We’re Rolling out A2J Author Version 5.0!!!

The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI) and the Center for Access to Justice and Technology at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law (CAJT) will be rolling out the new version of A2J Author® for the legal aid community this Friday, August 1, 2014 at 12 noon CST.

(Edited to add: There will be two webinars on Friday, August 1 about A2JAuthor 5.  They are at 11:00 AM Central and 3:00 PM Central. Free but pre-registration required using those links.)

A2J Author® is a software tool that delivers greater access to justice for self-represented litigants by enabling non-technical authors from the courts, clerk’s offices, legal services programs, and website editors to rapidly build and implement customer friendly web-based interfaces for document assembly. With this technology, the legal aid community has delivered over 2.5 million interactions with users seeking assistance in a legal matter for themselves.i The community of authors of A2J Author Guided Interviews should be proud of this accomplishment. But we are really only getting started.

(Interesting to note, a recent article about LegalZoom mentioned that they had served over 2 million people and the company had expected revenues in 2012 of $200 million. A2J Author is provided at no cost to legal non-profits and government agencies.)ii

A New Website and Authoring System

This Friday, we will be throw the switch and a2jauthor.org will point to the new website and the new authoring system. The old website will not go away for at least a year and will continue to be accessible at old.a2jauthor.org while we are updating the content on the new website. You will still be able to download and install A2J Author version 4 for at least 6 months (and probably longer) while we work with LHI to bring up the new Viewer and help everyone transition their A2J4 Guided Interviews into A2J5 Guided Interviews.

A2J Author Guided Interviews are stored as XML files. The format of those files is different between version 4 and version 5. This was unavoidable. We have done considerable work in the background to make the conversion of A2J4 interview files into A2J5 format, but some human intervention will still be necessary to make your interviews run in the new viewer. We will be posting detailed information about this and holding several webinars that explain the process in the near future. We are working hard to make this transition smooth, but there will be bumps along the way.

The next several months we will be shaking out the new system and you can help by uploading your A2J4 Guided Interviews and testing them in the new A2J5 Viewer. We crave your feedback so that we can refine and adjust the new platform for when it goes live with real people on LHI later this year.

This is not an upgrade, this is a whole, new platform. I want to see 20 million people served per year and even more. Access to justice isn’t just about quantity, but quantity does matter. Our goal is not to replace lawyers, but to make the limited human lawyer resources more valuable by concentrating their work where it can have the greatest impact. Technology vs. Lawyers is not an either/or proposition. The greatest benefit will come from our strategic and intelligent use of Technology + Lawyers to increase access to justice.

Technological Information

Almost 10 years ago in December of 2004, we rolled out the first version of A2J Author. A2J Author versions 1 through 4 were written in Actionscript and were wrapped in a Visual Basic shell. The viewer was a combination of Actionscript and some small Javascript. You could only create new Guided Interviews® on Microsoft Windows PCs, but you could run a Guided Interview on any machine that had a web browser and the Flash plugin installed. This was the time of the browser wars.iii Mozilla Firefox 1.0 was released in November, 2004 and it was near impossible to deliver a consistent and reliable experience on different browsers. Flash was the best solution at the time. Also, Apple Mac market share in law schools was below 10% with no expectation that it would every rise again.iv This was before the iPod, iPad and iPhone.

Today, however, things are different. HTML, JavaScriptandCSSform a very capable development environment for Single Page Applications (SPAs).v Macs represent over 50% of the PCs visiting the CALI websitevi  and Flash is persona non grata on Apple iPhones and iPads and problematic on other smartphones.

The new version of A2J Author is a single page web application designed to run in modern browsers and does not require a software package to be downloaded and installed on the author’s machine. This is because the software that runs the application is downloaded every time you visit the website. This has the advantage of allowing for rapid and continuous bug fixes and feature enhancements. It also means that A2J Author will work on your PC whether it runs Windows, Mac or Linux. The viewer is also a (smaller) single page web application that runs inside the browser and (will soon) be able to do so on smart phones and tablets as long as they continue to support modern web browser standards.

Thanks to LSC for funding this, LHI as our partners in crime and the Legal Aid community for their ongoing support.

TL;DR / In Summary

  • On Friday, August 1, 2014, a2jauthor.org will point to the new website and new authoring system.
  • Everyone will have to create a brand new account on that website to be able to create new Guided Interviews and upload old interviews for conversion into the new version 5 format.
  • The old website will still be accessible at old.a2jauthor.org for at least a year.
  • You cannot run A2J5 Guided Interviews at LHI or on your own servers (e.g. online intake) just yet. We are working with LHI with a Fall 2014 time frame and hope to have a download package for putting interviews on your own server for the folks doing online intake and the like.
  • The mobile version of the A2J5 Viewer is still under construction. We hope to deliver that this fall as well.
  • We are also working on a basic document assembly subsystem for A2J Author but do not have an estimate time of completion just yet.
  • The new A2J5 Viewer will support Korean, Spanish, English, Simplified Chinesevii and French (in progress) right away.
  • The new A2J5’s logic will support nested IF and ELSE’s too

.. but WAIT, there’s MORE. Seriously. We will be talking about this a lot more in the future. Follow us on Twitter @A2JAuthor and @CALIorg.

As always, if you have any questions, ideas, suggestions, praise or complaints, do not hesitate to contact me directly.

John Mayer
Executive Director


i.Based on the latest statistics reporting from LHI which hosts the majority of the A2J Author Guided Interviews available. http://www.probono.net/dasupport/news/article.519725-LHI_Newsletter_April_2014

ii. http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/latest_legal_victory_has_legalzoom_poised_for_growth#368486 “… As of August 2012, it had served some 2 million customers, according to a prospectus it filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in advance of a planned initial public offering. In 2011, it brought in revenues of $156 million and was on track to bring in close to $200 million in 2012…”

iii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Browser_wars#The_second_browser_war

iv. http://www.theoligarch.com/microsoft_vs_apple_history.htm

v. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single-page_application and http://www.manning.com/mikowski/ – the latter is an excellent book on Single Page Web Applications.

vi.According to my webmaster and our web logs in the Spring of 2014.

vii. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simplified_Chinese_characters


About John Mayer

Executive Director of the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). Follow me on Twitter @johnpmayer. Contact me via email at jmayer@cali.org. Call me at 312-906-5307.
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