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Fellowship Blog Series

Fellowship Spotlight One

My Transition from Law Student to ABA Legal Tech Fellow

by Nicole Siino

This year I transitioned from a full-time student to a full-time employee. As a student, I was used to participating, listening, thinking in a certain way and shaking that student mentality was a challenge. Students’ lives are fairly structured and predictable. Class, homework, eat, sleep, repeat. They know where they stand when speaking with peers, professors, and mentors. I feel that students, and particularly law students, are not offered many opportunities to take risks or explore new ideas or concepts.

During my last year of law school, Suffolk Law gave me the chance to try something different. I became the Legal Innovation and Technology (“LIT”) Fellow within the Juvenile Defender Clinic. The LIT fellowship included creating a process improvement or technology project to help the access to justice problem. It was a new program at Suffolk so I didn’t have much to go off of, but I thought it could be cool to try something new. I had no technology background so to say I was unsure was an understatement. At times I felt way over my head but with the help of incredible supervisors and mentors, I was able to succeed. This was the start of my transition from law student to legal technologist.

Throughout the LIT fellowship I learned what the legal tech industry entailed. Legal tech projects include everything from machine learning to document automation, all trying to make the legal field run more efficiently and effectively. I learned that most legal tech projects start by identifying a problem that could be solved with technology or process improvement. For my LIT project, I discovered that there was no master list of community-based resources for juveniles. I sat in court and listened to the judges, attorneys, and probation officers talk about dozens of programs designed to help juveniles succeed but I had no idea where information on these programs lived. After experiencing this struggle on my own and talking with colleagues who also experienced this problem, I decided to create a Juvenile Resource Finder website application for my LIT fellowship. The app helps attorneys and social workers find the best social, rehabilitative programs for juveniles in and around the Boston area.

The work being done in the legal industry is already making an impact on future generations of lawyers. A growing number of new law grads, myself included, are building exciting technology tools to help those that cannot afford traditional one-to-one representation. Law schools need to provide opportunities to students to try something new and take risks, and law students need to take those risks. Had I not taken the risk of becoming a LIT fellow, I never would have been exposed to the great work being done in the legal tech industry.

The real transition from law student to legal tech fellow began when I was hired as a NextGen Fellow in the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation. My experience has included taking risks and welcoming all the advice I can get, which I guess is a big part of the “real world.” Much like transitioning from student to fellow, I am building off of the work I learned in law school. The app now encompasses a master list of criminal justice resources for both juveniles and adults in Massachusetts.

Stay tuned for my series of blogs leading up to the American Bar Association Annual Meeting where I will present my app for everyone to see! You can follow me on Twitter at @NicoleSiino or find me on LinkedIn.