“Hackcess to Justice” Legal Hackathons in 2014 and 2015

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Image by Sebastiaan ter Burg

 

[This post was originally uploaded on August 14, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 15, 2015 and again on March 24, 2015.]

August 14, 2014 Post:

Last week, the American Bar Association held its 2014 annual meeting in Boston. Among many other events and presentations, was one called Hackcess to Justice, a two-day hackathon held at Suffolk School of Law. The goal was to produce tools and apps to enable greater access to legal services for people who otherwise might not be able to obtain assistance or legal representation. A number of these problems seeking technological solutions were first identified by the Legal Services Corporation. A fully detailed report was posted on ABAnet.org on August 8, 2014, entitled Winning Apps in ‘Hackcess to Justice’ Help Write Wills, Navigate Disasters and Calculate Jail Time.

Prize money was awarded to the first, second and third place winners. The winning entries were apps, respectively, for creating and distributing living wills and health care proxies; proving information and resources to people in natural disasters; and to determine eligibility for legal help in MA and to calculate the length of state prison terms.

Recently, there have been other legal hackathons around the US. Two of them include one held at Brooklyn Law School in April 2014 and another held MIT in June 2014.

I hope to see more of these events in the future as I anticipate that they will continue to produce interesting results potentially benefiting clients and attorneys alike. I also think it will be interesting to track whether any of the tools and apps resulting from these legal hackathons gain acceptance in the marketplace for legal services.

February 15, 2015 Update:

A new Hackcess to Justice legal hackathon will be held in New Orleans on March 21 and 22, 2015. It is being presented by the ABA Journal and the New Orleans Bar Association. The details and a link to the registration page appeared in an article on ABAnet.org on February 12,, 2015 entitled Registration Opens for Hackcess to Justice New Orleans, by Lee Rawles. The event will be held at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Here is the link on the law school’s calendar to the event. The objectives, procedures and presentations appear to be very similar to the first Hackcess to Justice event held at Suffolk School of Law discussed above.

Once again, I am delighted to see another legal hackathon in the works. I believe that many tangible and positive results can come from such events for clients, law students, law schools, lawyers, bar associations, and the entire legal profession. My best wishes for its success in New Orleans and I hope to see these events spreading to other areas in the US and elsewhere.

March 24, 2015 Update:

A fanfare, please!

The top three winners of Hackcess to Justice competition (described in the February 15, 2015 post above), were announced on the Daily News page on the ABAJournal.com site yesterday, March 23, 2015. The article entitled Winning App at Hackess to Justice New Orleans Helps Clients Preserve Evidence, was written by Victor Li. I highly recommend clicking through and reading this for all of the details of these imaginative and innovative apps. It also has an embedded deck of tweets (with the links and hashtags remaining clickable), from the event that provide a vivid sense of this competition and the enthusiasm of its entrants.

Briefly summing up the top three winners:

  • First place went to an app called Legal Proof by a Omega Ortega LLC. This enables users to photograph documents and other evidence, generate metadata for it, and record additional relevant data.
  • Second place was awarded to attorneys William Palin and Ernie Svenson for a document generation app they call Paperless. This is designed specifically for legal aid attorneys to ascertain client eligibility, exchange legal documents, and transmit reminders concerning legal dates and issues.
  • Third place was won by a New Orleans non-profit called Operation Spark that promotes careers in software for young people. Their winning app is called ExpungeMe. This helps users to generate documents needed to prepare an expungement request without an attorney.

Massive amounts of congratulations to all of the winners!

Let’s continue to track these important events and the exciting new apps that are emerging from them.

Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?

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Image by Marcela Palma

[This post was originally uploaded on November 12, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on March 5, 2015.]

Oceans of ink and an unlimited quantum of bits have been expended in the past several years reporting, analyzing and commenting upon the fundamental changes to the legal profession in the US following the recent Great Recession. Among many other things, there has been a significant drop in the number of applicants to many law schools and a declining number of available jobs law students upon their graduation. This is a very complex situation with no easy answers for the law schools and their students.

