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This summer, I had the privilege to intern with the Self-Represented Litigation Network, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit comprised of lawyers, judges, and allied professionals. Together, they are “creating innovative and evidence-based solutions, so that self-represented litigants have meaningful access to the courts and get the legal help they need”.

While working remotely from Seattle, I had the opportunity to follow and research the latest trends and innovations in access to justice here and abroad. I was also able to attend several conferences around the nation dealing with innovations in the legal profession and legal education, including the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction Conference at Georgia State University College of Law and the CodeX FutureLaw Conference at Stanford Law School. I was able to meet and exchange ideas with some of the nation’s leading experts in innovative legal education models, legal tech, legal aid, and access to justice.

This opportunity provided me a framework to greater assess the systemic and social issues that account for the lack of access to justice in our nation, as well as understand how innovative solutions can better address these issues. (Something that legal education largely ignores in that specific context.) Through this experience, careful research of other innovative legal programs and validation from experts in field, I was able to move forward with a solution I believe will fill the gap in training and experiences that law students receive around legal innovation and access to justice.

I recently launched the ATJ Tech Fellows Program with the goal to provide law students a unique opportunity to take part in an 10-week summer experience, interning with civil legal aid organizations to develop new models of user-friendly, accessible, and engaging legal services through the use of technology.

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The ATJ Tech Fellows program has two components: a seminar portion and an experiential portion. Before arriving at their host legal aid organization, fellows will participate in the seminar portion, a two-day training period, hosted virtually in conjunction with the Legal Services National Technology Assistance Project. The fellows will meet virtually to learn from experts in the field about the varied use of technology in the changing landscape of legal service delivery. The seminars will introduce fellows to the nature and extent of the civil legal needs of low-income Americans, in addition to topics covering the changing landscape of service delivery, such as technology assisted review, document automation and design methods, online legal triage systems, legal expert systems, and more.

The experiential portion places our fellows at a legal aid organization that is engaged in the development of innovative technology projects to address the crisis in access to justice and enhance service delivery. Fellows will apply what they learned from the seminar portion directly at their host organizations. Fellows will also receive a variety of experiences and assignments, including significant legal research and writing assignments.

The overall objective of the ATJ Tech Fellows Program is to provide law students with an experiential understanding of the access to justice issues facing Americans and the knowledge to critically assess how innovation in the justice system can and is being used to address legal accessibility issues. (An issue not widely taught in law school curriculums.) A diverse core of fellows will gain the necessary skill set and leadership to leverage innovation and technology in assisting the implementation of legal services, addressing access to justice issues in America. These translational skills will, in return, prepare students with varying career interests to participate and lead the next wave of innovations to solve the access to justice crisis.

The pilot program hopes to place 10 fellows at host sites in the first summer and provide our fellows stipends to help defray their living expenses for the 10-week, 400 hour commitment. At our current state, the program has partnered with several legal aid organizations to serve as host sites for our 2017 summer fellows. Some of the legal aid organizations include: Northwest Justice Project, Illinois Legal Aid Online, Alaska Legal Services Corp., and Legal Aid Services Oklahoma. The program has recruited several law student volunteers from Seattle University School of Law, who are assisting to build the program’s infrastructure, partnerships with law schools, and fundraising efforts. The ATJ Tech Fellows program recently made it through the quarterfinals stage of the Seattle Social Venture Partners Fast Pitch Competition, where it hopes to gain a wealth of mentorship and organizational development. We are also launching a crowdfund campaign to attract the vital start-up capital needed to get the program off the ground.

I am quite surprised and pleased at how fast we are moving with very little resources and truly appreciative for all of the support I received from others in the field to help shape my vision and move this program from ideation into reality. Special thanks to Katherine Alteneder, Jeff Aresty, Diana Singleton, Glenn Rawdon, Dan Lear, Claudia Johnson, John Mayer, Brian Rowe, Aurora Martin, Paula Kurtz-Kreshel, and all the other mentors and volunteers who I failed to mention.

We are actively seeking additional partnerships with innovators in field. If you are a legal aid organization, law school, ATJ commission, bar association, legal tech company, law firm, legal professional, or innovative law student, we would love to hear from you! Be sure to follow @ATJTechFellows on Twitter for the latest updates and news.