Students’ Ideas Shine Bright at Justice Innovation Challenge
Helping to make justice accessible to all is a mission we share in at LSAC and we do that, in part, by educating and inspiring potential and current law students about the many nontraditional paths to becoming a lawyer and making an impact in the world of law. We also know that technology can be a valuable tool to bridge the access-to-justice gap. That’s why I’m delighted to talk about the contest we recently concluded: our inaugural Justice Innovation Challenge, which challenges law students to find innovative ways to meet the legal needs in our communities.
The challenge invited all law students as individuals or teams, in collaboration with a nonprofit legal services organization, to propose technology-based solutions to address the lack of universal access to justice in the United States. Through this program and others, new generations of lawyers can build the future of justice through innovation and new ideas, and serve as role models for aspiring law students.
We had more than 50 individual submissions and more than a dozen team submissions from around the country. Pocket VAWA Self-Petitions, a project by Columbia Law School student Emilie Schwarz, received first prize, along with $15,000 and mentorship to help Emilie refine the project and further develop the solution. Using her online tool, immigrant domestic violence survivors will be able to access justice through legal information, checklists, and prescreening for VAWA self-petitions and U visas.
"Winning this challenge validates that Pocket VAWA seeks to serve an important public interest,” Emilie said. “It has been a dream of mine to create a legal technology tool for survivors of domestic violence, and I am incredibly grateful to the Justice Innovation Challenge for giving me the courage and support to develop Pocket VAWA.”
In second place, and receiving a $10,000 prize, was My Legal Needs, a web-based app that helps LGBTQ+ and nonbinary people identify their medical and legal needs, by Anna L. Stone of Georgetown University Law Center. Third place and a $5,000 prize went to Cyber Civil Rights Resource Guide, an accessible resource guide for victims of online abuse, by Talia Boiangin of the University of Miami School of Law.
Judges evaluated and provided feedback on all submissions before seven semifinalists advanced to a “Shark Tank”-style pitch event on Aug. 21 in front of a panel of judges. I was honored to serve on that panel along with Judy Perry Martinez, president of the American Bar Association; James Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation; Kristen Sonday, cofounder and COO of Paladin; and Elizabeth Grossman, director of national partnerships and programs for Microsoft Cities Team – Civic Engagement.
Next up for the three honorees is a presentation on Oct. 1 to a national group of stakeholders at the Justice Innovation Challenge Winners Showcase event at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center in Washington, D.C. It’s also important to note that this challenge was part of a larger effort by the Access to Justice Tech Fellowship Program, which seeks to equip our next generation of civil justice leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to close the access gap in a rapidly changing legal environment.
The tremendous effort each of these individuals and teams put forth in bringing their projects to life is a testament to the character and care of our future legal professionals. Their ideas of how to help close the access-to-justice gap serve as shining examples to our community and to those who may follow in their footsteps.