The legal sector, considered as a system made of codes and laws that are not always easy to read, often interfaces with people’s lives. Due to the complexity of bureaucracy and legal language, defined by many authors as an intricate labyrinth of notions, paragraphs and articles, people feel inadequate and very often disoriented. In response to these difficulties, the idea has emerged that the legal system should be redefined in order to make it intelligible to everyone by employing a more linear and clear language. This process of legal innovation was developed through two important legal profiles: legal design and legal tech.
Indeed, the legal discipline has tried to improve the comprehensibility of legal language by abandoning, albeit partially, the so-called “scriptorum” of classical scholars through the use of Legal Design. In fact, the main purpose of this new legal instrument in the hands of new professional figures in the legal field was to limit the use of all technical terms, complex concepts and a particularly articulated syntax in order to facilitate the understandability of rules or contracts, taking into account the difficulty and needs of all relevant parties.
According to the Legal Design Lab of Stanford University, the notion of “design” indicates not only a simple aesthetic design, but also a completely new and innovative methodology that aims at creating intuitive results and legal tools through the employment of icons, graphic signs and argumentative maps in order to make law more transparent and understandable. The legal document is reshaped by resorting to illustrations and schemes, only the essential parts remain, in order to enable people who are not familiar with the legal sector to interact with the latter and understand it in the best way possible.
In Italy, the Bruno Kessler Foundation of Trento developed a project named “SIMPATICO” with the aim of simplifying legal language through the employment of artificial intelligence. The process created by the Foundation is structured around the prior analysis of the text and its consequent translation and adaptation to the needs and factual knowledge of the user, in order to achieve a final objective: to make the document comprehensible and decipherable by the reader. It has been recognized that digital development, which has been raging in every sector of the economy for over a decade, has also revolutionized the world of law and legal services, that more and more employ digital, fast, easy to understand and innovative systems.
professionals begin to be familiar with artificial intelligence, algorithms and
machine learning, as these tools enable them to combine legal skills with
innovative and highly technological solutions. In this context, professionals
feel the continuous and growing need to respond to and satisfy new needs,
including the reduction of time frames and the simplification of procedures
that have always been cumbersome.
According to Claudia Sandei, head of the Innovation Technology Law Lab (IITL) of Padova University, the figure of the legal professional is going to change in the next decade, as he will acquire competences and skills that will allow him to perform efficiently in the digital sector.
The early forms of legal tech were conceived at the end of 2000s, with the purpose of improving all the activities performed by law firms, including: acquisition of customers; monitoring of workflow; restructuring of information architecture; use of online space and cloud; as well as speeding up the management of relations with clients and institutions.
The rise of technology in the legal profession, in the
form of legal tech, fintech and insurtech, also represents an industrial trend
in technological development. In addition to the birth of tech boutiques and
companies with legal in-house, new technological developments have entered the
system. In 2019 there were significant decreases in the length of legal processes,
originated and favored by the implementation of platforms aimed at resolving
The United Kingdom and the United States are the
prodromal example of the digitalization process of courts and tribunals. In
fact, the two countries have encouraged the use of digital platforms to
facilitate the performance of legal processes in a virtual way, without the
need to be physically present in the courthouse. This, undoubtedly, takes on even
more importance in view of the pandemic that is raging on a global level. The
estimates regarding investments in
the digital revolution of the legal sector show the complexity of the increasing
digitalisation of law. In particular, in the two-year period 2018-2019, revenue
in the legal sector, notably the one employing legal tech instruments, exceeded 10.7 billion euro.
Moreover, according to Lawgeex, a contract review
platform, there are multiple types of tools relating to the world of legal
technology (the platform currently estimates about thirty of them). The impact
of new legal tech solutions, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain and
intellectual property innovation, is absolutely disruptive and without
precedents. These new legal instruments not only guarantee the
production of tailor-made documents, shaped according to the needs of clients
and professionals, but also ensure the traceability of the various versions of each
document, allowing professionals to work simultaneously on the same document.
should be pointed out that, even though they may seem synonyms, there is a
remarkable difference between the notion of “legaltech”
and that of “lawtech”. Indeed, when we talk about legaltech, we refer
to the software and technologies that legal professionals use to simplify and
speed up their work; instead, the notion of “lawtech” identifies a
complexity of tools available to clients (legal chatbots, online markets).
