Access to Justice Clinical Course Project Adds New Law Schools

The innovative ‘Access to Justice Clinical Course Project’ has recently been awarded another Technology Initiative Grant from the Legal Services Corporation to expand the project to a second round of law schools across the country. The project, a joint collaboration between the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI), IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, and Idaho Legal Aid Services (ILAS), began two years ago at six schools and hopes to more than double their participation numbers in the next two years.

Initially, the goal for the first round was placement in just three schools, but due to higher-than-expected proposals, and growing interest from law schools, the decision was made to double that number.

Based around the Justice and Technology Practicum course offered at IIT Chicago-Kent, and inspired by Ron Staudt’s 4% Solution article, the goal of the project is to establish cyber clinics as permanent parts of U.S. law school education. The initial round of the project consisted of the law schools at Georgetown, the University of North Carolina (UNC), Concordia University, Columbia University, the University of Miami (UM), and City University of New York (CUNY), in addition to Chicago-Kent. The classes, referred to as A2J Clinics, are for credit and are some of the first in the country to offer law students the chance to work with cutting-edge legal technology systems such as Neota Logic and A2J Author®.

Each participating law school designed a course that taught students about A2J Author® in a variety of settings. Professor Joe Rosenberg at CUNY opted to introduce Guided Interviews®, created via A2J Author®, into a pre-existing Elder Law Clinic, specifically focusing on issues surrounding New York’s Article 81 Pro Se Guardianship forms. Similarly, JoNell Newman and Melissa Swain at the University of Miami used A2J Author® to help teach their Health Rights Clinic, an already innovative partnership that pairs UM law and medical students to work with low-income clients at the Veterans’ Administration and other local hospitals. Miami students automated Florida’s Declaration of Pre-Need Guardianship form, and the new tool is currently being considered for use by several Miami-area legal service providers. Similarly, Georgetown students created a number of self-guided interviews for east coast legal aid groups, culminating with a presentation of the various projects at the school’s increasingly popular Iron Tech Lawyer competition.

Concordia University’s A2J Clinic was the first clinical offering at the school. Their course was co-taught by Idaho Legal Aid Services attorney Sunrise Ayers, and Jodi Nafzger of the school. It focused on understanding automated document assembly while simultaneously developing substantive understanding of areas of the law especially relevant to the legal aid community.

Ms. Ayers brings an especially unique perspective to teaching the course, as Idaho Legal Aid Services were one of the first and most pervasive users of A2J Guided Interviews® in the country, and Idaho subsequently enjoys the deepest penetration of legal aid in the nation. Each school plans to continue their participation in the years to come.

Columbia and UNC integrated teaching the technology into existing courses. Columbia’s ‘Lawyering in the Digital Age’ clinic teaches traditional lawyering skills such as interviewing and counseling, but also has recently begun examining how technology affects all areas of legal practice. The A2J Clinical Course project helped to further meet that need. Similarly, UNC’s ‘Becoming a Professional’ course added A2J Author® to help give students exposure to the changing realities of modern-day legal work. Recognizing both the pressures being brought to bear on lawyering by technology, as well as new opportunities opening up because of it, UNC collaborated with Legal Aid of North Carolina to create needed A2J Guided Interviews® for low income people in the state. UNC Professor Judith Welch-Wegner intends to continue the technical component of the course next year.

The differences between traditional law school classes and the project’s course work are readily apparent.

“Personally, the Clinical Course Project really demonstrated a different application of law,” according to William Mueller, a Miami student who took the course last spring. “The course was definitely more engaging and interactive than a typical class . . . It involved utilizing a number of different intellectual faculties that aren’t really needed during a typical law school course, [such as] heightened logic and reasoning, engaging the community, [and] teamwork . . . Also, a typical law school course involves very little immediate feedback, the project course involved learning through trial and error every day. We would plan out different parts of the project and then immediately know whether it could or couldn’t be implemented.”

Overall, the students that took part in the project successfully completed 34 separate A2J Guided Interview® projects, mostly for local legal aid groups. No matter the school, students agree that the course is like no other they have experienced in law school, with several lamenting the lack of similar courses throughout the curriculum.

The second round of the project begins this fall,with the formal bidding process set to begin soon, followed by an announcement of the law schools selected to participate to be made in early January. More detailed information on the project, as well as ways to participate, can be found at http://a2jclinic.classcaster.net/, or by following @caliorg or  @A2JAuthor on Twitter.

Featured image from ShutterStock.

About Nicholas Brankle

Nicholas Brankle
Nick Brankle is a 2L at Chicago-Kent College of Law interested in emerging trends in legal education and practice, as well as a lot of other things that happen to catch his eye. You can follow him @NBranks.

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