promo/demo/mock-up with a debtor scenario for delivery before deadline - have looked first at setup/running/general headings - then available structures eg self-employed, partnership or company - employment has been included under the running the business heading but demo doesn't at the moment drill down employment thread. The debt scenario is included to accommodate James' original vision that the site could help a business owner resolve a debt, even to the extent of filing a court claim without the need for a lawyer.

References and links to the demo/mock-up will be posted either in the concept itself or in comments - depending on time.

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Hi again James,
Hope to send you something from my gmail account (intuitas90@gmail dot com) in the next hour (say by 12:45 am US east coast time). They will be incomplete and probably not work very well but they may be "something".
In the mean time (or later) can I suggest you update the body of the concept with the latest links from Vanessa - perhaps you could head it "Examples of possible ways information might be presented" or something similar.

Photo of John Cho

Here is how Hong Kong approaches the problem:
http://www.investhk.gov.hk/setting-up-your-business.html
The World Bank has them ranked 2nd in ease of doing business and I think this is one of the reasons. Perhaps this could be useful in establishing a framework for other governments to follow suit?

Photo of James Moyer

That's lovely, thank you.

Photo of Paul Reader

Great inspiration for the 'company' component John, which I expect will turn out to be the most popular business structure. I was just a 'sole trader' (sometimes called 'self-employed') for my training/bookkeeping business. I see there is a question about 'self-employment' on the HK forum ( http://www1.investhk.gov.hk/forums/topic/self-employed/ ) the reply (4th post) says "it depends" - and (I believe) indicates the need for this "LawMaster" concept - which could allow you to answer that question yourself by navigating through the system.
Sorry for slow response.
By the way do you happen to know what was ranked "first" by the World Bank?

Photo of John Cho

Singapore, FYI. Full rankings are listed here: http://www.doingbusiness.org/DoingBusiness/Rankings

Also, you may want to look at the Law Library as a source of info for your concept. That can be found here: http://www.doingbusiness.org/DoingBusiness/Law%20Library

Photo of Paul Reader

Thanks for these John!

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Thanks for adding me as part of virtual team.
Ultimately the most efficient and effective way to realise this concept as a way of assisting start-ups will be up to whoever the advisory team chooses to build it. I'm a fan of your software wizard approach which might, in my mind's eye at least, present new options based on decisions already taken without the confusion of seeing irrelevant information too.
Again the big attraction is the efficiencies and simplification that could result from such an exercise. Although requiring considerable initial investment the payoff could return savings well beyond that investment, and possibly beyond just web-based start-ups too.

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DeletedUser

I like the more user friendly software wizard approach, too. I a way it reminds me of the software used for doing your taxes. Based on your answer to a question you get directed down the appropriate path. I think you could also add help or definition bubbles/links to further explain a point or term in case users needed further clarification to help ensue (or make them feel at ease) that they picked the right path. Also, the simplistic visual flow chart approach should yield better outcomes in most cases instead of having users rely on their your own interpretation of the laws in a written textual (book) form.

Photo of Paul Reader

In my simulation which I have described as a 'legal journey' (mentioned on the other link) I have incorporated summary pop-ups eg. a part of the structure I proposed is Organisation Structure so if you clicked on that box it would give you brief details for sole trader, partnership and company) - you could then start that leg of your journey being guided to decide the most appropriate structure for your business including where to find or fill in the necessary forms etc. I have also suggested that certain difficult terms could have links to James McBennett's Founders Dictionary ( http://www.openideo.com/open/web-start-up/concepting/founders-dictionary/ ) and on that site I have suggested perhaps they could develop a Founder's Dictionary specific search engine (or browser plugin) so users of LawMaster (this wizard/flowchart) could highlight something then search the dictionary.
I am very enthusiastic about the possibilities for this LawMaster concept but I also recognise that if it reaches realisation it will probably look very different from my imagined product.
Simulating even a part of a single leg of the journey is a big job for me and I'm looking for somewhere to put the simulation and link from here (I'm also trying to convert it to a Flash file which might be easier to watch).

Photo of Paul Reader

Hi James
Congratulations on making it to refinement.
As you say the legal minefield is a daunting prospect for some would-be entrepreneurs and a resource like this would be a boon to them.
Encouraging government participation would, in my opinion, bring two possible added benefits:
a focus on the comparative barriers currently in place within members of the EU that could be made uniform and simplified - leading to greater competitiveness in the global marketplace; and
giving the EU (as an entity) responsibility for furthering the cause of EU based innovation, again improving competitiveness.

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This got a big thumbs up from the advisory panel. We'd love to see how you'd take first steps on this one – and what you'd do to make it work across countries. Swing by our Web Start-up Challenge Refinement Phase Announcement: http://bit.ly/startup-shortlist + the Lowdown on Refinement: http://bit.ly/oi_refine for more tips!

Photo of Andreanna

This is terrific!
I would love to see a log-in customizable app aspect to this, where I can sync the process to my State and Federal filing dates, form downloads, etc.

Photo of Paul Reader

Sounds interesting Andreanna - technically beyond me other than possibly links to download sites but hopefully someone could build a membership & syncing option in conjunction with the generally available resource.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great provocation around creating efficiencies, James!