Smartphone applications meant to protect rights might present inaccuracies
Students will find applications like LegalHyena a helpful tool to protect their rights if they are cautious.
David Sutherland, a Saline resident who has taught practical law to high school students for the last 18 years, noticed students being frequently abused by employers, landlords and other individuals in power, so he created a smart phone application to fix that.
The smart phone application, called LegalHyena, attempts to cover a range of topics in a concise and accessible manner. These topics include landlord/tenant conflicts, criminal law, family law and taxes.
The application is an abridged version of the website www.LegalHyena.com, which launched in 2007.
“It’s a legal resource in your pocket,” Sutherland said. “You can learn how to negotiate a lease (and) have the basics of landlord tenants at the tip of your finger. It’s everything a college student needs to know to not be taken advantage of.”
Sutherland said the LegalHyena application is unique because of how accessible it makes legal information.
“It’s unique in that all of the other resources out there aren’t accessible. The Department of Labor website, for example, is almost impossible to get around in,” Sutherland said. “… LegalHyena was designed so it can be easy to get around.”
Still, Central Michigan University Finance and Law Assistant Professor Kenneth Sanney is hesitant to endorse the application.
“It is my experience – I am licensed in Tennessee – that in going to court and seeing people using similar applications, like LegalZoom, often times, they’re not as helpful as they could have been,” Sanney said.
Sanney said state laws could be separated into two categories: majority and minority laws. Majority laws are laws that most states hold in common, while minority laws are variations of those laws that differ from the majority.
Applications like LegalHyena, according to Sanney, often use majority laws as their source, and therefore are not equipped to deal with the intricacies present in state laws. This is why, Sanney said, applications do not take the place of legal counsel.
“We don’t have a law that is static; it changes everyday,” Sanney said. “It’s like if you arrived in New York, you pull out an app, have it map out a route with turn-by-turn directions from point A to point B. If you hired a taxi, the driver is going to choose the route that is going to get you there the fastest. He lives there; he’s been there every day. (Your) app is just going to pick the shortest route. Little did you know that the route has been under construction for three days, and there has just been an accident, so it has been shut down completely. You relied on unintelligent information. There’s a difference between knowledge and judgement. Legal applications are very good at delivering knowledge, (but) they have absolutely no judgement.”
Sutherland said he recognizes the shortcomings of the application, and has addressed them.
“(The language) clearly states that this is basic information. You need to check in your jurisdiction about what your local laws consist of,” he said.
The website also addresses these issues in its disclaimer.
“The information provided on www.LegalHyena.com is provided for basic educational purposes and is not specific legal advice,” the website disclaimer states. “…If you have a legal problem, please seek the assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.”
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