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5. Strategy 2: Scaling gamechanging justice services

Trend Report 2021 – Delivering Justice / 5. Strengthening gamechangers: main points

Before explaining in Chapter 6 how potential gamechangers can be turned into an investable opportunity, we indicate the main points of attention for each gamechanger. What do they need to scale effective services in a sustainable way?

From our research and experience of working closely with providers of justice services, we have learnt the following. These issues need to be addressed in a feasibility study informing the investment in a gamechanger.

Click on a gamechanger below and find out more.

Having ensured that game-changing justice services can provide high-quality treatments, the task force should turn to effective delivery of the services. Each of the game-changing services needs to reach 10.000s or 100.000s of people with pressing justice problems every year. To achieve this, a service needs to be scalable. The wya the service is organised ensures that the marginal cost of serving one more user with a justice problem is considerably lower than the extra revenue this user will generate. This margin can then be reinvested to improve the service, manage risks and reward investors.

In this chapter, we explore what is needed to turn a promising gamechanger into an investable opportunity. A sound plan for a game-changing justice service has a number of mutually reinforcing elements, which are described below.

Pilots, startups and new courts: the potential gamechangers

Game-changing justice services are being developed already. Community justice services exist in many countries. Mature startups deliver contracts online. Problem-solving courts are widespread. These gamechangers once started as small services: in the first neighborhood where Colombia’s houses of justice were piloted; in a single court in Brooklyn; or on the very first version of LegalZoom’s website.

Entrepreneurial judges, lawyers and IT professionals turn ideas for new services into pilots and justice startups. These startups and pilots make up an important part of the justice ecosystem. The number of innovation attempts in the justice sector is substantial. In 2011, Oxfam alone supported 800 rule of law programmes, most of them aimed at better justice services for vulnerable groups. Courts around the world often run multiple pilots in parallel.

Once the taskforce has decided which gamechangers are needed, it can cooperate with an accelerator programme to select the most promising existing service providers. The table below identifies early stage services that follow the path of promising gamechangers. 


Gamechangers category
Community justice services
Bataka Court Model (Uganda) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2018-19 Houses of Justice/ Casas de Justicia (Colombia)
User-friendly contracts
Creative Contracts (South Africa) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2017-18
One-stop dispute resolution (Netherlands) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2013-14
Problem-solving courts
Mental Health Courts/ Therapeutic Jurisprudence (US) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2013-14
Claiming platforms
Haqdarshak (India)  HiiL Accelerator cohort 2018-19
Prevention programmes (fraud, violence)
Yunga (Uganda) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2019-20 Ushahidi (Kenya) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2015-16 Appruve (Nigeria) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2019-20
Online legal information/advice
DIY Law (Nigeria) HiiL Accelerator cohort 2015-16

Alternatively, the task force can opt for developing a new service. The Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT) in British Columbia is an example of the latter. The CRT was set up as a result of an initiative by a group of justice leaders in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The first problem-solving court in the US was also created as a new court instead of a pilot within an existing court. 

Governments often choose to set up new tribunals outside of the existing court structure. Ombuds, specialised tribunals and houses of justice did not grow out of the existing courts. This follows a more general innovation practice. Mature, large organisations that want to break new ground have learned that the corporate structure – with all its regulations and social norms – is not ideal for innovative ventures. Typically, they base their startups outside the existing organisation. Eventually, when the new way of serving users has matured, it can be brought back into the corporate structure. This happened with the many tribunals that had been set up in England and Wales that later became part of an overarching organisation of courts and tribunals.

  • The HiiL Accelerator Programme works with justice startups. These innovators are primarily in the private sector but also include intrapreneurs working from within justice sector organisations. Justice innovation hubs have been set up in Johannesburg, Kampala, Kieve, Lagos and  Nairobi. 
  • Several ministries of justice run their own innovation programs, among them the ministries of Netherlands, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

Proving the concept: conducting a feasibility study and piloting

The service already exists, or has been piloted. In business language, it should have market validation. In language more fitting to government services, a feasibility study is needed. Unless the selected service is already on track towards effectiveness, scale and sustainability, it can be seen as a pilot or an early stage startup. A pilot and the experiences of a startup deliver a wealth of knowledge about justice needs, effective treatments, possible revenue models and barriers to bringing the service to scale.

