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“I would like to speak to my robot.”


By Erin Kanygin


Australian start-up, Bumpd, explores where legal technology fits into the Access to Justice space.

In October 2021, a legal app called Bumpd was designed and launched in Australia by a group of passionate lawyers.


The purpose of Bumpd is to lead people through the process of making a legal claim if they have lost their job due to pregnancy or parenting-related discrimination. If a user meets the threshold requirements to make a claim, then the app can generate a tailored document in the correct legal format that can then be sent to the Fair Work Commission (Australia’s federal workplace tribunal) to initiate legal proceedings. The app is completely free to use. Yet, one year in and we have had hardly any users.


This article will tell the story of how Bumpd came to be and explore some of the possible reasons why we have had such a positive reaction from the community (particularly the legal tech community), but such little uptake from actual users.


I am at the age where many friends are starting families (can you say “pandemic baby”), which is the context in which I was approached by my former work colleague, now friend and co-founder, Daniel Yim.


We went for coffee, and he told me about this idea he had, borne from numerous stories told by his friends. All stories shared a similar plot line and same sad conclusion. His friend got pregnant, took parental leave, and then got a call during their leave telling them that their job was no longer needed and that they had been made redundant. The exciting twist: the person who was covering their job while they were on parental-leave stayed on, continued doing their job with all the same responsibilities, conveniently under a different job title.


In Australia we call this a “sham redundancy”, and it has been illegal for decades, together with other forms of pregnancy and parenting-related workplace discrimination.


There are a few legal avenues that one can take to remedy this unfair and discriminatory situation. However, the sad fact is that when this happens, the person is caught up (to say the least) with their baby, and they are already dealing with this momentous life-changing event on top of the next life altering event of losing their job. From what I hear from my new-mom and dad friends, they are a next level of exhausted that I did not know was possible and they hardly have time to shower or go to the bathroom, let alone consider seeking any type of justice for the injustice they have experienced from getting fired.


Dan wanted to do something to confront this issue head on and he asked if I would be interested in helping.


Why me?


Well, I guess now is the time in the story to introduce myself. By day, I am a Legal Transformation Lawyer at a large commercial law firm renowned for its innovative practices in Australia. My role is multifaceted, but one of my main jobs is to design and build legal apps. In other words, I take standard legal processes that occur in a corporate law setting and I automate them. If there is a frequent, administrative, repetitive legal task, there is likely an app for that, and if there isn’t one – I can design and build it.


When Dan came to me with this idea, we put the pieces together and it was an easy conclusion that we could build an app to help people in this situation. This works as an app because the fact pattern is almost always the same, regardless of the employee’s role, seniority, length of service, or industry. Of course, these stories are not black and white, and every story has different colours and sad specificities, but at the core it typically goes like this: the person is an employee, they/their partner gets pregnant, they take parental-leave, and they are subsequently fired. Sometimes the job loss occurs during pregnancy or after returning to work, but you get the picture.


According to a study conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission, 18% of women who get pregnant subsequently lose their job. This is a shockingly significant number. Even more shocking is the statistic that only 4% of women experiencing discrimination ever follow-up and make a formal legal claim. We believe that there are likely many reasons behind this. As mentioned above, it could be as simple as the fact that most people are too exhausted in the first place and can’t begin to get their head around launching a legal claim on top of contending with the new baby and finding a new job. A cousin of mine recently confided in me that she was made redundant after telling her workplace that she was pregnant, but because she was older when she got pregnant and it was through IVF, she felt so embarrassed by the whole thing that she did not have it in her to fight back against her former workplace.


Dan and I, together with an amazing team, built Bumpd and the website that it is hosted on in about one month. We were in the depths of yet another one of Melbourne’s harsh, long lockdowns and so we had time around our day jobs. We decided to build the website on WordPress and we used an Australian no-code legal app building platform called “Checkbox”. Checkbox’s technology has been critical in enabling us to build an app by ourselves and put it out to the world so quickly. Although it does have features that require a bit of computer savviness, it is essentially a drag and drop tool. What this means is that anyone with some time and motivation can build their own app that can act as a triage, document automation, guidance, and/or workflow tool.

Bumpd works by taking a user down the route of making an unfair dismissal claim (which we selected as one of a few types of potential claims someone can make) if they have suffered from job loss as a result of pregnancy or parenting-related discrimination. In just a few clicks they can quickly work out if they are eligible to lodge an unfair dismissal claim, and if they are eligible, the app will generate a document for them, tailored to their responses to various questions, that they can review and send to the Fair Work Commission. If they are not eligible to make an unfair dismissal claim, they can work this out within a minute. I would argue that one of the most valuable functions of Bumpd is that it tells someone if they are not eligible in a matter of clicks, thus saving them time they may have spent pursuing a lawyer or working through the resources available on websites.