It is traditional practice at most US law schools for students who finish in the top 10% of their class rankings based upon their grades, to be invited to join the school’s law review. This is always considered to be a significant accomplishment and an academic honor. The member of the law review (also called the “law journal”), write in-depth and heavily annotated legal analyses about developments in the law and concerning specific decisions.

Despite the “New Normal” ¹ in today’s legal marketplace, any law student who is on the law review and/or in the top 10% of their class, will find themselves in a buyer’s market for their academic and writing distinctions. Nonetheless, what can – – what we used to be called the “top 90%” when I went to law school – – do to improve their marketability in such a difficult market?

They can blog, network and build their online presence according to a most interesting post by attorney, legal marketing expert, and renowned legal blogger Kevin O’Keefe in a post entitled Law Blog More Valuable Than Law Review in Landing Job on November 5, 2014 on his blog Real Lawyers Have Blogs. To briefly recap, he describes how Patrick Ellis (@pmellis), while attending Michigan State University College of Law, used his blog and networking skills to eventually land a job as an associate attorney with a top law firm in Detroit. I highly recommend clicking through and reading O’Keefe’s informative and inspiring story about Mr. Ellis.

This post also asserts that such blogging presented opportunities that would have otherwise been foreclosed to Mr. Ellis. Moreover, that the traditional entre afforded by law review as well as moot court participation and “who you know”, have now been surpassed by the effective of using blogs and networking to find jobs in today’s challenging environment. Indeed, as O’Keefe so concisely states “… networking online requires law students to listen, engage, curate and create content with their own point of view.” Bravo and kudos to both O’Keefe for writing about this and Ellis for implementing this innovative legal  job search strategy.

Is effective blogging and networking now an equivalent, if not advantage, over being a member of the law review? Well, as many lawyers are often inclined to initially reply to some questions, I believe it depends. What about these scenarios:

  • Law student X is invited for a recruiting interview at the ABC Law Firm. If he is both on law review and has a strong online presence, nowadays which one more likely got him the interview or was it both?
  • Law Student X is on law review while Law Student Y has a terrific blog and network. Will ABC only invite X or Y, or both based on the candidates’ merits?
  • ABC recognizes that they are lagging in their own online presence and marketing skills. Will they invite X and/or Y for interviews and why? Should the interview for X and Y be different and, if so how?
  • Should alternative career paths be developed by ABC for X and Y? Should both tracks be towards eventual partnership consideration?
  • If X and Y are both hired, should Y expressly help Y in building his or her online presence in some form of buddy system?
  • Will X’s and Y’s skills be differently evaluated in performance reviews? How will this possibly affect ABC’s compensation and bonus structure for associates?

Finally, I additionally suggestion that law students engaged in a search should consider applying some personal network mapping software to identify the people who are “hubs” and “spokes” in your network. The hubs are those members with the highest degrees of connectedness and might thus turn out to be more helpful resources. (see also The Subway Fold posts on February 5, 2015 about mapping Twitter networks and this one April 10, 2014 on mapping LinkedIn networks.²) A Google search on these applications will produce many possibilities.

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1.  See this excellent ongoing column of the same name on the ABA Journal’s web site covering a multitude of important topics on this tectonic technological, professional and economics shifts.

2.   LinkedIn has recently removed their networking mapping tool.

March 5, 2015 Update:

Following up on Kevin O’Keefe’s very informative post discussed above, he published another enlightening blog post squarely on point for this topic entitled Emory Law School Gets Students Blogging Early with Innovative New Class on February 12,, 2015. This spotlights Professor Jennifer Murphy Romig’s new class on legal blogging at Emory University School of Law. I will again briefly summarize, annotate and comment upon Mr. O’Keefe’s interview with her. I highly recommend clicking through and reading it in its entirety for all its details and insights.

Besides my own very strong interest and involvement in the efforts of law schools to provide their students with the latest business skills, this immediate got my attention because I am a proud alumnus of Emory Law.

