Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession gives students an opportunity to design and develop access to justice apps in a course called “Technology, Innovation and Legal Practice.”  Yesterday the ABA Journal ran an article on “Legal Rebel” Professor Tanina Rostain, co-director of the Center, who created and teaches the course.  Students show off their apps in the Iron Tech Law competition, where they can win prizes in Excellence in Design, Excellence in Presentation and all-round best app.

Here’s an excerpt from a law review article (1) co-authored by Professor Rostain (internal citations omitted):

“In 2012, a team of students in our class on “Technology, Innovation and Law Practice” built a web-based application (app) called ‘Same-Sex Marriage adviser.’  The app, which covered fifty states and the District of Columbia, used an automated interview to help users determine whether they could get married or enter into a domestic partnership in their home state and, if so, how such a relationship might affect their other legal rights.  The app described available state law benefits, such as hospital visitation and inheritance rights, possible disadvantages, such as the requirement to register, and limits on any federal benefits available as a consequence of the Defense of Marriage Act.  After going through the interview, which usually took about three minutes, the user received a brief overall assessment statement.  The user could also view a customized full report that described the information the user had provided and set forth more specific detailed guidance based on this information … In designing an automated adviser that could help same-sex couples determine whether they could and might want to formalize their relationship, the students sought to build an app that served an important unmet need.”

That particular app may need updating after this summer’s SCOTUS ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges – but you get the idea.

Of course, as you’ve heard me say probably more than enough times, the LawHack project in our course does not have to involve creating an app, or using technology (although it certainly can).  But in other ways it has a lot in common with the Georgetown course and competition.  For example: devising effective and creative ways to meet important unmet needs.  Thinking through how end-users can interact with legal system to get the outcomes they need.  Giving users meaningful access to law by organizing and tapping into the “tacit knowledge” that lawyers use to advise clients and translating it into a more accessible, user-friendly, and cost-effective form.  (For more on what all this means, see the article.  It’s great.)  And, of course, the importance of both a good, effective design and excellent presentation (for extremely useful tips on that, don’t miss Adam LaFrance’s comment on the LawHack assignment description).

In case you need more inspiration, the ABA journal piece notes that Dustin Robinson, one of the students in the first Iron Tech Law competition in 2012, “immediately took a job in Chicago as a legal solutions architect with SeyfarthLean Consulting, a subsidiary of the Seyfarth Shaw law firm.”  (You may remember that Mitch Kowalski discussed Seyfarth Shaw and its consulting arm in his presentation yesterday.)  And in each of the past two years another student from the course has also gone to work there.

Law is changing, and some doors may be closing – but others are opening.

(1)Tanina Rostain, Roger Skalbeck & Kevin G. Mulcahy, “Thinking Like a Lawyer, Designing Like an Architect: Preparing Students for the 21st Century Practice” (2013), 88 Chi-Kent L Rev 743.