The validation or feasibility study confirms to what extent the service is already effective, and what should be improved. This work is usually carried out in partnership with independent evaluators. It identifies a gamechanger’s main barriers to scale. A feasibility study consolidates the learnings from the existing service or pilot with knowledge from other sources. It details what improvements are needed and assesses how likely it is that these improvements can be made. The feasibility study identifies the main points of attention for the gamechanger and explains how they will be addressed.

Standardising delivery: channels and value proposition

Justice services are often very personal in how they are delivered. Judges develop their own ways of talking with the parties during a court hearing, which is the key moment when they can influence them. This can in turn increase the resolution rate of the court service and the quality of the outcomes it delivers. An online platform referring people to lawyers is only as effective as the lawyer who handles the case, and each lawyer develops an individual approach. 

Scaling implies standardisation and effective outcomes, which is closely linked to evidence-based practice and to financial sustainability. Better quality services are more likely to lead to a revenue model that is sustainable and scalable. Users, governments and communities are more likely to pay for a service that actually solves most land problems. This, in turn, will provide a better business case for investments, which could be either public, private or mixed.

Solutions that work increase resolution rates. Outcomes are well-defined and monitored, making the quality of the service visible. 

Standardised, effective treatments also need to be delivered through standardised channels. The user-facing side can be a justice worker in a community or a website. Additional assistance can be organised through a telephone, help desk, or chat function. The guideline for treating the justice problem needs to be translated into practical steps for employees, including scripts for key interactions with users. Once tasks are defined and allocated, the time that they take can be estimated. This further standardisation can lead to efficiency gains. 

At the same time, the individual person seeking justice should feel heard and be served as an individual person. Justice problems often have high impact and cause distress. People need to feel heard and want to be respected. This is a challenge for any court, police station or startup delivering justice services. 

At the same time that the service is standardised, each user needs to feel respected as an individual. This individualisation should be built into every delivery model for justice services. Disrespect is the most common feeling associated with an injustice. So for justice services, treating customers respectfully and not as a case or a number to be processed is particularly crucial. Effective legal help offered online should be combined with options in-person assistance, for example. 

In order to benefit from it, sers need to know that a service exists. Individually, they are unlikely to encounter more than one land problem, one major crime issue or one separation in their lifetime. Searching on the web or consulting friends should lead them to the game-changing service. Substantial investments in marketing are needed for this. Currently, people go to many different agencies and individual service providers, each trying to compete for attention online or in communities. Widespread awareness can be achieved, however. Colombia’s houses of justice are known by 70-80 percent of the population, even though only 2 percent of the population (10 percent of the poor) use them. 

Awareness on its own is not sufficient. Game-changing services need to develop a very clear value proposition. In HiiL’s work with justice innovators, this has proven to be an important element bringing a service to scale.  gamechangers aim to offer a standardised service with a high resolution rate. Instead of telling a client that he or she may either win or lose the case depending on how a judge sees it, the service providers should try to be as clear as possible about outcomes.  

People would not be referred to an excellent lawyer, but rather learn about what the service will aim for. The value proposition for a one stop procedure for land conflicts could include a stable agreement about rights of use and ownership. A defendant struggling with substance use and repeated justice system involvement  would like to know what a problem-solving process would deliver for him. How would his life change after participating in the process? 

The value proposition of justice services provided by courts needs the most work. Judges routinely tell parties to conflict that a decision will not solve their problem. Prosecutors in the US, Uganda and in every country in between talk about diversion, suggesting that the service that the court provides is not effective. Community justice services, by contrast, have a more convincing value proposition: a peaceful resolution that restores social harmony and is supported by the community.

Bringing in sustainable revenues: the financial model

Task forces are likely to underestimate the potential of justice services to generate sustainable revenues. In our 2020 Trend Report, Charging for Justice, we investigated possible sources of revenues for justice services in detail. Here we provide some of the highlights. 

People with justice problems are prepared to spend considerable amounts of money. HiiL surveys that have investigated willingness to pay find that it is considerable, even in low-income countries. This can be explained by the significant impacts that justice problems have in people’s lives. Although the high price of lawyers is generally seen as a barrier to justice, legal needs surveys paint a different picture. Only a small percentage of people with justice problems who do not use a lawyer mention price as the main barrier to resolution. 

Based on these data, our report hypothesised that the quality of justice services is the main obstacle when it comes to willingness to pay. From a user perspective, hiring a lawyer is not very attractive. The outcomes are uncertain and one of the possible end points of the justice journey, a court judgment, may not deliver the outcomes a user needs.  

