2023 InnovAction Winner & Finalists

Congratulations to each of the Finalists and the Winner for their efforts to use innovation to improve access to justice. 

Winner

Mobile PathwaysDemocratizing Immigration Justice Via Text

When asylum seekers arrive in the United States, they face many barriers and they cannot afford legal counsel while navigating a challenging immigration system. Migrants need immediate information about their rights and access to services to be safe and prepared. Fortunately, all immigrants depend on mobile phones and can access text technology.

Mobile Pathways believes texting is the optimal way to drive conversations at scale during the most pivotal moments of an asylum seeker’s journey so they are safe and prepared. On January 10th, 2020, their team of volunteer immigration attorneys sent a WhatsApp message to six refugees stuck at the U.S./Mexico border due to unfair immigration policies.

Since that first message, Mobile Pathways now supports over 150 immigration nonprofit organizations with a collective reach of over 1,500,000 underserved immigrants via their innovative and online “MyCamino” texting platform.

By developing revolutionary mobile phone technology solutions for immigration advocates, they have disrupted the legal immigration space. Their platform amplifies the reach of immigration advocates by empowering them to serve asylum seekers at large scale, while making trusted legal information mobile and accessible.

FINALISTS

It was not an easy task for our judges to pick just one organization. Each of the InnovAction finalists have done outstanding work to remove the barriers to accessing our justice system. We honor all of the finalists and their tremendous work: 

Economic Justice Institute, Inc.LIFT Wisconsin 

LIFT (Legal Interventions for Transforming) Wisconsin's LegalTuneUp.org tool is transformational in improving access to justice as it democratizes data and tears down the archaic, bureaucratic, and complicated administrative systems that prevent BIPOC, and low-income communities from thriving. It enables people to access the very data that is used against them by landlords, employers, and educational institutions. To our knowledge, no other tech innovation is automatically incorporating public data into the solution tool. LIFT WI transforms systems and increases access to justice by offering a multi-level service to solve the justice crisis and ensure that lawyers can focus on complicated legal issues. It is an original proof of concept that will be scalable across the country.

At LegalTuneUp.org an individual can address a driver’s license suspension based on unpaid fines and fees, clear a criminal or housing eviction record, and take steps needed to modify child support. LegalTuneUp is currently the only tool of its kind in the country that partners with multiple government agencies. It can have a transformative impact on how data is accessed, used and by whom and lift a burden faced by many. One’s access to justice should not be contingent on whether you can afford it.

Family Legal Care New York Family Law Navigator

Family Legal Care (FLC) is a nonprofit legal-services organization dedicated to increasing access-to-justice in the NY State Family Court, where the vast majority of litigants represent themselves on life-changing issues without a lawyer.

FLC has long operated its telephone Helpline through which live experts provide information on family law. The Helpline has been successful, but is expensive to operate, has limited availability, and can’t provide callers with tailored information in written form. So, FLC teamed with Brooklyn Law School (BLS) to develop The Family Law Navigator (the Navigator) as a supplement to the Helpline.

The Navigator is an automated tool that asks questions of Family Court litigants and provides narrowly tailored information on:

  • Paternity
  • Custody
  • Visitation
  • Child Support
  • Protection Orders
  • Termination of Parental Rights

To design the Navigator, the team documented the scenarios (common and uncommon) that the Helpline had addressed in the past.

The team named each scenario with what they called “natural-language coding.” The result was a taxonomy that converted countless shades of gray legalese into a well-ordered collection of expert-defined scenarios that enabled the building of a digital system that provides tailored, expert-approved information 24/7 to people in need.

Georgia State University Legal Analytics & Innovation Initiative (LAII)Legal Process Engineering for A2J

Law schools typically develop legal tech coursework in vacuum where the concepts are abstract and removed from the real-life issues and applications of law practice. To counteract this trend, in the fall of 2022 GSU’s Legal Analytics & Innovation Initiative began co-developing a pioneering new course mirrored after IncuBaker, innovation department, of BakerHostetler, LLC. The resulting course, Legal Process Engineering, sought to narrow that gap by bringing together the skills, knowledge, and experience of law practice tech directly into the classroom. In the course, students develop technology-based solutions to legal practice challenges in a hands-on experiential environment.

