Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut and CALI have created a new website where lawyers (especially legal aid attorneys), law students and law faculty can create checklists that contain steps in a legal process and links or content that deals with that step in the process. The website is at www.learnthelaw.org because the goal is to encourage users to capture their legal process expertise in the form of checklists and use them as a learning resource for other lawyers, law students and even the public (self representing litigants – a.k.a. SRLs).
Legal problems can be broken down into steps that can occur over a long period of time – weeks, months, even years. The legal aid community and many others have created articles, tools, forms, videos that explain or guide people through individual steps in a legal process. Our idea is that you can organize the steps in a legal process into a checklist and that the individual items either already exist. The creation, collection and authoring of these checklists, itself, is a valuable process for law students and a valuable resource for lawyers practicing in a new area. A legal process checklist could also be useful to SRLs to get an overview of the entirety of their legal situation.
Since the goal is for lawyers and SRLs to “learn” about a legal process, we call these checklists “classrooms”. Perhaps we should’ve stuck with checklists, but we had the learnthelaw.org URL already and it’s more snappy than checklistthelaw.org.
CHECKLISTS CAPTURE EXPERTISE
Checklists are like miniature expert systems. Good ones capture condensed and curated knowledge of the expert and act as a guard rail or reminder system or external assistant to users. If you have not read Atul Gawande’s New York Times Bestseller “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right”, I highly recommend it. It was one of the inspirations for this project and I believe there is real power in the use of checklists by lawyers.
A key point of the book is that checklists are great for novices and experts alike. The value to novices should be obvious, but what about experts? Don’t they already know all about the subject area and all the steps? The answer is “yes”, but checklists are a guarantee that steps won’t be overlooked. For lawyers, checklists help …
– insure accuracy
– avoid malpractice
– reminder of all require steps
– reminder of all required documents
– indicator of progress being made in a long process
– monitoring of other parties
When you are at your worst, a checklist can backstop you and provide guidance. When you are at your best, the checklist insures you don’t miss anything and make you feel like you are flying.
WHAT ABOUT LAW STUDENTS?
CALI creates tools, services and content that helps law schools teach and law students learn. The act of creating a quality checklist for a legal workflow is a great learning device for law students.
I imagine law faculty assigning a project to students in almost any course to create a learnthelaw.org classroom and then comparing and contrasting the results from different students working on the same problem space. I can also imagine law students working with local legal aid groups to create classrooms for SRLs as a class or probono project.
We have a pie-in-the-sky notion that if we can get a lot of people to create and share a lot of legal process checklists, this “ecology” will yield social sharing benefits. The more people that use shared checklists will result in more refinement, discussion and improvement.
LearnTheLaw.org is a place for the legal aid and legal education communities to share their checklists and develop these ideas further. There is a natural alliance between legal aid and its dearth of resources and legal education and its need for real-world experience to give to law students. CALI has been using technology to leverage that intersection for many years with the A2J Author project. LearnTheLaw.org is a natural growth of those efforts.
LearnTheLaw.org is also a place to document many different legal processes and workflows. The experience might lead to some of these becoming part of an expert system, document automation or other mechanism that improves delivery or access to legal services and education, but before we can do that, we need to learn more about how lawyers think about the steps in a legal process. We hope that LearnTheLaw.org is a place to capture this.
Finally, LearnTheLaw.org is an attempt to create an institutional memory that transcends individual lawyers and legal aid organizations. When people retire or leave for new positions, their experience is often a loss to the organization. What if some of their experience and knowledge could be captured in a semi-structured format, placed in context and preserved for future lawyers, students and SRLs? This would benefit the organization going forward and possibly grow into a valuable institutional memory that can be preserved and be of benefit to the organization.
Big ideas start small and LearnTheLaw.org is a small start, but we have big ambitions. We hope we to add value and capabilities to the website going forward and look forward to integrating the feedback we receive.
Give it a go!