Game-changing justice services, which focus on the outcomes people need, can be far more attractive for users and in turn increase their willingness to pay. Smart fee systems can be developed, with pay structures that make use of services far more attractive. Smart fee systems optimise who pays for what and when they pay. 

User contributions are possible even when the target group is low-income. In Uganda, the Local Council Courts charge fees from users in rural areas that help to cover the costs of the tribunals. Providers of justice services can also consider taking contributions from the other party to the dispute, who may have deeper pockets being a landlord or an employer. The community is often prepared to contribute to the costs of justice delivery as well (volunteers may for example act as third parties, and civil servants may act as mediators). Government subsidies for courts or legal aid are common. An effective gamechanger can attract targeted subsidies for the most vulnerable users. 

The size of a smart fee should have some relationship to the costs of the service delivered. Pay-as-you-go systems have been developed in which accessing information is free, but support to achieve a settlement generates a fee. This fee can increase if a client needs mediation, adjudication or additional interventions that may be required in  complicated situations. Government subsidies or cross-subsidisation can be used to avoid a situation where people who need a solution most are not able to afford it. Germany implements cross-subsidisation through fee schedules that charge rather high fees from corporate plaintiffs with substantial financial claims.  

Task forces can also consider the timing of contributions. Court fee systems are often poorly designed. The user – who is likely to suffer financially from the justice problem –  often has to pay up front, many months, or even many years before the court provides relief. This arrangement also misses the opportunity to incentivise courts to deliver more useful judgments earlier. Smart fee systems optimise all of this.  

Vital public services like health care would ideally be free at the point of service for a basic package. In order to achieve that ideal, countries engaged in decades of innovation, resulting in: improved quality of services leading to greater willingness to pay; increased revenues leading to greater investment in better services; the development of private and public insurance models; government coordination; and willingness to contribute to the health of fellow citizens. All of this helps to ensure 100 percent access. 

  • HiiL, Charging for Justice, 2020 provides an overview of how justice services can be made financially sustainable. It includes a chapter on smart fee systems for justice services. 

Scaling the service: reaching the target population

The transition from reaching 100s of people to covering a country’s entire population is best done on the basis of a scaling plan. Setting up or improving community justice services is often done geographically, area by area. One-stop shop procedures are most often implemented for one problem type at a time. 

Contracting platforms typically develop standardised wills, family relationship contracts, employment contracts and/or rental contracts before they go live. This kind of minimum product package is needed before scale can be achieved. Integrating customer feedback to achieve optimum product-market fit is also important.

LegalZoom: scaling and improving

LegalZoom is often characterised as a ‘disruptive innovation’ or an innovation that brought about a paradigmatic shift. Time and again, the company has introduced cutting-edge services that have had success in the commercial market and simultaneously made legal services more affordable than before. To date, the company has over 4 million customers. One important factor that has enabled LegalZoom in scaling is the company’s problem-solving outlook. 

LegalZoom did not become complacent once its first venture – legal documents – became commercially successful. Rather, it sought to resolve more and other problems that people faced, one of which was obtaining legal advice from qualified lawyers for a modest fee. To address this problem, the company offered a prepaid legal plan to customers. As per the plan, customers can schedule unlimited 30 minute consultations with lawyers on personal and business matters for a fee starting from 10 dollars a month. 

Thus, by diversifying its services, LegalZoom was able to tap into different sections of the market, expand its customer base and position itself as an attractive innovation to investors. 

As one interviewee said, 

Many times, innovators are [so] carried away by the strengths of their innovation, that they forget to further innovate. Afterall, the innovator is trying to resolve problems. By limiting the innovation to a certain set of problems, the innovation limits its own growth. Instead, if the innovator adopts an attitude where he or she is looking to resolve new and more problems, it automatically broadens the scope of the innovation. By continuing to address problems, the innovation boosts its own effectiveness and ability to reach out to more people than before.

Rolling out a service is a specialism. High fidelity to the treatments that have been agreed is crucial. The leadership and staff that are needed to ensure that the service is rolled out well usually are to be different from the leadership and staff needed at the initial innovation stages. Useful experiences can be obtained from other public services such as financial inclusion and providing electricity to low-income areas of the world. These services have made important strides towards scale in recent years. 

