ATJ Tech Fellows Challenge

As classes begin this fall, many law students have just finished their first opportunity to work in the legal field. As an ATJ Tech Fellow, my 1L (in law school, each of the three years is lovingly nicknamed 1L, 2L, or 3L) summer was spent in a non-traditional way. Since I am a non-traditional student, this fit me just fine.

Although the main project I was to work on was large, I found that I had time to tackle other projects. I mentioned this at a staff meeting and attorneys began mentioning little problems and annoyances. (Although I had to explain to one attorney that doing legal research using a computer did not qualify as a technology assignment). These jobs included everything from placing formulas in Excel sheets to programming the copy machine with staff email addresses. Although many of these jobs were more tedious than tough, they required time that the attorneys had not been able to find. By automating these daily annoyances, I was able to eliminate little frustrations. I am happy to say that I was able to help several attorneys with many little tasks that will make their tough job a little easier.

One of the jobs that I really enjoyed was creating fillable pdf forms. Although this may not sound like an exciting assignment, I knew that it could have a lasting effect. In this case, each of the forms that I created have been shared with attorneys across the state. Fillable pdfs may not solve the Access to Justice problem, but it can help smooth out some of the bumps. Literally minutes after I finished one form, an attorney asked if it was ready and used it for a case. The judge in the case was so impressed with the form that he mentioned it in open court. As you can imagine, the attorney was thrilled and bragged about it to everyone. And isn’t the job of an intern to make their attorney look great?

By volunteering for these extra assignments, I had the opportunity to learn new skills. This summer, I polished my flowchart skills using LucidChart, created fillable pdf forms with Adobe Acrobat Pro, automated Excel reports, began learning A2J Author, wrote press releases, created fliers for a new app release, and designed team shirts.

For law students looking for the point, it is this: Don’t be one of the interns sitting around waiting for something to do. Even if you don’t have a particular skill, take the opportunity to learn something new. In doing so, you will increase your skills and make life better for the attorneys.

But this attitude is not only for summer programs. Volunteering is great for life too!

This summer, I continued working on my social media game. This led to other opportunities such as starting a grassroots effort to get a mascot for the Michigan Supreme Court, booking Tom Martin to speak at my school, and becoming a videographer at ILTAcon.

 

Some might call my 1L summer less than ideal since I didn’t do traditional “legal” work and don’t have the magic legal writing sample that law firms love to require. I would argue that I have something better. I have new and better skills, I have several attorneys who have specific items that they can write about in letters of recommendation, and I have a firm that is eager for me to come back.

 

 

 

A few weeks ago, Miguel Willis challenged the ATJ Tech Fellows to create a “legal solution incorporating raced-based advocacy strategies and the design thinking process.” I’ll be honest, my first thought was “What?”, but then I remembered that back in February, I had the privilege to attend a workshop hosted by LegalRnD at Michigan State University College of Law. Margaret Hagan and Dan Linna walked us through the basics of the Legal Design Thinking Process. Through a series of exercises, we learned the basic steps of the design process:

  1. Visualize the ideas-make actual sketches
  2. Create a prototype of the possible solution
  3. Figure out the user’s needs to solve their real problem
  4. Don’t wait for perfection; test early and make changes

(The steps listed above are what I took away from the workshop and are a simplistic version of the actual process). At the time, I had no idea how I would use the tools learned that weekend.

In the article “Race-Based Advocacy: The Role and Responsibility of LSC-Funded Programs” by Camille Holmes, Linda Perle, and Alan Houseman, the authors define race-based advocacy as “that which actively challenges both current and historical barriers that impede equal access to opportunity and advancement by people of color.”

Here in Northern Virginia, there are many communities of color that need assistance. However, having worked in law enforcement in Prince William County during the crackdown on Latino immigrants, that population still holds a special place in my heart. I remember the fear and uncertainty in the community. In particular, I remember trying to answer a young mother’s questions about what might happen to her family.

After spending time in the design process, I was stuck. I observed clients struggling with transportation to come to their appointments. Although our office is conveniently near the courthouse, it poses a challenge to clients. Parking (if they have a car) is expensive, and public transportation with kids has added challenges. As I walked into the mall one night, the solution hit me. Why not have a legal kiosk in the mall to dispense basic information? Many public transportation routes run by the mall and there is plenty of free parking. Since many malls have meeting rooms, it would be possible to have clinics or workshops as well. (As it turns out, I am not the first person to have this idea. Back in 2011, several articles appeared describing a lawyer in West Palm Beach who opened a booth in a mall).

Continuing through the process, I considered other needs of the client. I realized that a family with little money to spend may not go to the mall, but the need for milk or toilet paper would likely send them to a corner store. From my time in law enforcement, I know that some convenience stores make a small desk space available for officers to do paperwork. Why not take advantage of this? I have decided that an even better solution than the mall might be a spot in a corner bodega.

Credit: The Simpsons from http://simpsons.wikia.com

I have to admit that this idea really excites me. I will probably not be in a position to test the theory anytime soon, but I think that making legal services convenient would be a great way to increase access to justice. If you know of similar programs, please share in the comments!

If you are interested in reading more about these topics, here are some great resources: