Sara Agate, MPH, JD Candidate 2019
The Access to Justice in Technology Fellowships that began a few years ago were the brainchild of Miguel Willis. I was a member in the second cohort, 2018 Access to Justice Tech Fellows, which spanned across the USA in legal aid organisations and legal tech companies in varying projects from the super techy-technical to more legal substantive stuff to quality assurance and marketing.
The mission of the fellowship is ‘To meet the needs of a rapidly changing legal profession and growing justice gap, the next generation of lawyers must be equipped with the knowledge and practical skills to reshape our profession and make justice more accessible for all. ATJ Tech Fellows therefore exists to prepare such leaders to answer this call through exposure to multidisciplinary skills, experiential fellowship placements, and a collaborative ecosystem of partners.’ The package that Miguel and the team have put together includes:
- A 10-week placement at a partner legal services organization anywhere in the US.
- A full-time workload. (35-40hrs per week).
- Designated on-site work space.
- $4,000 stipend to cover expenses over the summer.
- Training from leading legal experts in technology and access to justice issues.
- A dedicated supervisor who can meet with and provide feedback to the Fellow.
- Opportunities to gain exposure to and skills legal services – or advocacy-related work.
- Opportunities to gain exposure to the organization’s priorities and build networks within the organization.
- Access to mentors and support from our team
- A hosted Lexblog, where fellows journal their summer experience and complete a series of teaming exercises.
Click here if you’re interested in applying for summer 2019.
I worked in Probono.net’s New York City office where I spent ten weeks learning and contributing to the LawHelp Interactive® (LHI) team. LHI is an online legal document assembly service operated by Pro Bono Net and is in almost 40 states. It represents one of the highest volume legal online document assembly services in the country.
My supervisor, Claudia Johnson, works across the USA in Washington. LawHelp Interactive is an online legal document assembly service operated by Probono.net. It is used by courts, legal aids, and access to justice partners in about 40 states throughout the U.S. The forms are free to users and available in child support and custody, domestic violence, debt collection, foreclosures, evictions, divorce, and more. The LHI team is comprised of technologists, form developers, quality assurance engineers, legal technologists, program managers, project managers, and lawyers.
For my first project, I developed and presented a marketing/social media plan, and created user-friendly resource materials for current and potential stakeholders of LawHelp Interactive – Connect (LHIC). LHI’s Connect feature allows people with legal need to answer LHI interview questions in the A2J Author or HotDocs interface with or without creating an account on LHI. Then you may easily share your answers with legal aid staff, court, and/or pro bono volunteers — to create your legal forms. In order to do this, I conducted user testing of the LHI and LHIC platforms – marking areas of struggle and strength. Then, I explored areas to synch the user guides to my testing results. Seeing as there are various stakeholders – courts, legal aids, self-represented litigants, solo to firm practitioners, I created a compilation of resources outside of a user guide – frequently asked questions, definition sheet, facts/stats, etc. I aimed to create user-friendly, easy to read and shareable materials for any stakeholder so that adopting legal technology, such as LHI or LHIC is not daunting. After reviewing other services in the legal tech space, I developed a marketing plan to support the adoption and expansion of LHI – think of a mini strength-weakness-opportunity-threat (SWOT) analysis. In the midst of this, I understood of the importance of the multi-step approach to get to the tech integration into the platform, such as, A2J or Hotdocs interview development (someone likely with legal experience or a JD is key to compiling the right legal information to create an interview that produces a legal form, which varies by state), engineers making systems flow seamlessly to probono coordinators assisting attorneys, etc.
I took a quick pause from my internship and journeyed to Taiwan as a result of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Mosaic Taiwan Program.
My second project connected my social justice, health policy and technology background with legal technology and law by focusing on medical-legal partnerships (MLPs). In summer 2017, as a recipient of the Public Interest Law Initiative program, I worked for the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children, a program of the Legal Council for Health Justice and witnessed the power of these cross-sector partnerships. There is much to learn in this area and I wanted to learn and be an advocate for MLPs beyond the term of my fellowship.
Being an ATJ Tech Fellow catapulted me into a co-authorship of an article published in the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Today December 2018 Technology Issue, Opportunity for Legal Innovation in Healthcare Technology. I also seized the chance to collaboratively submit proposals to the Legal Services Corporation Innovation in Technology Conference (LSC ITC).
Thinking broadly of future developments, it would be very exciting if our program could bridge international gaps in ATJ – fellows could contribute remotely or work on site in another country. Could this be a hybrid study abroad program? Could we learn from our foreign colleagues? Yes, certainly WE CAN “Integrate, Innovate, Impact and be Inclusive”.
I began the year by giving a rapid fire talk at the LSC ITC alongside Roger Smith. Sharing the stage and conference days with other thoughtful minds definitely gave me a sense of fulfillment which fuelled my desire to do more, especially after the packed turn out to a session that I co-hosted with Dina Shafey Scott, Miguel Willis, Andres Y. Gonzalez, and Claudia Johnson, on “I Get Diversity, But What is Inclusion: The Impact of Implicit Bias in Legal Tech”.
I was impressed by the strong stakeholder presence from the states of Illinois, Florida, Massachusetts, California, and New York. I was pleased that there seemed to be a balance of both genders present and look forward to an increase of diversity and inclusion across race, ethnicity, sex, religion, disability, etc. And I loved the real sense of community and opportunity among LSC ITC goers (among them a number of people from abroad) and grantees.
In his opening address to the conference, Jim Sandman LSC President, said a point of focus for LSC grantees is to get ‘back to the basics’ in the midst of all these new technologies emerging. He encouraged us to do the basics well; master them; and then layer in technology. My twist on this ‘back to basics’ theme is that it invites us to think about sustainability (this is a point made my rapid fire talk, which you can see if you go to the last 15 minutes to view here). With pervasive technology, must come the commitment to sustain our practices, whether basic or technologically advanced, beyond our own personal tenure in any one position.
In conclusion on the conference, I have a few calls to action. As there were only about two handfuls of exhibitors, bring in more (virtual or in-person). Follow my I CAN model of sustainability – engage more future lawyer-student involvement. There are about 111,000 of us in the US entering the field in the next three years. Lets get serious about multi-sector collaboration in bridging the ATJ gap (over the next year I’d like to drive this message home to as many people as possible). A solution would be that technology + multi-sector collaboration = can bridge the ATJ gap sooner. Legal providers could and should do better – multi sector collaboration can help us, help others.
My watchwords are that: I Can Integrate, Innovate, Impact & be Inclusive. Sponsorship from the LSC and Chicago-Kent’s College of Law gave me the opportunity to share my experience at the conference. The ATJ Tech Fellowship put me in a position to take advantage of that. I thank them all. If you would like collaborate with me then get in touch – @sara_agate [or firstname.lastname@example.org.]