The idea seems simple enough, however in the world of law it edges towards radical thinking. This is because although the app does not give legal advice in the strictest sense, it helps a user figure out a legal issue in a significant way and provides them with a helpful outcome. Bumpd differentiates itself from other legal app offerings because it gives the user an immediate answer to a legal question without trying to bait a person into contacting our law firm (we don’t have one) or upsell them in other ways. Bumpd is a registered not-for-profit and the team is comprised exclusively by volunteers. We have no interest in making money off of it -we are just nerdy lawyers exploring this space and trying to help.


Bumpd has been available for the Australian public to use for free since October of last year, and yet uptake has been low. From our analytics we can see that many people have visited our website and indeed a fair few have used the app only to discover they do not meet the conditions required to make an unfair dismissal claim (although we can’t tell for sure how many of these were genuine users as opposed to people just playing around with the app).


We are now in the midst of interrogating why usage has been so low. We’ve been invited to speak at multiple events, enjoyed strong media coverage, won pitch competitions and received several grants. When I discuss the idea with friends and family, or make a post on LinkedIn, the reaction is hugely positive and supportive – people love the idea and almost everyone has a story to tell. But would they actually want to use the app if they found themselves in the position of getting pregnant and then getting fired?


We built Bumpd on the assumption that the reason only 4% of people experiencing discrimination make a claim was an access to justice issue. Our theory, informed by both our own research and the research of others, was that people couldn’t practically enforce their rights because lawyers are too expensive and inaccessible, and a traditional DIY approach is too complicated for the average person. But now the app is built and out there, we are beginning to wonder if maybe that wasn’t the heart of the issue.


I can’t stop thinking about my cousin who said she didn’t have it in her at the time to fight losing her job because she felt such embarrassment.


The Bumpd team has been doing some soul searching and asking ourselves - maybe when this happens to someone, they don’t want to just click a few buttons and automatically have something generated for them. Maybe they want to talk to a real human being and feel genuinely heard and cared for. They want to feel… justice… and I don’t know if an automated questionnaire can do that for them? Or maybe most people simply aren’t interested in starting legal action regardless of whether they can access justice – they just want to put the whole episode behind them and move on with their lives. Less likely, but possible, is that we’ve failed to successfully market Bumpd to be able to reach people within the legally prescribed 21-day window post-dismissal they have to make the claim.


We have plans in the pipeline to reconsider how we can make our product more useful for working new-parents or parents-to-be. We will be running design thinking sessions and collecting feedback from our community to work out the type of information people want to know when they are working and get pregnant.


So far, this venture has been a wonderful and steep learning curve, presenting important challenging questions for the access to justice movement, and also for someone who works in legal innovation where a key part of my job is to drive the adoption of legal technology in a corporate law firm. Computer technology has obviously changed our world and the ways we live in uncountable ways and largely these changes are for the better, yet the legal industry remains so resistant. When access to justice is such an issue, one would think that technology could provide a real answer and yet I’m realizing there are situations where people don’t want to turn to a robot as the first point of call when they experience injustice.


It is a million-dollar conundrum and I don’t have the answers yet, but I do invite you to follow Bumpd’s journey as we do our small part in exploring the issue. Additionally, if you have an Australian friend who has experienced pregnancy or parenting-related discrimination at work, please let them know about Bumpd.


If you have found this article interesting, please contact the Bumpd team through LinkedIn or our website at bumpd.org.au and share your ideas. Although we are exploring this issue in Australia, we know this is a global conversation worth having.

 

About the Author

Erin brings experience in automation and legal design, and is Co-Founder and Director of Bumpd. She used to spends her days working as a Legal Transformation Lawyer at Gilbert + Tobin. She brings knowledge and insight in numerous digital platforms which helps her to design innovative solutions for in-house legal teams and top-tier law firms. Erin has a passion for community as well as social justice, and has done a considerable amount of volunteer work for NGOs and community legal centres. She completed the Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne in 2019, where she won the award for Juris Doctor at the University of Melbourne in 2019, where she won the award for

“Best Law App”, and has been working in legal innovation at Australia’s top law firms since graduation. She is delighted to have the opportunity to work on Bumpd where she can use her knowledge in legal innovation to explore how it interacts with providing access to justice.



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