They often started as private sector initiatives backed by impact investors. Later on, such services can be included in or validated by the relevant government agency. In these ways, justice services can reach many more users.

M-PESA and scaling justice services

The proliferation of mMobile phones in developing countries isare contributing to equal treatment of vulnerable groups. Their use – in financial inclusion, increasing access to education, and many other Sustainable Development Goals – cannot be underestimated. 

M-PESA is a large-scale mobile phone-based payment service working towardsensuring financial inclusion in Kenya. The scaling history of M-PESA provides interesting lessons. Launched as a public-private partnership by Vodafone and Safaricom with the support of a grant from the UK government, the initiative began as a pilot programme. The overwhelming response M-PESA received from the people in Kenya encouraged the company to scale it across the country.

Initially, the service was launched as a phone-based micro-lending initiative. However, after realising that the customers were using the product for a number of alternative purposes, the team decided to change the value proposition to allow people to make payments through the application.

Studies about M-PESA provide evidence of this public-private partnership’s success in increasing financial resilience and saving as well as in allocating resources more efficiently.  In 2016, a research paper by MIT estimated that the initiative had lifted 2 percent of Kenyans out of poverty. The research also found that the impact of M-PESA on female-headed households was more than twice the average measured.

The challenge of closing the justice gap is very different from solving unequal access to electricity or access to financial services. Still, many lessons can be learned from how other public services have approached the scale challenge.

Securing investments: an investment plan that entices funders

The task of securing investments for justice services warrants a separate report. Here, we mention a few key learnings from our work.

One insight is that the public and the private justice sectors use different kinds of investment approaches and invest for different reasons. In the public justice sector, major “investments” are made in court buildings and IT infrastructure. These investments often seem to be costs of maintaining services that are slipping. Investment plans for the public justice sector are often accompanied by talk about “dilapidated” court buildings and “paper files.” New court buildings and paperless offices are the deliverables.   

Our view on investments is closer to that of the private sector. Investments should be aiming for growing justice services and improving their quality. An investment plan details the resources needed for the game-changing service to scale. Investments come in different rounds to support the scaling process. As a service reaches more people, its revenues grow. The investments are needed to finance the scaling process until further scaling can be paid from the growing revenue stream. 

The justice sector can do a much better job in securing investments. Development think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI) has investigated funding mechanisms for justice in several studies and found that investments in justice by international donors are stalling. Private investments in people-centred justice are also minimal in comparison with so-called investments in legal tech initiatives that primarily serve major law firms and businesses.  

A second observation is that game-changing justice services cannot scale on the basis of the usual grants of a few 100.000s of euros from NGOs and international donors. The resources necessary to bring a service to scale require investments in the range of millions and tens of millions of euros. This kind of money is needed to sustain a strong team, validation, the effort and tools for standardising the service and the execution of the scaling plan. This includes marketing and awareness raising. 

Third insight: this is considerable money and at the same time very little money. Compared to the social benefits of a game-changing justice service, the investments required are rather small. The gamechangers tend to have low fixed costs compared to other investments in national infrastructure, such as internet connections, electricity grids and networks of hospitals heavy with medical equipment. For example, fixed costs for community justice programs consist of the money needed for developing treatment guidelines, standardised working methods, IT infrastructure and a team that can ensure delivery of consistent and high-quality services by justice practitioners in communities. 

Delivering justice primarily involves sharing information and connecting people through sophisticated interaction processes. An infrastructure for data collection on outcomes is also crucial. This infrastructure requires considerable investment but once the necessary laws, processes and interaction formats are in place, justice services can be brought to city neighborhoods and rural areas at costs much lower than the costs of expanding the roads and 5G networks.

Justice services, investors and mission creep

Based on its work with justice start ups, members of the HiiL Accelerator team developed the following case for the scaling program. 

After five years of work experience in a law firm in Pakistan, Waqqas comes up with the idea of developing an online platform to process consumer claims, called Claimz. The venture sees great success in the initial stages and the number of Claimz users starts growing. The users find it very easy to navigate the platform and feel that their voice is being heard by the big MNCs and the government who would otherwise not entertain their legitimate complaints. With several awards for their exemplary initiative and media articles under their belt, Waqqas and his team start considering the possibility of raising serious investment to scale Claimz. 

The team receives good mentorship as part of an accelerator programme, which  puts them into contact with several angel investors and impact investing firms.

