Kevin Fraher hadn’t thought much about the benefits of plain English until he was faced with his own frustration in trying to create a legal will. But what started out as a challenging experience soon became the seed of an idea that’s now helping to create wills for thousands of New Zealanders. That seed grew into Justly — a website that allows people to make their own will on demand.
Before founding Justly, Kevin had taken a roundabout journey to plain English. Initially a secondary school English teacher, Kevin went on to start his own brand agency, where he says he spent much of his career being ‘flowery and wordy and creative’ in his solutions for clients. When he started to make user understanding a priority, as he’s done with Justly, it ‘flipped how I thought about the world’.
His preference turned to plain English.
Taking a plain English approach to the law
Justly is a software application that provides the legal tools and information to make a will or enduring power of attorney — on demand.
Kevin’s excited and passionate about what he’s created. He says that, after a long time spent refining the application through user-testing for understanding, users can now create a will in just 15–30 minutes.
They answer questions written in plain English. These answers are then translated into legal clauses, written by specialist lawyers, that form a will.
The process is secure, and can manage simple and complex wishes. It’s so simple and easy, says Kevin, that many law firms now point their clients directly to Justly to ‘get their will done’.
‘The process of having a will written in New Zealand has traditionally been very cottagey. Everyone was doing their own thing, which introduces a lot of variation, ambiguity, and opportunity for error,’ Kevin says.
‘But Justly has one approach: it’s standardised. The end result is the same questions asked the same way, resulting in a high-quality document every time.’
Refining user experience until it’s effortless
Kevin’s idea of an online plain English will service went through several hoops to reach the stage that it’s at now. As a start-up company, Kevin first had to present the idea to angel investors — people who provide capital to get a business started in exchange for some kind of return once it’s up and going.
And once these investors were on board, Kevin had to constantly prove the service had potential and that it was worth their investment.
‘What that meant is we had to create a service that users stuck with. These days everyone’s busy, and if they don’t understand what they’re reading on screen quickly, they give up.’
Kevin had to make his service effortless. He constantly assessed the performance of his site. He monitored the drop-off rate, amended content where people got stuck, and then ‘put it out again’.
‘If users got stuck on a paragraph or a button, we’d rewrite the content or redesign the button. We refined the experience to make it as simple as possible.’
Making the law more accessible
For Kevin, creating Justly was about ‘scratching an itch’. He says he’d like to believe in the law and the justice system, but feels many people lack the money and understanding they need to access it.
‘Unless you’ve got deep pockets, law for many people is largely inaccessible. People don’t know what they don’t know. So they may get pushed around by life because it’s too hard to push back.
‘I like the idea that the law is there for me. But when I can’t access it, I get frustrated. I started Justly for this reason, to avoid my own frustration. But ultimately it’s for everyone.’
Kevin says he gets feedback from users every day, mostly to say thanks. Occasionally he gets calls from people who’re concerned the service ‘can’t be legally valid’ — they say the process seems too simple. But he’s says it’s easy to put these people’s minds at rest.
‘Once I reassure people, they understand that simplicity is one of our core values. It’s because what we offer is so simple, like asking questions in plain English, that it’s effective. And trusted.’
Melissa Mebus is a Plain English Specialist at Write Limited, a world-class plain language consultancy. Write helps businesses and organisations to achieve their strategic goals through clear and efficient communication.