As the course development progressed it became clear there was a real opportunity to assist beyond the classroom or corporate firm environment. What if students could put the knowledge and skill acquired in their course to work solving A2J issues? In Georgia it is estimated 80-90% of lower and middleclass civil legal needs go unmet. Five Georgia counties have no lawyers, and a third have less than five attorneys. The legal deserts of Georgia are vast and are desperate for mechanisms to narrow the access to legal services gap.

The Legal Process Engineering course morphed from an academic-law firm collaboration into one which both the firm and the initiative could collaborate to create an impactful and innovative approach to supporting self-help litigants and furtherance of technology developments for the legal industry.

Justice Technology Association 

Executive Summary: Justice Technology Association is the first, and only, mission-based organization designed to bring like-minded technology entrepreneurs together in the pursuit of making the legal system more accessible, efficient, and fair for everyone. Our mission is to support changemakers building innovative solutions to the access to justice crisis.

In 2022, justice tech entered mainstream industry consciousness as the social impact side of not only legal tech, but also adjacent and inter-connected verticals like fintech, regtech, and govtech. It has caught the interest of both impact investors and those seeking opportunities to fund disruption of antiquated systems via technology, but was a scattered and largely misunderstood area.

In just one year, JTA has rapidly become the authoritative resource for information about consumer-centered justice tech, an influential voice in policy reform advocacy, and a powerful nexus for the sector—including not only founders, but investors, policy experts, technology pioneers, and industry transformation leaders.

Despite inbound inquiries for membership, collaboration, and partnership exceeding our 100% volunteer-driven organization’s ability to respond, JTA is poised to expand its leadership, influence, and support of startups in the space and has multiple high-impact initiatives underway in 2023.

Legal LinkLegal First Aid on the Frontlines: Increasing Access to Justice with Community Navigators

Dylan, a caseworker, had a problem. Their client was given 90 days to use their housing subsidy, yet landlords repeatedly turned them away because they didn’t want to rent to someone with a subsidy. Thankfully, Dylan was certified in Legal First Aid and had learned that this type of discrimination is illegal. Armed with information and written resources, Dylan supported their client to push back on the landlord with confidence. Thanks to their advocacy, Dylan’s client secured housing in time.

Laws like the one above can be incredibly impactful, but for the majority of families experiencing poverty, these legal protections are out of reach. The Access to Justice gap is profound: the U.S. has more lawyers per capita than any other country, yet 92% of low-income families don’t get adequate help for their civil legal problems.

Legal Link developed its unique Legal First Aid curriculum to expand the legal ecosystem by creating a new frontline of justice workers. Legal First Aid-trained navigators help to remove legal barriers that prolong poverty. Positively, 95% of navigators report an increase in their legal capability. In 2022, Legal Link began to scale this innovative model nationally—starting in Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Southern University Law Center SULC Urban Law, Technology & Research Academy

Executive Summary: Southern University Law Center (SULC), one of six law schools associated with a Historically Black College and University (HBCU), has a national reputation for training law students for public service. SULC’s Urban Law, Technology & Research Academy (ULTRA) offers its students an innovative way to serve the public, providing law students with tools, beyond their knowledge of the law itself, to solve through innovation challenges facing America's fragile communities, especially challenges relating to criminal and social justice. These tools help students explore whether technology can bring about real change for real people in need. Through courses and competitions focusing on innovation and the law, ULTRA students have designed apps to combat urban legal issues, particularly those that African Americans face with the criminal justice system from before first contact and beyond—like racial profiling by law enforcement officers, bias during the plea-bargaining process, stigmatization from criminal convictions, and the scourge of the nation’s opioid epidemic. Its students have repeatedly reached the finals of innovation competitions, like NEXUS Louisiana’s BIZTECH Challenge, winning several times in the digital technology category. In January 2023, Bloomberg Law’s Law School Innovation Program recognized ULTRA as a top scoring submission in the Innovation & Justice category.