To sum up, legal
technology is being developed in three main fields: 1) management of the law
firm through advanced control systems, 2) management and execution of practices
aimed at better administration of the same and, finally, 3) legal services to
the market, as platforms serving delivery services. As legal technology
continues to improve in all these areas, we can begin to imagine a future in
which legal tech tools will play an increasingly central role in the lives of
both professionals and clients, making the legal sector easier to understand
I believe that Covid-19 has created a new space
for talking about our cities, forcing us to reflect on our lives and re-evaluate our priorities. “Should I
move to a greener neighborhood? Should I start saving up some money for the
future? Maybe I can re-decorate my terrace. Oh, I miss sitting on a bench and
go by.” These might be some
of the thoughts that have crossed your mind lately.
During these peculiar times, we are looking for security and comfort and our homes have become more than ever a symbol for safety. Many are staying home voluntarily as a way of protection and the governments in most countries introduced measures requiring people to leave the house only for limited purposes. The message ‘stay at home’ is being spread by the voice of the majority– or, better said, by the voice of the most visible part of society. As the digital space has become our way to connect with others, many of us have found a form of solidarity in sharing the same reaction to the current situation and encouraging others to take part in this collective action: #stayathome, #restiamoacasa, #quedateencasa, #stamacasa and so on, these hashtags have flooded the social media channels. But how is this applying to the ones that do not have a place to call home, to the ones that do not feel safe at home? What happens to the less visible members of society, to the most vulnerable? Does solidarity extend only to those that have a voice?
The above questions made me reflect on how
communities are capable of positive transformations and how they exercise this
right. As David Harvey said, “there are occasions when the ideal of human
rights takes a collective turn”.
This time, people are trying to reclaim their access to basic health and
personal security in the city. The strategy that most of us have adopted
during this period is that of changing our daily practices and behaviour by avoiding social contact in
the hope of reducing the transmission of the disease, which will allow us to
regain our freedom of
movement, our access to public space and our right to the city. Especially in
these circumstances, the process of re-creating the urban space, even
temporarily, depends on all members of society, also on the ones that cannot #stayathome. This
means that we should renegotiate the space of the city, create solutions
for everyone and not discriminate against the most vulnerable, that “must be not only protected but also engaged”.
If the current crisis has reminded us that we all
are vulnerable, then I believe it is the right moment to ponder collective
vulnerability and responsibility in creating safer cities. Urban living is put to the test during this period
and there has been a great variety of responses to the insecurity and risks
that the world is experiencing. While some
reactions are driven only by fear, there are also some resilient communities that learned to reinvent
themselves, and that became models of urban laboratories.
Perugia, a small city in the heart of Italy, is one good example of exercising
collective power during the crisis.
Perugia has been my home for 10 months, but since I left the city I stayed up to date with the news and recently came across a social media post about something called paniere solidale (solidarity basket). The solidarity and engagement that I observed here reminded me of Bauman’s belief that city life is based on the hope of finding ways to easily and successfuly cohabitate and interact “with an enormous, perhaps infinite variety of strangers”. Perugia decided to create a support network for these “strangers” and for all inhabitants of the city through the simple practice of lowering a food basket from the balcony, so that anyone can take something if they are in need or help others by leaving packages.
PThis practice originates from Naples: it is thought that the phrase from the above image was used one hundred years ago by an Italian doctor, Giuseppe Moscati, in order to help the most vulnerable citizens get access to food and to promote the creation of support networks throughout the city. His habit was later adopted in other cities across the country. Solidarity initiatives have a long tradition in Naples and generally in Italy, among which we can mention caffè sospeso, spesa sospesa, farmaco sospeso, etc. (more here).