Many pitches and a number of sleepless nights later, the team receives the required funding from a prestigious angel investor in South Asia. They are jubilant and excited to scale the venture not only across Pakistan but also South Asia, as promised in their business plans.

After a few months of working under the guidance of the angel investors, it becomes evident that the vision of Waqqas and his team is getting further and further apart from that of the investors. The investors start putting conditions on their continued investment, which the Claimz team feels are increasingly pushing them out of the justice domain.

Not only do the investors expect the team to start serving individuals with legal issues other than consumer complaints, they make the next round of funding contingent on serving general consumer queries on the platform, starting from electricity and gas payments to movie tickets.

While the proposal of the investors was guaranteed to bring Claimz to scale and bring in more users, Waqqas and his team begin to wonder if they are staying true to their original mission.

What should the Claimz team do in these circumstances?

The team leading the game-changing service should carefully consider what type of investors will best match their mission. The case study in the box above illustrates this. Private investors may be guided by a short-term horizon and financial returns. Innovators in the HiiL Accelerator that come from the start up scene are often interacting with the type of investors who stimulate them to move towards additional revenue streams that can be accessed easily. 

Justice sector investors sometimes struggle to understand that more substantial growth can come from linking the services to courts and other government justice services. Understandably, they are reluctant to support scaling plans that need the cooperation of government agencies. They see this as high-risk and unpredictable. 

Social impact investors and public-private partnerships may be more suitable sources of funding for game-changing justice services. In five of the seven gamechanger models, the submission problem of having to satisfy two parties with different objectives is a barrier to growth. Cooperation with the government can solve this problem and open up a path to rapid growth. Investing in lobbying for a level playing field may be a way to get access to the market for mandatory services that are certified by the government.

Enhancing leadership and team

Setting up or substantially scaling a gamechanger requires effective leadership. Private investors are extremely conscious about the teams of the innovations they consider funding. For justice services implemented by governments, this is also a major point of attention. 

Access to the right mentorship is critical at different stages of an innovation’s growth. This is especially important when an innovation is expanding, raising additional funding and forming a market share for the justice service they offer. Whether the service is based in a government agency or in a startup, it needs growth in user numbers.

Problem-solving courts: the promises and pitfalls of strong leadership

Strong leadership has been essential to problem-solving courts’ ability to deliver the treatment outcomes people need at scale. Without the leadership of visionary judges and other leaders aiming to do things differently, they would never have come into existence in the first place. 

Because of the tendency to maintain the status quo, individual problem-solving courts also rarely get off the ground without a strong champion. The reason for this can be traced to problem-solving principles and practices themselves: the goal is not to force people to change, but to make them change because they want to. In the same way, effective leaders can persuade system actors that problem-solving justice is the way to achieve common goals.

Community courts in particular require strong leadership. This can sometimes pose problems for the courts’ long-term stability. For example, a community court in North Liverpool was championed by prominent national politicians. Their leadership was important for the court’s establishment and initial funding, but changes in national leadership and the lack of local support were major factors in the court’s ultimate closure.

Community courts may also struggle when their early champions move on. To avoid this and prepare for the eventual departure of the personalities who are driving change, it is important to put the courts’ internal ways of working into writing. As previously discussed, it is also necessary to obtain evidence that the court’s approach works, as this is a more important driver of funding than good leadership in the long-run.

Mid-level leadership within problem-solving courts also matters. Since staff are often employed and supervised by various partner agencies – rather than the director of the project as a whole – it is particularly important that they be selected with care, trained in the project’s mission, policies and practices, and incentivised to work as part of a single team.

In the scale-up phase, innovation leaders need an orientation on managing growth. In HiiL’s accelerator activities, we see that justice innovators are often heavily involved in improving the service. We have seen many judges and lawyer-innovators continuing to handle individual cases during pilots, as well as IT experts who continue to improve their innovation’s web interface while also leading a team. 

A team should have a range of skill sets and methods. Scale-up programmes focus on enhancing more than 20 different capabilities. For example, they focus on developing an innovation’s competitive edge: a unique advantage that makes the service distinctive. 

The data about private sector scale-ups illustrate what kind of teams are successful in bringing a justice service to scale. Most services that scale are established by three or more founders who had previous experience in setting up new activities. Half of founders in the justice sector are insiders, and the most successful founders set up many ventures prior to their current one. They tend to have considerable experience in previous management roles.