Law Schools Team Up with CALI to Harness Skills of Law Students, Develop Online Tools for Low-Income Litigants

Faculty developing course kits that will be offered to all 200+ CALI member schools

CHICAGO–December 27, 2012 – The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI®) will announce at the annual meeting of the American Association of Law Schools in New Orleans on January 6, 2013 that they have reached agreements with faculty members from six law schools to develop course kits as part of the Access to Justice Clinical Course Project (A2J Clinic Project). Participating law schools include Columbia Law School, Concordia University School of Law, CUNY School of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, UNC School of Law, and University of Miami School of Law.

Each participating faculty member will develop and document a course model that uses A2J Author® to teach law students how technology tools can be used to lower barriers to justice for low-income, self-represented litigants. CALI will use those course models to assist other law schools in establishing A2J Clinical Courses as a permanent part of their law school curriculum.

A2J Author is a software tool developed by CALI and the Center for Access to Justice & Technology at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law to deliver greater access to justice for self-represented litigants by enabling lawyers and law students to rapidly build user-friendly web-based document assembly tools called A2J Guided Interviews®. These A2J Guided Interviews allow users to complete court documents by presenting a series of easy-to-understand questions while graphics virtually lead users along the path to the courthouse, where these documents can be filed.

“The A2J Clinic Project will help participating professors develop courses that use A2J Author as educational tool,” CALI Executive Director John Mayer said. “We have has always worked as an innovative force to push legal education to change for the better. Previously, we’ve done that by developing computerized lessons to supplement in-class instruction and e-Langdell coursebooks, but the A2J Clinic Project will develop course kits that our member schools can incorporate into their clinical curriculum.”

Professor Ronald W. Staudt at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law has been using A2J Author as part of the Justice & Technology Practicum for three years, automating forms for use by legal aid organizations in Illinois and around the country.

“Eighty percent of the legal needs that low-income people face go unmet each year,” explained Professor Staudt, who is also director of the Center for Access to Justice and Technology. “This semester, my students just finished developing tools that will be used by statewide legal aid websites in Nebraska, North Carolina and Illinois to lower the barriers to justice self-represented litigants face.”

Students in Staudt’s class learn how to use software tools that will soon become standard, while developing self-help resources that assist low-income people who cannot afford an attorney start a lawsuit, file for divorce, or petition for an order of protection.

“The legal services market is rapidly changing. Experience with document automation and document assembly tools is going to be vital for new attorneys, but very few law schools offer courses that provide hands-on experience using these tools,” he said. “We’ve addressed that gap in the legal education system in a way that will also allow us help mitigate the access to justice problem.”

Each participating faculty member will integrate Prof. Staudt’s model into their own courses to develop an original course offering at their law school. Upon completion of the course, the faculty members will deliver a course kit that includes a syllabus, a list of course materials, and a process for completing A2J Guided Interviews, along with a teacher’s manual explaining their methodology for teaching the course.

Participants will include:

  • Brian Donnelly, Conrad Johnson, and Mary Marsh Zulack, Lawyering in the Digital Age at Columbia Law School;
  • Greg Sergienko and Jodi Nafzger, A2J Clinic at Concordia University School of Law;
  • Joe Rosenberg,Elder Law Clinic at CUNY School of Law;
  • Tanina Rostain and Roger Skalbeck, Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice at Georgetown University Law Center;
  • Judith Welch Wegner, Becoming a Professional at UNC School of Law;
  • JoNel Newman and Melissa Swain, Health and Elder Law Clinic at University of Miami School of Law.

CALI®, the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, is a nonprofit consortium of law schools whose mission includes promoting “access to justice through the use of computer technology.”

A2J Author is currently used in more than 30 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and Canada. More than 880 A2J Guided Interviews are actively used on the national server, Law Help Interactive. These A2J Guided Interviews have been used by self-represented litigants more than 2,000,000 times. A redesigned A2J Author 5.0 is currently in development, which will allow users to access the software from any Web browser, including a smartphone.

IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology, a private, Ph.D.-granting institution with programs in engineering, psychology, architecture, business, design and law. The Center for Access to Justice & Technology was established at IIT Chicago-Kent to make justice more accessible to the public by promoting the use of the Internet in the teaching, practice, and public access to the law. The Center conducts research, builds software tools, teaches classes and supports faculty, staff and student projects on access to justice and technology. CAJT developed A2J Author in 2005, in partnership with CALI.

EDITORS NOTE: For more information or to view a sample course kit based on Prof. Staudt’s Justice & Technology Practicum course go to Interviews with CALI’s John Mayer, Professor Ronald Staudt, students from Justice & Technology Practicum, or participating faculty members may be arranged through Andrew Medeiros, Access to Justice Fellow with CAJT, by clicking here.