Ontario High School Students Bring Creativity and Technology to the Access to Justice Gap

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
Faculty member

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

Amy Salyzyn +_ OJEN logo+ hand and cell phone with apps
Professor Amy Salyzyn is interested in how technology can be used to facilitate more effective access to justice. This spring, she and a team of law students joined with the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) to challenge high school students from Ontario to learn and think about access to justice and to develop concepts for digital tools that could contribute to reducing the access to justice gap.

As Professor Salyzyn observes, “having high school students engage deeply and critically with access to justice questions is one way that we can start to empower them to be active participants in building a better and more responsive legal system.”  

The Apps for Justice Challenge is intended to get participants to think of new ways to use technology to better increase access to justice, and to ultimately design a concept for a legal app to address an access to justice issue.  This spring, and through Professor David Wiseman's Access to Justice Lab course, three uOttawa law students – Priya Dube, Michelle Liu and Jazmine Yerbury – worked under the direction of uOttawa PhD student Natasha Jaczek, collaborating with OJEN to bring this challenge to seven Ontario high school classrooms. Each class engaged with a series of challenge modules – developed from materials originally designed by Professor Salyzyn alongside former JD students Ocean Avriel (2017-2020) and Conor Leggott (2019-2022) – that function essentially as a five-part mini course. Students engaged with the modules throughout the month of March, and in April the best apps from each school were pitched to a special panel of access to justice experts who selected the winning app concept. 

The original Access to Justice Legal Apps Challenge Modules, which are available on the Faculty’s website, aim to help students understand the concept of access to justice and the barriers that prevent people from accessing the justice system for a broad variety of legal problems. Through the modules, students explore the benefits and risks of using technology to make justice more accessible. They are then encouraged to select a specific important justice need and design a human-centred concept for an app that focuses on the needs, values and aspirations of the people in the target audience. Finally, students present their apps to their classes with the goal of persuading their peers that their app could really make a difference. 

While each and every pitch that was part of this spring’s Challenge offered something unique, creative, and meaningful to help address a barrier to access to justice, the selected app was Law 4 All from students at the Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute. Law 4 All was an innovative app and website design specifically offering targeted legal information to newcomers to Canada and their families. The Law 4 All pitch took a very well-executed autoethnographic approach to access to justice. Their legal research process included consultations with community members to assess the specific legal needs faced by new immigrants and refugees in Toronto’s Flemingdon Park/Thorncliffe neighbourhood. Helpful information and resources included family legal services, employment and tenant rights, and immigration and refugee services. The judges panel – made up of Professor Salyzyn; Jess Reekie, past-executive director of OJEN; Priya Dube, law student; Michelle Liu, law student; Natasha Jaczek, A2J Legal Apps director; J-P Bevilacqua, OJEN legal education consultant; and Bryn Reiger, OJEN director of educator support – were duly impressed! 

Honourable mention goes out to Artists in Despair from students at Monarch Park Collegiate Institute. This app was designed with copyright and intellectual property rights in mind. Any YouTuber, content creator, or Insta-user would likely find the legal information presented in this app design very useful!  

“Thanks to our fantastic law students for making this A2J pilot project such a success!” said Natasha Jaczek. “The law students drew on their own unique backgrounds, as artists, engineers, and youth mentors to create engaging and relatable course content for the high school students. Seeing the innovative apps that the youth came up with was the icing on the cake!” 

Congratulations to the winners of the inaugural Apps for Justice Challenge, and bravo to all of the students who took part in this fantastic competition! 

Professor Salyzyn received financial support from the Government of Ontario’s Early Researcher Awards Program to carry out the initial design of this project. Each module is designed with a detailed lesson plan to help teachers bring the project directly to their classrooms. Ontario high school teachers who are interested can find out more about the challenge modules here

The Ontario Justice Education Network develops educational tools to help introduce young people to the justice system. OJEN creates opportunities for young people in Ontario to learn about the law, build skills to manage legal programs, and meet people who work in the legal system. OJEN is grateful for funding from the Law Foundation of Ontario. Learn more about OJEN