St. Mary’s University School of LawSt. Mary’s School of Law Online J.D. Program

In 2021, St. Mary’s School of Law became the first ABA accredited law school in the country to receive permission from the ABA to offer a fully online J.D. degree. The online program consists of instruction through both synchronous and asynchronous methods. With an even split between synchronous and asynchronous instruction for 1L classes, our program better accommodates the individual needs of students, seeks to increase the industry’s openness towards leveraging online capabilities, and, given the numerous options of online meeting platforms, allows for substantial duplicability across educational institutions nationally. Though other law schools have created hybrid programs, St. Mary’s online program does not require students to come to campus for any of the instruction, making it unique and a first mover in the field of online legal education.

The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal InstructionA2J Author

A2J Author is a low code, expert system building tool that allows lawyers, law students, and others to automate legal forms. It has been used since 2005 to automate over 1,000 forms in 44 states and 4 countries. A2J Author has always taken a user centric approach to our design, being the first document assembly tool created for self-represented litigants. In the past 18 years, we have helped over 7 million users fill out their legal forms. In the spring of 2018, we did an accessibility audit of our software’s mobile and desktop interfaces. We spent the early part of the pandemic (2020-2022) focusing on enhancing the accessibility of our tool to comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 standards. We completed over 50 upgrades during that period to reach our goal. These automated forms, called A2J Guided Interviews, now help 600,000 people a year to learn about their legal rights, determine appropriate next legal steps, and complete the necessary forms. The interface that is maximized for mobile, is as accessible as possible for all users, is available online 24/7, and removes many of the barriers to accessing justice self-represented litigants face.

University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of LawInnovation for Justice (i4J)

Innovation for Justice (i4J) is a social justice innovation lab housed at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law and the University of Utah David Eccles School of Business that designs, builds, and tests disruptive solutions to the justice gap. i4J’s work focuses on three disruptive strategies to spark systems-level change:

  1. Innovating Legal Services - Leveraging regulatory reform to legally empower underserved populations;
  2. Innovating Legal Systems - Ensuring that justice-sector tech works for low-income populations; and
  3. Innovating Legal Structures - Using technology to aggregate law and data for policy advocacy.

Our interdisciplinary research teams engage in action-based research that exposes inequalities in the legal system to create new, replicable strategies for legal empowerment using design- and systems-thinking methodologies. At i4J, we believe that change does not happen in silos; innovation calls for broad insight, engagement, and support. We collaborate with community partners in the nonprofit, government, and private sectors, as well as lived-experience experts from the communities in which we work, to create data-driven models for delivering legal empowerment to underserved and underrepresented populations. We have worked with more than 1,000 community stakeholders to co-create and implement innovative solutions to close America’s justice gap.

University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of LawNon-residential Hybrid Juris Doctor Legal Education Program

Significant changes to the legal services industry demand an evolution in legal education. This is especially prominent in intellectual property (IP), technology, and information law, where programs of legal education must better meet the changing reality of the legal services industry.

At UNH Franklin Pierce, we have innovated to expand access to legal education on a new frontier: a JD designed for working professionals in the IP, technology, and information sectors that they can obtain while staying in their current profession.

Our JD hybrid program is the first ABA-approved specialized JD program to focus on a specific area of law with a concentration in intellectual property (IP), technology, and information law. The hybrid student body consists of patent examiners, patent supervisors, IP managers, licensing specialists, entrepreneurs, and doctors.

At a time when the legal profession is challenged by an array of complex forces—including a disconnect between the number of students becoming lawyers and the volume of legal needs for individuals and institutions—innovation in the delivery of legal education is imperative. The hybrid JD creates a new cohort of IP, technology, and information-focused practitioners to serve legal needs across a range of communities in the private and public sectors.