This collective action of sharing goods represents a mechanism of cultivating solidarity and can be further interpreted as a gift to other members of society – and as Mary Douglas points out, a gift “supplies each individual with personal incentives for collaborating in the pattern of exchanges”. I believe that such networks of exchange constitute the base of a community and, as the current situation has revealed, this type of community interventions, like paniere solidale, are increasing in number during a crisis. But does the local community have the capacity to respond to vulnerability and, in the most extreme cases, homelessness? Is it correct to leave this response in the hands of the community alone? Whose responsibility should it be?
The italian example represents a small-scale
intervention at community level and it advocates
for active citizenship and
empowerment. It is not the definitive solution to homelessness
and vulnerability, but I believe this example can be used as a representation of the urgent
need of social security for the “invisible” members of the society, the need of
healthy environments and the need of building a culture of collaboration.
Community-based actions in a time of crisis represent an opportunity to review
urban living conditions and to reevaluate the concept of having a right to
the city. I believe the local community to be a key actor in the process of
claiming this right for all its members and a key actor in the process of
alleviating homelessness. But this issue cannot be completely solved
without a stronger government response, the production of urban space is a
process of sharing responsibilities and multilevel collaboration. For
example, during this crisis, public authorities should respond quickly and address
the immediate needs of the citizens: e.g., England’s Ministry of Housing,
Communities & Local Government
is working with the local authorities to urgently accommodate rough sleepers in
hotel rooms (more here).
The street “is the river of life of the city”, as William H. Whyte remarks.
Going back to where it all started, the street –
home to a large part of the world population (it is
difficult to measure, but OECD is estimating that homelessness concerns more
than 1.9 million people around the globe) – it is time
to reconsider its role in the process of exercising the right to the city. Streets represent spaces of exchange and connection
and they should be planned as safe, hospitable, inclusive environments that
invite people to interact.
This issue should become a collective concern in the future and I believe a first step in this process should be to re-explore the meaning of the right to the city. What can we add to Lefebvre’s definition: “right to freedom, to individualization in socialization, to habitat and to inhabit”?
 David Harvey, Rebel
cities: from the right to the city to the urban revolution (London: Verso,
2012), p. 3.
International Bank for Reconstruction and
Development, The Great East Japan Earthquake. Learning from Megadisasters (Washington
DC: The World Bank, 2012), p. 4.
 Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid
Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), p.
 Riccardo Siano,
<< Napoli Ecco il cestino solidale “Chi ha bisogno
prenda”>>. La Repubblica, March, 2020.
 Mary Douglas,
“Foreword”, in The gift, Marcel Mauss (London: Routledge, 1990), p.
 Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, Luke Hall MP, Correspondence: Coronavirus (COVID-19): letter from Minister Hall to local authorities on plans to protect rough sleepers. Gov.uk, March, 2020, accessible here.
 William H. Whyte, City: Rediscovering the Center (Philadelphia:
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), p. 7.
 OECD, Better data and policies to fight homelessness in the OECD. Policy Brief on Affordable Housing (Paris: OECD, 2020), available here. The current situation is pushing urban planners to redesign public space in order to meet the new needs of citizens and it is also an occasion to urge authorities and civil society to guarantee protection to those whose home is the street and to make these people visible in the city.
 Henri Lefebvre, Writings on Cities (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, 1996), p. 173.Perugia, Via Enrico dal Pozzo. Source: Facebook page Associazione Culturale Fiorivano le Viole.
As cities around the world are looking for the best strategy to safely reopen after the lockdown, it is important to take a moment to reflect on what the global pandemic already taught us in terms of local governance. In this article, Professor Sheila Foster offers a thought-provoking analysis of the complex relationship between local and state administration in the US and stresses the indispensable role that Mayors should play in addressing global challenges.
Professor Sheila R. Foster is one of LabGov’s co-founders. She is SALPAL’s Faculty Advisor and is the Scott K. Ginsburg Professor of Urban Law and Public Policy at Georgetown University (joint appointment with the Law School and the McCourt School of Public Policy). Professor Foster teaches and writes in the areas of property, state and local government law, and urban law and policy.
