Amanda Brown, NextGen Fellow at the ABA Center for Innovation: How Collaboration is Helping Self-Represented Litigants

Topics: Access to Justice, American Bar Association, Justice Ecosystem: Technology, Law Schools, Legal Education, Legal Innovation, Talent Development, Women’s Leadership Blog Posts

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We are pleased to continue our interview series with NextGen fellows with the ABA Center for Innovation. The Center exists to accelerate innovations that improve the accessibility, affordability, and effectiveness of legal services and to transform how the public accesses the law and legal information. Today, we feature Amanda Brown, who is assisting in the creation of an online legal access portal project that aims to educate and assist self-represented litigants as they navigate the courts.

Legal Executive Institute: Tell about yourself and what you had planned for your career after law school but before you started the fellowship.

Amanda Brown: I grew up in Louisiana, where I graduated from Loyola New Orleans law school in 2016. Early in law school, I had plans to be a transactional property and real estate lawyer. I had no intentions on going into legal technology, though I had always been interested in technology as a consumer.

While I was in law school, I participated in a legal technology clinic, and it was there that I was introduced to legal tech and what it can do for lawyers and the public. After graduating, I worked with Southeast Louisiana Legal Services on disaster recovery work as a “Graduates for Justice” intern, because the region had experienced significant flooding in the fall of 2016. There was a lot of legal public service work to do, and this internship turned into a full-time fellowship once I passed the bar. There, I was doing a lot of FEMA appeals and helping people get title to their homes, in response to a huge need from people unable to prove ownership of their homes.

NextGen

Amanda Brown

Soon after, I learned of the newly-created ABA Center for Innovation and met Judy Perry Martinez, Special Adviser to the ABA Center for Innovation, who was really close to the legal services organizations in southeast Louisiana. In response to the proof of homeownership issues, a tool was planned in collaboration with the ABA Center for Innovation and Stanford University’s law and design schools to help people gather all their documentation and get prepared for a succession or their FEMA appeal. I got involved in the creation of the tool, and through this project and through Judy, I was introduced to the ABA Center for Innovation NextGen Fellowship program.

Tell us about your NextGen fellowship project.

The core purpose of this project is to address a piece of the justice gap. The project is a collaboration between Microsoft, the Legal Services Corporation, and ProBonoNet that aggregates action plans and resources for self-represented litigants.

With the project, litigants can describe their issue and be directed towards expertly curated plans or resources that gives them actionable steps, allowing them to get the ball rolling on resolving their legal issues. Importantly, it aggregates resources from legal, community, and social sources to provide a holistic approach to resolving their issues.

To illustrate, a woman named Susan with two children is getting kicked out of her apartment and needs some support on paying rent, paying her utilities and getting food. With the assistance of artificial intelligence, the portal will diagnose the problem that Susan is having and provide her an expertly-curated set of resources that explain what steps need to be taken in plain terms, and what financial resources may be out there to help Susan and her children.

What you have learned during your fellowship journey specifically in the areas of technology and innovation.

In my fellowship, I have had a lot of access to some really smart people and some really innovative ways of doing things. I have learned a lot about new technologies, such as artificial intelligence and Blockchain, and acquired hard skills in the design and build phases of a technology project. I have also learned project management skills with the ability to gather requirements that you need to have in place before actually going out and building something.

What has surprised you about what you have learned in the area of technology and innovation?

I have been surprised by how structured and intentional innovation really is. When I think of innovation, creativity and idea generation come to mind. But, to create something tangible, there is a process to bring the ideas to fruition. It is comforting to know this about innovation for me because, as a lawyer, I am used to rules!

How do you plan on incorporating your technology and innovation learnings into your legal career?

I am more interested in technology and how I can leverage my expertise in contracts. My plans have evolved from real estate exclusively to a larger orientation for business. I am also really interested in start-ups because I have seen a lot of great start-ups in my year with the ABA Center for Innovation.

I think I want to have my own firm someday where I would advise start-ups with entity formation and their broader legal issues around contracts and licensing. Right now, I am weighing my options and hope to have a full-time role to share about soon.