Spring 2016 Winners of the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition
Pro Bono Net’s Executive Director, Mark O’Brien co-teaches an experiential course at Georgetown Law called “Technology, Innovation and Legal Practice– Access to Justice” with Professor Tanina Rostain and Adjunct Professor Kevin Mulcahy. Students in the seminar hear from a range of experts on legal technologies and access to justice. For their projects, student teams collaborate with legal service providers and public interest law organizations to build legal expert systems that promote access to legal processes and the legal system. The course culminates in the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition.
Hear from the winners of this year’s Iron Tech Lawyer Competition, Immigration Healthcare Eligibility Application Liaison, iHeal, below.
Early February, we—the students of Technology, Innovation, and Law—were separated into teams. Each team was paired with an organization and given the task to “fill a hole” for the organization by building an app. Our team (Arvind Miriyala, Lauren Wiefels, Jennifer Llano, and myself, Taryn Smith) was paired with the National Immigration Law Center, and the “hole” we were to fill was informing immigrants about healthcare benefits for which they may be eligible based on their status.
We began by dividing the labor. The question, “So, who considers themselves tech-y?” was initially met with radio silence. Eventually, however, we managed to designate two app builders and two information researchers. After that, all we had to do was take two complicated areas of law—Immigration and Healthcare—and make them digestible in order to create an app for an audience whose first language would likely not be English.
Fortunately, we had the help of Alvaro Huerta, an attorney at NILC, who helped us detangle the law and better understand how to interact with our target audience. We had to keep in mind that, for immigrants, there is a very understandable fear attached to providing information about yourself or your family, especially when that information concerns your immigration status, and especially when you are giving that information to a lawyer or a government entity. It was important to us that our users felt comfortable throughout their interaction with the app and not overwhelmed or threatened.
The final application, iHEAL, has both an English and a Spanish version. It is comprised of short, simple questions that mostly appear on the screen one at a time. There are numerous “Why We Ask” pop-up links to let our users know how exactly we plan to use each piece of information they give us. The app takes into account each answer, and when the users reach the end, they are told for what benefits they may be eligible and why. It also provides the location and contact information of the nearest help center, as well as a transcript of their responses to save and take with them.
There are a number of “holes” in the current legal system. Technology is a promising way to fill those holes whether it is used to complete menial tasks, allowing lawyers to spend time on more difficult issues, or to streamline a complex processes, or to simply educate the public. By embracing technology, we can create a much more efficient, user-friendly legal system.
This year’s Iron Tech Lawyer Competition was judged by Dean Garfield, President and CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI) and Pro Bono Net Board member; Paul Ohm, Professor of Law at the Georgetown University Law Center and faculty director for the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown; and James Sandman, President of the Legal Services Corporation, chair of the DC Circuit Judicial Conference Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services and member of the DC Access to Justice Commission.