This article originally appeared on the Georgetown Law website on April 12, as part of the Project on State and Local Government Policy and Law.
The COVID-19 crisis has shown dramatically why local government, where mayors and health officials are on the frontlines of responding to global health threats like pandemics, is increasingly where effective governance happens in America. But as the nation’s mayors flex their muscles, they sometimes run into conflict with governors, who have primary authority in a public health emergency under most state laws. We’ve seen that this week, but also have seen how a proactive response by mayors can drive policy change at the state level. After all, viruses don’t respect city limits.
South Carolina’s governor issued a stay at home order this week but only after the state’s two largest cities had done so. The cities of Charleston and Columbia, South Carolina issued stay at home orders in late March in an attempt to slow the spread of infections from the coronavirus and out of frustration that state officials were refusing to put in place such orders. The Governor indicated that he did not believe a statewide order was necessary. Next, the Attorney General of South Carolina issued a written opinion questioning the legality of the city orders, and arguing that only the Governor can use such emergency powers to issue a shelter-in-place order anywhere in the state. The Mayor of Columbia pushed back, standing by his City Council’s vote to impose the order. The Mayor argued that the order was within the city’s authority and did not conflict with state law since the state had not taken any action anywhere in the state. In other words, cities like his were simply stepping into the breach created by state inaction when faced with a public health crisis.
This was not the only tension between mayors and governors over the last few weeks as officials at every level of government decide how best to respond to the pandemic unfolding across 50 states. Most states have now put in place some form of stay at home order and many have done so only after their most populous cities and counties have done so. When these states issue orders, they often are written to “preempt” or supersede existing, stricter local orders. In Georgia, for example, the governor recently signed an Executive Order superseding any previous local “shelter-in-place” order, effectively reopening beaches that had been closed under those previous orders. Similarly, Florida’s governor recently amended his state-wide “safer-at-home” order to supersede “any conflicting official action or order issued by local officials in response to COVID-19.” Mississippi’s governor also signed an Executive Order that supersedes all local restrictions previously put into place. Most recently, the governor of Arkansas barred cities from putting in place any quarantine orders and denied a request by the mayor of Little Rock to impose a stay at home order in his city.
Tensions between governors and mayors, like tensions between governors and the federal government, are a feature of our federalist system in which power is divided and shared by the federal government with states and localities. The problem for mayors, is that under the US Constitution, they have far less power than governors. The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reserves “to the States respectively, or to the people” all powers not specifically delegated by the Constitution to the federal government. In turn, states have the option to delegate powers to their localities–and many have– often reserving their rights to supersede or “preempt” local laws. Notably, there is no mention of local governments in the federal constitution.
The power of local governments—including cities, counties, and towns— is therefore dependent on the authority given to them by their respective states. In legal terminology, this power is either restricted under “Dillon’s Rule” (named after Judge John Dillon) or more expansive according to “Home Rule” authority. According to Dillon’s Rule, a local government can exercise only those powers explicitly granted to them by the state government. If there is any doubt as to which powers are given to local governments, the presumption is that they lack the power to act. Home Rule, on the other hand, is a constitutional or statutory delegation of local autonomy and limits the degree of state interference in local affairs. The scope of home rule authority varies from state to state, but localities that have it tend to exercise it and test its powers in areas ranging from local gun control measures to minimum wage laws to bans on trans fat in retail food sales.
There are very few “pure” Home Rule or Dillon’s Rule states, meaning that few apply one rule to every local government. Most states are hybrid states in which both Dillon’s Rule and Home Rule apply to different local governments or to different functions of local governments. Local governments eligible for home rule in these hybrid states tend to be populous cities and counties, and often must either be legislatively granted home rule or must enact a self-executing local home rule charter.
It is no surprise, then, that some mayors that have stepped out in front of their states in imposing stay-at-home order are operating under Home Rule authority. This authority gives them the power to adopt and enforce local policies that promote the safety, health, and welfare of their residents. Yet, Home Rule authority is subject to a simple limiting principle—the power that states give to their localities can be taken away. Preemption is the mechanism through which states take back power in a particular field of regulation, or over a specific subject matter that has statewide implications or effects.
