Fellowship Spotlight Series

Fellowship Spotlight Two

Trusting the Process

by Nicole Siino

Law students are rarely given the opportunity to try something new when solving problems in the legal field. Many professions use techniques such as Design Thinking [1] or Kata Process Improvement [2] to solve everyday annoyances or complex, systemic problems but the legal industry has been reluctant to make these changes. Throughout law school and in my NextGen fellowship, I learned to recognize these gaps and now know how to solve problems in a different way.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, I was given the opportunity to become a Legal Innovation & Technology (LIT) Fellow within the Juvenile Defender Clinic at Suffolk Law during my last year of law school. I was exposed to the legal tech industry through this program and fell in love with the work being done. I was taught that much of the latent legal market can be helped with the use of technology. But the problem is, people don’t know where to begin. I faced this same obstacle when I wanted to expand the Juvenile Resource Finder app I created in law school for my NextGen fellowship project. I wanted to include adult/family resources throughout the entire state of Massachusetts but I was stuck. I wasn’t sure what my first move should be. The Center for Innovation stated right at the beginning of the NextGen fellowship to approach this type of problem by first getting to know the people you are trying to help. This includes getting rid of what you think their problems are and what technologies can solve their problems.

For the first months of my fellowship, I spent most of my time getting to know the people, my target users. My target users are people who could use the app the find rehabilitative resources for clients. I met with attorneys, judges, social workers, and probation officers and listened to what could help them accomplish their goals of rehabilitating clients. They all agreed that having a master list of resources was much needed, especially for attorneys who did not have access to social workers. One major suggestion given to me by multiple people was to expand the types of services in the juvenile app. This became my main goal as I started working on the new project. Everyone I met with offered unique perspectives that opened my mind to what the app could be used for. They validated my idea for this project.

Once I figured out what my target users were looking for, I turned my attention toward the technical side of the app. This was by far the thing that scared me the most because I have very little coding background. I spent months sketching out different interfaces and trying new techniques. I broke down the coding bit by bit until eventually it all came together. David Colarusso, Director of the Legal Innovation and Technology Lab & Clinical Fellow at Suffolk Law, was instrumental in teaching me and helping me every step of the way. I worked with a Suffolk 3L law student to add in “cookies” so that users did not have to input the same filters in over and over again. The suggestion I received about the limited number of services became a huge technical task but now there’s no limit to the different types of services that can be included.

The final step I took, and continue to take is getting user feedback. I started seeking out ways to improve the app once it was in a place where I felt I could get meaningful feedback. I met with attorneys and social workers to discuss what they liked about the app and what they would like to see included or changed. I implemented most of the feedback but had to learn where to cut it off because this project had a finite amount of time and resources. In the end, people (myself including) were very happy with the way it looked and ran.

The skills I learned throughout my fellowship year can be applied to any job. The steps I went through can solve most problems in many areas of the law. More lawyers could benefit from this way of thinking. I learned to trust the process of innovative thinking even when I wasn’t sure of the outcome.

Keep an eye out for my final post in my blog series leading up to the American Bar Association Annual Meeting presentation! While you wait, take a look at my Twitter or LinkedIn.

[1] Rikke Dam & Teo Siang, 5 Stages in the Design Thinking Process, Interaction Design Foundation March 2019, https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/5-stages-in-the-design-thinking-process.

[2] What is Kata Process Improvement?, Six Sigma March 3, 2017, https://www.6sigma.us/six-sigma-articles/what-is-kata-process-improvement/.