I have always loved keeping up with advances in technology. At times, I have considered going back to school to learn computer programming. Ultimately, my love of law won out and I chose law school instead. Getting involved with Michigan State’s LegalRnD program under Professor Dan Linna showed me that I can use my love of technology in the practice of law. I see technology as one of the many tools that I can put in my legal toolbox, and I am confident that technology will allow me to better serve future clients. (On a personal level, I am hopeful that technology will set me apart from other applicants).
When I read about the Access to Justice Tech Fellows Program on Twitter (#twitterjobs), I was excited. As it says on the website, the “Access to Justice Tech Fellows Program is a 10-week fully funded experiential learning program that places law students at legal services organization to develop innovative solutions that leverage technology, data, and design to expand access to legal services and improve our civil justice.”
When I saw that there was a host organization near my home in Virginia, I knew that I should apply. I have always believed that not asking means the answer will always be no, so I applied. I was so excited when I found out that I was chosen to be a Tech Fellow. As a non-traditional student, knowing that the Tech Fellowship board saw my potential was reassuring. I was even more excited to hear that the host organization was interested in interviewing me! Over Spring Break, I went to the interview and they offered me the position that day!
This summer, I am proud to be working with Legal Services of Northern Virginia (LSNV). LSNV is a non-profit law firm that provides legal assistance for clients with financial need. They also provide assistance to clients in at-risk populations such as domestic violence survivors and the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Trans, and Queer (LGBTQ) community. Funding for LSNV comes from Legal Services Corporation, local governments, foundations, private bar associations, and donors. LSNV focuses on areas of law not covered by other organizations; this means that they provide services for civil instead of criminal matters.
“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists . . .. [I]t is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”
— Lewis F. Powell, Jr.
My project this summer is to assist with two guided interview systems. The first system will be used by front-desk staff to assess if a client is eligible for services, if there is a conflict that would keep LSNV from representing the client, and which attorney can see the client. LSNV is actually one of the largest law firms in Virginia, so matching the client to the correct attorney is critical. Many clients do not wish to repeat their stories or change lawyers once a relationship is established, so correct placement is important for their sake as well. The second part of the project will be used by the attorneys who provide advice by phone. If clients do not qualify for full services, the phone consult allows LSNV to provide information to help the client in their pro se (self-representation) efforts. The guided interview system will route the attorney through questions based on the responses of the client. Having these guides will allow attorneys to provide assistance for a variety of cases and not just their area of expertise.
In my previous career, I worked with a computer system that was built on a Microsoft® Access® platform. I learned that system from top to bottom in order to do my job as efficiently as possible. Last summer, as I anticipated the start of law school, I never dreamed that my previous work experience would ever be relevant in law. As it turns out, LSNV utilizes a case management program that is also based on a Microsoft® Access® database. Understanding how the system functions has been extremely helpful in working on the fellowship project. As the summer progresses, I hope to help the attorneys use underutilized features of the case management system to lighten their load.
I have had so much fun working at LSNV. I am excited to know that changing careers does not mean starting with a blank slate. Having skills that are immediately beneficial to an employer makes me so optimistic for the future!