The ABA Center for Innovation officially launched on September 1, 2016, with a mission to encourage and accelerate innovations that improve the affordability, effectiveness, efficiency, and accessibility of legal services. During its first quarter of operations, the Center took significant initial steps towards this goal:
- Hiring staff
- Convening the Center’s Governing and Advisory Councils and establishing committees that are implementing the Center’s action plan
- The Center drafted a Business Plan in order to support the Center’s fundraising efforts and to frame the Center’s work for its various stakeholders. The Business Plan contains a mission statement, describes the Center’s services, provides a market analysis, identifies the Center’s management team and leadership, and offers an overview of the Center’s financial plan and potential funding sources.
- The Center drafted an Action Plan in order to identify its operating principles and articulate the specific goals and objectives that the Center will pursue through its committees and staff.
- Collaborating on projects that advance the Center’s mission:
- Assisting the ABA Judicial Division and the New York State Unified Court System with an online dispute resolution pilot project for consumer debt cases, as supported by an ABA Enterprise Fund Award
- Assisting the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services with a legal checkup tool, as supported by an ABA Enterprise Fund Award
- Assisting various entities to develop an app that assists Louisiana homeowners who have been affected by severe flooding and who need to collect legal documents to apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance
- Coordinating with various entities to design an app that facilitates the reporting of hate crimes
- Developing a process for vetting other possible projects and initiatives
- Initiating the creation of an innovation clearinghouse to document the range of innovations occurring within the U.S. and abroad
- Establishing an application process for the Center’s Fellows program and initiating discussions with state bar associations and other entities on the sponsorship of fellows
- Creating an outreach and communications strategy
Engaging in outreach to ABA and outside entities to develop collaborations and possible sponsorships
- Initiating fundraising activities
The managing director for the Center is Janet L. Jackson, longtime head of the ABA Office of the President and primary staff for the Commission on the Future of Legal Services. In 2010, Janet was named Chicago Association Executive of the Year and in 2007 was the first person of color to lead the 100-year old Association Forum of Chicago that represents over 30,000 association employees in Chicagoland. Janet has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism and an MBA in non-profit management.
Geoff Burkhart is the deputy director and counsel of the Center. Geoff previously led the ABA’s efforts to reform the public defender system. He is a former appellate defender and also an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago School of Law. He is developing an interactive digital map of public defense provision in all 3,144 counties in the United States. Geoff has a Master of Arts in Sociology and a Juris Doctor.
Sarah Glassmeyer is the Center project specialist. Sarah has a Masters of Library Science and a Juris Doctor. She recently completed a term as a research fellow at the Harvard Library Innovation Lab and is a former director of content development for the Center for Computer Assisted Legal Instruction. Sarah was recently chosen as an ABA Journal Legal Rebel.
Lanita Thomas is the Center office manager. Lanita served for many years as the scheduling specialist within the ABA Office of the President where she handled logistical arrangements for all speaking and meeting engagements for ABA presidential officers. Prior to joining the President’s Office, Lanita was the office administrator for the ABA Division for Public Education.
Programs and Projects Commitee
This committee, led by council member Marty Smith, is tasked with making recommendations to the Governing and Advisory Councils on programs, projects, and educational offerings that the Center should pursue. It also provides oversight of Center programs, projects, and pilots, and it identifies and recommends opportunities for collaboration in this arena. The committee has been working on various projects and initiatives.
1. Court-Annexed Online Dispute Resolution Pilot in New York
The Center is assisting the New York State Unified Court System with a court-annexed online dispute resolution pilot project that will seek to resolve consumer debt cases more efficiently and effectively. The ABA Judicial Division has the lead in this effort, and the work is supported by an ABA Enterprise Fund award. Through the contacts of the Center, the newly created Harvard Access to Justice Lab is assisting with the development of appropriate metrics to assess the effectiveness of this pilot. Marty Smith is the Center’s liaison.
2. Legal Checkups
The Center is assisting with a free, online legal checkup tool that is being created by a working group led by the ABA Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services. The checkup will consist of an expert system of branching questions and answers that helps members of the public to identify legal issues in specific subject areas and refers them to appropriate resources. Council member Karl Camillucci is the Center’s liaison.