Preemption has gained a new valence during this time of heightened political polarization. Tensions between governors and mayors have escalated in past few years with the tendency of republican-leaning state legislatures to preempt and even punish democratic-leaning local governments for enacting policies such as designating themselves as a “sanctuary city” to shield their undocumented immigrant population from the harsh deportation practices of the federal government. Mayors pushing progressive agendas are increasingly running into a wall of conservative state resistance through what some view as aggressive, and even “nuclear”, state preemption. There are hints of resistance that runs the other way as well, with more conservative cities and counties enacting “second amendment sanctuary” resolutions in response to the adoption of stricter gun controls by more progressive state legislatures.
This tension is manifesting itself in the COVID-19 context as well. In most cases, it is republican controlled states pushing back against, and preempting, blue localities stay-at-home orders, as in South Carolina. But partisanship is not the only issue. Take New York, for example. Although Governor Cuomo has been widely hailed for his leadership during this crisis, It was the Mayor of New York City, Bill DeBlasio, who first called for “shelter-in-place” order similar to what had already been implemented in San Francisco. Governor Cuomo resisted the Mayor’s suggestion, noting that fear and panic was as dangerous as the virus and suggesting instead for a more gradual shutdown. It wasn’t until California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a state shutdown, following on the heels of San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s local order, that Governor Cuomo finally relented and ordered the state of New York to shelter in place. The New York and California leaders all are Democrats.
While it is easy to look at partisan tensions to explain the actions of the governors, there are structural issues as well related to the extraordinary nature of this particular public health emergency. Most, if not all, states give governors broad emergency powers. These include the power to declare a statewide emergency and to trigger waivers of existing rules and regulations, as well as to deploy resources and exercise other powers to be able to respond to the specific emergency. The South Carolina Attorney General argued that a patchwork of local laws that conflict with a statewide order would create confusion and anxiety. But until there was a statewide order, there was no pre-emption, and the mayors were free to set their own course. The Mayor of Columbia’s position that localities can act in the absence of state action does not cut against the Attorney General’s preemption argument. In the final analysis, both the Mayor and the Attorney General are correct.
In the absence of state action, local governments that have Home Rule authority can exercise that authority to put in place orders that protect the health, safety and welfare of their residents. In other words, cities can step into the breach before state authorities exercise their authority in an emergency. However, once the state has acted and set the terms of a statewide response, local governments must essentially step aside. The state’s action, and the scope of its action, effectively preempts local action by occupying the emergency field during the crisis at hand. This strikes the right balance by giving power to localities, particularly those densely populated urban centers likely to contribute to the risk of disease spread, to institute measures to protect their residents. At the same time, it preserves the right of states to occupy the field of responding to a particular emergency, especially when the emergency traverses local government boundaries and poses a risk to the entire state as the COVID-19 crisis does.
The governance of infectious diseases has a long history going back to the quarantine measures put in place by Venetians centuries ago. Today, networks of Mayors around the world are sharing information and evidence-based strategies for responding to public health threats in urban environments. U.S. Mayors should be able to bring those best practices home and have the authority to implement them as part of a system of federalism in which subnational governments are the “laboratories of democracy,” as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said of state governments almost a century ago. Instead of preempting mayors, state leaders should view the actions put in place by mayors as opportunities to coordinate responses and for collaborative policymaking. Whether acting independently or collaboratively, mayors play an indispensable role in responding to global threats like pandemics and in improving our collective ability to withstand these threats.
focus on how Western cities deal with the Covid-19 crisis dominates our media,
it is crucial to also analyse the situation in the Global South. Although the
virus is not as widespread in the Southern Hemisphere, according to what we
know, some of the poorest people are suffering the worst consequences.
More than 1 billion people worldwide are counted among the urban poor. They mostly live in informal settlements and are employed in the informal sector. According to UN Habitat’s Executive Director, Maimunah Sharif, informal workers and people living in informal settlements face a high risk of contagion with Covid-19. This is due to high numbers of malnutrition, respiratory diseases, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases associated with a lack of access to hygiene facilities.
For example, the informal settlement of Kibera in Kenya’s capital city has more than 2.5 million inhabitants (CNBC), making it the largest informal settlement on the African continent. Most of the people living in Kibera are employed locally. The current crisis challenges them on multiple levels, such as:
of economic opportunities
of access to health services
access to health protection materials, such as face masks
density, therefore no way to comply with social distancing measures
for social problems and exposure to domestic violence
In Europe, most of us can lean on some kind of support system during the crisis. In poorer contexts, such as Kibera, this is usually not applicable, which is why many informal workers continue with their day and night jobs. They are usually not able to implement measures such as social distancing, working from home or applying the prescribed hygiene measures.
we better protect all parts of society in the face of a pandemic, particularly members of the
informal economy? One of the answers is to increase urban resilience. This concept,
pioneered by the Rockefeller Foundation with their 100 Resilient Cities project, aims at enabling cities to bounce
back from any stresses and shocks without a lasting impact on the urban
environment. The concept of resilience is usually applied to environmental
disasters, but the current crisis is making urban planners rethink it. Now and
in the future, we also need to consider health risks and ways to make our
cities more resilient to them. This is particularly important when it comes to
city is a city that has “the capacity of individuals, communities,
institutions, businesses and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and grow
no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience” (100 Resilient Cities). For an informal settlement like
Kibera, this means that there is a need for people-centred interventions
that can improve the city’s or settlement’s resilience – both during and after
While every informal settlement is different, several lessons can be learned from interventions in Kibera:
a crisis needs an action-oriented approach that is tailored to the physical
the communities’ internal organisation, their local knowledge and their
expertise is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus
sustainable response and recovery is the goal – this means that the resilience
strategy should apply to future disasters as well
for community engagement and leadership as well as access to affordable
services and socio-economic safety nets are crucial in informal settlements
protection from evictions is another important way of
creating more safety in informal settlements; it is also part of the right to
practice, informal settlements like Kibera are now working hard on improving
access to water and sanitation. Awareness raising through youth
groups, trainings on hand washing as well as community mobilisation are
important tasks carried out by UN Habitat and other organisations. In Kibera,
the new hand washing stations are supporting women and youth entrepreneurship.
Even after the crisis, they will provide a new stream of income, making the
settlement more resilient at the same time.
planners must work hard to improve resilience in cities, particularly in poor
or informal urban contexts. They can learn from examples like Kibera when it
comes to community mobilisation and finding ways to fight the
crisis that will last. Improving sustainability and resilience will prepare all
of us, in the end, to be better prepared for future crises.
Save the date! Tuesday, May 5 at 4 pm, there will be the final event of the Interdisciplinary Urban Clinic of LabGov 2020 on the platform Cisco Webex.
For those who are discovering our project, this year we addressed the issue of fashion in relation to sustainability by developing an innovative and sustainable idea to the problem of the environmental impacts generated by this sector. The event will consist principally in the presentation of the final prototype of our project followed by some interventions of our special guests.
The production of the prototype by LabGovers
2020 wants to demonstrate that students can already be part of the answer to
the growing demand for sustainable fashion if you cross technological
innovation and social and environmental sustainability through circular economy
platforms that connect companies, social start-ups, associations and creative
digital communities with an urban rooting.
We will also talk about Covid-19, its impact on
Made in Italy and the prospects of sustainability and digitalization in the
field of fashion.
Guests of the event will be: General Manager Luiss, Giovanni Lo Storto; Rector Luiss, Professor Andrea Prencipe; Giacomo Santucci, President Camera Buyer Italy; Lorenzo Greco, CEO DXC Italy; Vincenzo Linarello, President of GOEL – Cooperative Group; Professor Maria Isabella Leone, executive director of the Master in Open and Innovation; Dr Elena Ciccarelli of NTT DATA and Claudia Giommarini, office ERS lab Luiss.
Don’t hesitate to ask for the link to the video conference room by writing a message to Labgov.city on Instagram or Facebook to participate to this beautiful presentation!