Law Students Apply Technical Skills for Public Good

technology and legal practice class
Law Students Apply Technical Skills for Public Good
June 10, 2019
Hartford, CT

Students in UConn Law’s new Technology and Law Practice class didn’t just study the topic, they developed real technical solutions to help both a legal services agency and the law school’s Animal Law Clinic.

Professor Jessica de Perio Wittman, who taught the class this past spring, designed it to be a hands-on, practical experience. Over the course of the semester, one team of four students built an automated interview process for creating advanced health care directives on behalf of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, which will offer the service to its low-income clients. Another team of three students digitized the files of the Animal Law Clinic and adapted a computerized case management system to track the clinic’s animal abuse cases.

The students working on the health care directives faced the challenge of converting a 27-page paper questionnaire into an engaging interactive experience. The group, none of whom had programming experience, used cloud-based software called A2J to devise a one-hour process that generates a print-ready directive on end-of-life medical care.

In addition to mastering the software, they also had to ensure that the questions were understandable to people without legal training. “One of our biggest challenges with this was making sure all the questions were at a fifth-grade reading level,” said Ramy Esmail ’20. “Stuff like that you don’t necessarily think of.”

Kathy Flaherty, the director of the Connecticut Legal Rights Project, said what the students were able to do was remarkable. “This will serve a need of our clients that we just hadn’t been able to adequately meet, with the size of our staff,” she said.

Along with learning the technology, the students gained valuable practice working as a team. Jonathan Donovan ’20 said law school classes are usually very individually focused, and collaboration among students is not generally emphasized.

Yet having to work together and figure out the group’s priorities and solve problems is characteristic of legal work, de Perio Wittman said. “Project management and teamwork skills are essential in the legal world.”

The group of students who worked on the Animal Law Clinic project, using the cloud-based Clio practice management software, were also struck by how deeply team dynamics affected their project.

“We pretty quickly realized there are about three different parts to this project, and we decided to divide and conquer,” Donovan said. “We tried to have each person do something that matched their strengths. It worked pretty well, but it wasn’t always easy.”

The director of the Animal Law Clinic, Professor Jessica Rubin, said the students’ work will allow her clinic to function like a small law firm.

“The students invested a tremendous amount of energy in creating and implementing a new and confidential case management system for UConn’s Animal Law Clinic,” she said. “I am so excited about the organization, efficiency, and confidentiality that the new system will provide.”

In addition to the increased efficiency of a digital file system, the platform created by the students allows Rubin to assign tasks and track the hours of students working at the clinic.

The students in the Technology and Law Practice class said working with the software gave them valuable insight into the importance of office management and organization.

De Perio Wittman said she was impressed by and proud of the students’ work.

“What they managed to do really exceeded my expectations and is very impressive,” she said. “They worked extremely hard, and the results speak for themselves.”