In Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines, Suffolk Law students create software applications, which are typically focused on promoting access to justice. Below, Vedika Mehera describes her app, which she recently completed under the supervision of adjunct professor Marc Lauritsen.
By Vedika Mehera, 3L
My idea: to provide consumers with a less daunting way to protect their rights.
When a Massachusetts consumer has purchased a defective product, state law allows them to seek reimbursement and other money damages from the seller. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for laypeople to assert this sort of a claim without the assistance of an attorney.
To begin the process, consumers must send a “93A letter” (named for the chapter of the Massachusetts General Laws that gives consumers the remedy) to the merchant that sold them the product. The letter must, among other things, explain what happened, what legal basis there is for the consumer to seek redress, and explain the damages the consumer seeks. The merchant then has 30 days to respond with a reasonable offer to resolve the matter. If the merchant fails to do so, the consumer is eligible for triple damages, attorneys’ fees, and other damages. Drafting a 93A letter is not always easy, and if a consumer fails to insert the correct information, they may lose the law’s protection.
Having worked in consumer protection prior to law school, it didn’t take me long to realize the scope of the problem and the need to help correct it. While a state-run consumer rights website provides some information, the task of quoting regulations or specific laws can be overwhelming to a person without a legal background. I aimed to change that, and the Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines course gave me the opportunity to use what I know to help make a difference for people.
As a student in the course, I created an app that used document automation technology to benefit people in legal matters. My project allows consumers to follow plain-language prompts and, as a result, generates a 93A demand letter for them.
The process of creating this app required me to learn to use two pieces of software called “HotDocs” and “A2J Author.” I used these programs to create an automated online interview, which then converts interview answers into a template that generates a letter. In short, in my app, each online interview question (for example “on what date did you purchase this product?” and a “did this product’s packaging include a warranty for a specific length of time?”) is taken and fed into a template that I programmed. After the consumer has answered all of the interview questions, he or she is provided with a customized 93A letter to review, print, sign and send. At each step, my app explains why it is asking the user for specific bits of information, and provides users with links to resources to educate themselves about their rights.
In an effort to provide a simple and useful service, my hope is that this application will become accessible to the public in the near future and give consumers the legal guidance they need to protect their rights. Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines taught me how to create this project and has inspired me to seek ways to harness technology to help my clients in the future.