When I started law school at Michigan State, I didn’t have a Twitter account. The main reason for this was that I had worked for a local law enforcement agency and the thinking for many years was that law enforcement and social media shouldn’t mix. After joining the student organization Legal Launch Pad, I was exposed to Prof. Dan Linna heralding the need for everyone to be on #legaltech Twitter.

Giant check for 3rd place in social media contest

When the Career Services Office introduced the Social Media Contest in the fall of my 1L year, I finally took the plunge and created a Twitter account. Entering the contest was very much motivated by my goal to fund a bar exam review course with “found” funds (funds that I won, received as gifts, found, etc.).

Since joining Twitter in November of 2017, my attitude toward social media has changed completely. At first, it seemed as though Twitter was filled with people patting themselves on the back. As my circle expanded, I began to see a different side. I found that legal tech twitter has many generous people who will take time to answer questions, share information, and congratulate others for their accomplishments.

Another side of Twitter began to come into view when I saw a tweet about the Access to Justice Tech Fellows program. I had heard of twitter jobs of course, but I thought that they were much like the elusive unicorn. This program was no unicorn, and I am proud to say I was accepted as a fellow.

Selfie while recording interviews at Iltacon

Jobs are not the only opportunity on Twitter though. Last summer, I was able to go to ILTAcon because I responded to a Twitter plea from Kevin O’Keefe (founder of LexBlog) for a law student assistant. For two days, I rubbed elbows with legal tech giants as Kevin interviewed legal tech company founders and introduced me to the many people he knew. (All the interviews now have their own home on the web at Legal Tech Founder and I highly encourage you to check them out).

For law students willing to take the initiative, Twitter is a way to find out what is happening in various areas of the law. It is also a way to make contacts in parts of the country where students might like to practice. Even better, Twitter is a way to learn from so many wonderful lawyers in all stages of practice. Some of my favorite accounts to follow are judges.

Today, I tweet frequently from my personal account (@edgeofempty) and also manage Twitter accounts for the student group Legal Launch Pad (@legallaunchpad) and a research group developing a new competency model for lawyers called the Delta Model(@deltamodellawyr).

Social media has opened doors that I never knew existed. Why not give it a try!

Due to the events earlier this year, I have searched for various things to make this semester productive in ways other than being in school. When a professor passed along information about a writing gig, I jumped at the chance and applied for the position. I am thrilled to say that I was selected and my first article is now live on Frontier of the Law. The article describes my thoughts and introduces a series on the 21st-century lawyer. As part of this, I also reveal a little about a research project that I have been involved in to flesh out the “Delta Model” lawyer. I hope that you will take the chance to read the article and give me your feedback!

#PracticeInnovation #FrontierOfTheLaw #LegalTech #Innovation

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.

 

 

 

You may have noticed that I am not fresh from undergrad. Despite my life experience, I started law school with the vision that law practice would be filled with amazing technology and tools to make work more efficient. In school this year, I quickly learned that efficiency is not the pinnacle of achievement for law firms. Further, the great advances in office technology are nowhere to be found (at least not in the legal aid arena).

Through the years, I have observed that people often get caught in a cycle of inefficiency because they are so overwhelmed by their day to day tasks. If I had a nickel for the times that I have seen smart people doing menial tasks manually instead of harnessing technology, I wouldn’t need to worry about paying for law school. This summer, I found that legal aid attorneys are no exception. Many of them know that solutions are available but finding the time to work on those solutions seems overwhelming.

When managing an understaffed government office, I learned that investing the time to automate tasks saved time and energy later. Although the late nights and tussles with cantankerous computer systems were painful, by harnessing technology, I was able to make the office more efficient. This eventually allowed me to focus on other areas that needed improvement. In speaking to other offices across the country, I learned that staff claimed to hate the software that we all used. What I found was that organizations were rarely utilizing their systems fully. Many would use the system just as it was delivered from the developer without learning how to customize and make it work for them. This discovery led me to share tips and tricks on my blog and led to great speaking opportunities. Over time, I learned that system inside and out. I have to admit that leaving it behind was a bit sad for me. After all, I had become an expert in something that I thought I would never be able to use again.

This summer, I have learned that legal aid organizations also struggle with similar efficiency problems. I can’t tell you how emphatically people claim to dislike their case management systems that are supposed to make life easier. I venture to say that they dislike the system because they don’t know how to fully utilize it. Many organizations don’t have anyone dedicated to digging into these systems and customizing them to the organization’s needs. Further, the problem is exacerbated because there is no training program for staff. The manufacturer often doesn’t help by creating manuals that are not designed with the end user in mind. To make matters worse, organizations often begin using new systems before they understand how the system works. By not understanding where data goes and how the system pulls the data for reports, organizations severely limit their reporting capabilities. Even more egregious, instead of using the transition as a time to develop better processes, many organizations try to use the new system in ways similar to their previous system. These factors lead to underutilization and dissatisfaction.

When digging into my ATJ Tech Fellows project this summer, I was surprised to discover that the case management system used by many legal aid organizations is built on a platform very similar to my old government system. With my knowledge of these systems, I was able to help my host organization make a few changes to use their system more efficiently. (Even small changes can make a big difference for users). When I realized how many other agencies use the same system, I began dreaming of going from office to office to help.  I am not sure where this will lead, but I am open to the possibilities and I am excited by the prospect.

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!