Professor Romig’s new course is called Advanced Legal Writing: Blogging and Social Media. It’s listed as Course 851 on the right-hand side of the law school’s Course Descriptions page under Spring 2015 Courses. (Please click on the link for a full description.) The interview with her covered the following topics:

  • Origin:  The administration was supportive of the original proposal, looking to expand student’ skills in “public legal writing”, as distinguished from other traditional first year legal writing for client/matter-specific work. The professor had previously launched her own blog called Listen Like a Lawyer that turned into a very positive experience for her to communicate and network within the legal community. As a result, she sought to bring blogging skills to law students for use in the workplace and to “build marketable skills”.
  • Value: During their job searches, law students will, in all sizes of firms, find potential employers with blogs or else those who might be interested in launching one. Thus, if asked to do so, they will then have the skills to write, post offer strategy on blogs. As well, it provides students with a “creative outlet” where they can choose their own topics.
  • Curriculum: This is divided into thirds including 1. The “ethics”,  “history” and “methods of blogging”. 2. Studying blog writing to present their “legal analysis” and “voice and style”. As well, they will work in groups to revise a WordPress* theme and explain their changes, and give presentations on other topics involving formatting and content. 3.  Creating and critiquing their own WordPress blogs which, at their option, can be used to present their blogging skills to potential employers. Distinguished guests from the world of legal blogging will also be participating.
  • Results: The benefits of effective blogging include improved writing skills in practice and online, as well as the generation of interactivity on other social platforms and personal networking. The trends include introducing students to “different styles” of lawyers’ usage of social media platforms, and providing them with the means to track and adapt to the latest trends in social media.
  • Recommendations: 1. Begin on a small and secure legal blog among a “supportive community”. 2. Use blogging as  an “opportunity to be creative” where students can test out formats and functions. 3.  Find issues that are important to each blogger to pursue in their writing.

I am very grateful to Professor Romig for all of her work in launching this course at Emory Law. I was indeed even more proud of my alma mater after reading about this.

I want to suggest these additional suggestions:

  • Following up and showcasing among students those instances where their blogging has had an impact upon their job searches, legal matters, social movement initiatives, and networking. I would gather these instances and analyses into a report full of embedded inks, to be shared with fellow students and the administration. Perhaps some form of meta-blog where students can post and actively discuss their blogging experiences and techniques.
  • Using the blogging course as a recruiting tool for potential law students. Consider making this an expressed advantage of Emory Law in that the school will provide and enable students with the most modern tools they will need to communicate, market and practice law.
  • Encourage live-blogging of events and presentations at the school in order to open another new media channel to publicize them as well as to refine contemporaneous blogging skills. Again, collecting and archiving these blog posts might be worthwhile on the school’s website.
  • Has Emory Law ever considered holding a legal hackathon? It might also bring in some positive support from the local legal community and be a worthwhile event to live-blog and webcast.

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*  WordPress is the hosting service used for The Subway Fold.

Law School’s Innovative Efforts to Produce “Practice Ready” Lawyers

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[This post was originally uploaded on January 6, 2015. It has been updated below with new information on February 19, 2015.]

With law school applications in a very steep decline, the number of legal jobs requiring a bar admittance shrinking steadily, clients not willing to pay for new associates’ time spent learning how to actually practice, and a growing number of legal services becoming more automated, law schools are making a variety of efforts to make their graduates more marketable. Simply stated, they are working to make them far more “practice ready” when they arrive at their new jobs than generations of law gads have traditionally been in the past.

Two previous Subway Fold posts have looked at this new marketplace environment from different perspectives. First, was a July 30, 2014 post entitled New Law School Courses Aim at Keeping Pace with Changing Times about classes in emerging areas of technology and policy, followed by a November 30, 2014 post entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?  Another new and innovative approach was covered in the January 5, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal  entitled Law School’s Practical Side by Joe Palazzolo. The story was also summarized and excerpted here on the same day on the WSJ Law Blog by Jacob Gershman, as well as posted here in full on the University of New Hampshire School of Law (UNH Law) website.

To briefly sum up this story, selected students at students at UNH Law who are enrolled in the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program are given special courses and hands-on experience in the highly practical skills they will need as lawyers. For example, how to, as stated in the article “interview clients, take depositions, and draft motions and interrogatories”, all geared towards litigation practice. The school’s web site further itemizes these offerings wherein students “counsel clients, work with practicing lawyers, take depositions, appear before judges, create basic business documents and learn to negotiate and mediate.’

This program has been in operation for ten years and one study has shown these graduates do indeed perform better early on in their careers than other students who had not gone through the program. Quotes from several graduates in a variety of practices, including large firms, confirmed their perceived advantages after they began their first law jobs.

I believe this is a giant step in the right direction for the entire legal profession as well as for clients. Many law schools have offered such practical skills, clinics and internships for years, but UNH Law seems to have taken this up to a new and distinguished level.  What is not mentioned in the article or on the school’s web site is how much of this practical instruction includes training and experience with supporting legal technologies including, among others, project management, document assembly and predictive coding.

Moreover, I believe that the UNH Law approach in conjunction timely new syllabus offerings, enhanced networking skills, and hands-on projects with core legal technologies would, altogether, produce a bundle of complementary benefits.  Law students would more likely have then have most, if not all, of the resources to keep adapting to a quickly changing market for legal services.

February 19, 2015 Update

Designing and implementing innovative programs to assist in preparing law students to become “practice ready” is now gathering substantial new momentum at other US law schools. As an encouraging follow on story to The Wall Street Journal’s feature on the UNH School of Law’s Daniel Webster Scholars Program described above, now The New York Times has published a most interesting full-length article entitled Law Students Leave Torts Behind (for a Bit) and Tackle Accounting by Elizabeth Olson on February 12, 2015. I will summarize some of the main points of this new report about four law schools that are focusing their effort on business skills and concepts.

1. Brooklyn Law School is now offering students a 3-day intensive “boot camp” to acquaint them with the fundamentals of, among other topics, accounting, financial statements and asset valuation. This is driven by the realities of today’s market for legal services where more rote legal processes are being “outsourced and corporate budgets are cut back”. Brooklyn Law is attempting supplement their students’ education with real world business realities not widely found in traditional legal education curricula. These further include “teamwork, business strategy, client interaction”. The dean of the law school, Nicholas W. Allard, believes that the recent recession and resulting changes to the legal marketplace have now facilitated the need to teach the business skills such as those his school is now offering.

To prepare their program, Brooklyn Law worked with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services and Brooklyn Law alumni, John P. Oswald, who is on the top executives at Capital Trust Group. Deloitte had previously developed their own similar program for new associates at law firms. (This is in contrast to the inverse arrangements elsewhere in the corporate world as described in a September 17, 2014 Subway Fold Post entitled Law Firms and High Tech Companies are Now Providing Training to Their Respective Clients.)

2. Cornell University Law School has a similar program called Business Concepts for Lawyers. It was established last year following the February 2014 publication of a survey Harvard Law School of 124 employers. They were asked about the classes law student would need most for corporate and business practice. Almost half of Cornell Law’s graduates go on to work at large firms in these fields.

3. Francis King Carey School of Law at the University of Maryland has established a business law track student may choose to pursue. The number of graduates from it has increased significantly in the last three years. In addition, the school offers a 3-day “boot camp” for students to learn business basics and negotiation skills. As with Brooklyn Law, Deloitte also participates in this. Students appreciate the value of this because of it gives them a sense of experience they have not previously had.

The law school will also soon announce a one-year fellowship program where students will work with companies and be compensated.

4. University of Colorado Law School last summer began its own boot camp focused upon the provision of legal services called the Tech Lawyer Accelerator. It uses companies to instruct students on the use of legal technology. The first round drew 16 students which led to a “10-week internship with a technology company” to apply their newly acquired skills.

I will also add to this group a similar program here in New York at Cardozo Law School called the Cardozo Data Law Initiative, launched in 2014. This is a special track designed, according to their website “to prepare law students for careers” in “information governance, e-discovery, data privacy, social media law, and cybersecurity”. In addition to 11 core courses in these areas, the program places students in 8-week externships with organizations working in these fields.

 

ILTA’s New Multi-dimensional Report on the Future of Legal Information Technology

The International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) recently published a remarkably comprehensive 141-page report on the multitude of forces affecting major changes in the global marketplace for legal services entitled Legal Technology Future Horizons. (A six-page Leader’s Digest of it is also available.) I cannot recommend this highly enough for anyone involved in the field of legal technology. The breadth of its scope in its coverage, predictions and actionable information shows how deeply everyone involved in producing this deeply cared about getting everything in both its form and substance just right. Bravo, ILTA!

At a time when the legal industry is facing such daunting challenges and disruptions driven by a myriad of rapidly changing law office technologies, ever-increasing competition, completely new economic challenges following the recent recession, clients demanding more value and accountability for services rendered, and declining numbers of students enrolling in law schools, this report makes a very valiant and successful attempt to examine every technology-related aspect of the legal business. The intended audience is for law firm IT decision-makers, but their staff members as well as other consultants, vendors and innovators in legal IT will benefit by spending the time to read this report in whole or in part. Yes, it’s indeed that worthwhile as these pages clearly and concisely map out how legal IT can and will lead the way in this new environment.

While predicting the future is always difficult and rarely entirely accurate, this report makes as genuine and convincing effort. Indeed, this download in its entirety report is an extraordinary value proposition requiring only an investment of time to read it. Miss it not.

New Law School Courses Aim at Keeping Pace with Changing Times

In their ongoing efforts to keep pace with rapidly changing times and legal needs, a number of US law schools are offering some interesting new electives. As detailed in this an article entitled New Law School Courses Take on Robots, Videogames and Piketty-mania that appeared on The Wall Street Journal’s Law Blog on June 24, 2014, these include courses covering:

  • Thomas Piketty’s current bestseller Capital in the Twenty First Century, at Yale
  • Video Game Law, at Pepperdine
  • Robotics, at Yale
  • Law and Neuroscience, at Harvard
  • Spectacle and Surveillance, at Columbia

I highly recommend a click-through for all of the particulars to these new offerings. Links are also embedded in this article to each respective law school’s web site for full descriptions about these classes.

I think it will continue to be interesting to monitor new law school courses into the future as an indicator of their adaptations to changing needs in the marketplace for legal services. Additional follow would also be helpful in assessing whether these courses make any difference in law students finding employment in these nascent fields.

Recent Conferences Addressing Changes and Innovation in the Legal Marketplace

During the past few months, I have had the opportunities to attend, either in person or by webcast, four conferences addressing the dramatic technological, business and service changes affecting all sectors of the legal market. The speakers have covered such topics as legal entrepreneurs, big data and analytics, project management, adding design elements law practice, enhancing law schools’ offerings with business and tech skills, collaboration methodologies and platforms, pricing models, expert systems, legal apps, addressing under-served markets for legal services, and ethical considerations posed by many of these changes. The links below contain videos of many of these presentations and offer an incisive window into how various innovators and their innovations are leading the way towards meeting these challenges.

  • Reinvent Law NYC held on February 7, 2014 at Cooper Union in New York is part of the ongoing series of Reinvent Law presentations being organized by the Reinvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State Law School. This show was standing room only on what was a very bitter cold day in NYC. IMHO, everyone involved in the production and presentation of this did an outstanding job of directly defining and addressing the current and future technological and business issues. Videos of some of the presentations from this and other Reinvent Law events are available on the site’s Reinvent Law Channel.
  • Disruptive Innovation in the Market for Legal Services was a day-long conference at Harvard Law School held on March 6, 2014 covering many of the same concerns. I found the concluding Q&A session with the last panel of speakers to be particularly compelling.
  • LegalScience.TV was a graduate seminar presented at MIT’s Media Lab on March 13, 2014. Many of the speakers focused on the more scientific and technological influences and innovations in law practice.
  • From Bleak House to Geek House: Evolving Law for Entrepreneurial Lawyers was another all day conference held last week at Brooklyn Law School on April 4, 2014. The details are clickable here and the videos are gathered here on YouTube.  Among a great many other things expertly covered by the speakers, was the changing needs of today’s legal education.

The next conference on many of these issues, themes and advances will be Codex Presents the Future of Law 2014 conference to be held at Stanford Law School on May 2, 2014. Here is the agenda of what sounds like a top flight lineup of speakers and their topics.