3. “Pop-Up” Projects: Louisiana “Flood Proof” App and Hate Crimes App
The Center is always looking for opportunities to work on “pop-up” projects that address urgent, time-sensitive legal needs.
One such effort came about when we learned that thousands of flood victims in and around Baton Rouge, Louisiana, lack the documentation of home ownership that is required to establish their eligibility for FEMA disaster assistance. Through the efforts of the Center, particularly council member Margaret Hagan and special advisor Judy Perry Martinez, a mobile app called Flood Proof has been created to help flood victims gather the necessary documents to establish home ownership and complete FEMA submissions. The app will also direct them to appropriate legal services in the region, based on their income qualifications.
Another emerging opportunity has come to the Center through council member Chad Burton. In partnership with CuroLegal, Stanford University, Suffolk University, NAACP, ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, GLAAD, and others, the Center is in the early stages of working on a comprehensive online tool to assist victims of hate crimes. The service will provide easily digestible information, in multiple languages, to assist people in understanding what a hate crime is, determining if they have been a victim of a hate crime, and providing opportunities to report the hate crimes to relevant local authorities and organizations.
4. Innovation Clearinghouse
The committee is establishing a comprehensive Innovations Clearinghouse to catalog ongoing legal services innovations around the world so that we can better understand existing efforts, avoid duplicating current projects, and inform the Center’s decisions regarding new initiatives.
5. Call for Project Proposals
The committee has developed a prioritized list of areas of focus for the Center. This listing will be the basis of a nationwide “Call for Project Proposals” competition. Selected projects will receive technical support, collaborative resources and, in some cases, small monetary grants to assist in the development and implementation of worthwhile endeavors that advance the Center’s mission.
This committee, chaired by council member Dean Camille Nelson, is designing the guidelines for the NextGen and Innovation Fellows programs. The NextGen fellows will be recent law school graduates who spend a year at the Center and receive a stipend to work on innovation projects. The Innovation fellows will be experienced lawyers and other professionals who spend more limited time at the Center. In both cases, the fellows will be matched with available resources within and outside the ABA to help them plan, develop, and implement innovative projects that are consistent with the Center’s mission.
The committee is tasked with developing the application and selection processes, establishing metrics and desired outcomes of the program, and facilitating the creation of collateral materials (e.g., a Fellows Handbook, training for the fellows, and intellectual property guidelines).
The Center is actively seeking sponsors for both fellows programs to allow us to increase the number of participants in each program.
Events, Communication and Outreach Committee
This committee, chaired by council members Ramón Abadin and Nate Alder, is developing the Center’s online presence, including its website and social media presence. It is also responsible for identifying critical speaking opportunities at conferences and events and facilitating the creation of the Center’s educational programming.
In coordination with the ABA Design Group, the committee is working to develop and implement the new branding of the Center that conveys the future-focused, collaborative, start-up identity of the Center’s work.
The committee is developing an educational program for the ABA 2017 Midyear Meeting in Miami, Florida. Legal Innovations 101 will provide an overview of the legal landscape and the need for innovation, along with a quick tutorial on how to successfully develop and use apps to assist with the delivery of legal services.
The committee is developing a TED-style program for the upcoming 2017 ABA Annual Meeting in New York, New York, which will present the winners of a Center competition to find new and exciting projects taking place in the legal sector.
The committee is working with staff to develop an interactive, comprehensive web presence for the Center that will include the latest information on innovations, an events calendar, a speakers’ bureau, tools to implement and evaluate innovations, online communities to exchange ideas, and much more.
The Center is working with council member Professor Sandy Pentland of MIT to develop a cutting- edge online technology and legal innovation course taught by thought leaders in technology and law.
The Center is actively working to enhance its operations through the development of sustainable revenue streams. There are several active asks outstanding to support the Center’s mission, including grant requests, private sector giving, ABA entity requests, sponsorships, and in-kind giving. The Center is working closely with the ABA Fund for Justice and Education to develop a cohesive and successful giving plan. The Center’s special advisors are responsible for taking the lead on these efforts.
If you are interested in supporting the work of the Center for Innovation, please contact our managing director, Janet Jackson, at [email protected] .