Guest Blogger Claudia Johnston Reflecting on Public Interest Lawyers, Technology and Change

We are living in revolutionary times. It is the first time, since 1968, when I was just a babe learning to talk by listening to the Beattles in El Salvador, that we see such amount of change and restructuring and social unrest not only in the US, but world wide. Occupy Wall Street in multiple US cities, Arab Spring, etc. are reminiscent of the social movements and energy that  galvanized  in Tlatelolco, Paris, Caracas in 1968.

The Economist had a great piece, Here Comes Anyware about mobile technology. It covered the twitter revolution, and how technology is speeding up the cycle of social organizing and change.  They call technology an “accelerant”.

Grappling with the changes and economic restructuring that is taking place across the world and being accelerated by technology I came across the work of a professor in Kansas. I found him by looking at TED, as he had a video posted there as one of the TED lectures.  His class, from Knowledge to Knowleadble, a synopsis that can be viewed in this TED presentation, is inspiring and forces me to ask me, what am I as a public interest lawyer doing to accelerate justice? As Wesh says, “the world is on fire” and we have students in law school learning about one of the most powerful tools for social change (law and advocacy tools (oral, written, analytical) in a world that is totally different? How do we use law as a body of knowledge and training to work on real problems and leverage their training to organize, collect, and share and help build access to justice work?

In March of this year I had the privilege of being invited to be a speaker for the Sparer Conference at Penn Law. A video of the sessions is here

The Sparer Conference is a public interest conference organized by the Toll Center and the public interest scholars at the law school. I presented on LawHelp Interactive which I manage. From interacting with the students it was evident that there is a small and growing active group of law students, going into public interest law and looking at technology as one of the ways to use their skill, training, and talent.  This small emerging cadre of public interest minded students exists in other law schools.

One question for our readers, what Law Schools are teaching law school clinics centered around technology? For example, are there any other projects similar to Chicago Kent-Law School, where law students are matched with non-profit practitioners and are taught how to use online technology (outside of video)  to meet very concrete legal needs?

The ongoing work of CATJ  at Chicago Kent Law School to connect law students with legal non profits to create online forms is a model to encourage other law schools to study and emulate. It exemplies in the legal context the message of Michael Wesh.  With the ongoing funding crisis, and the shortage of jobs, and the change in technology exposure by age group, law schools need to more and more include technology as part of teaching and preparing the next generation of lawyers. A great paper to read on leveraging law students in law and technology from 2007 I think that projects like CATJ/A2J Author’s help law students create meaning for themselves and gives them an opportunity to work on real problems.

Please share any other technology base/public interest projects and clinics that are working with students. I would also love to hear about other projects that are helping law students go from “knowledgeable to knowledge-able” to bring out solutions.  For example, is anyone out there (court or legal aid group or bar association) working on virtual self help centers or advice clinics staffed by law students volunteers under supervision by an attorney using online tools? In the development of the tools? Pro Bono projects?

Since some of the social movements are now being accelerated by hand held devices, are there pro bono attorneys  or legal non profit firms supporting some of these movements with the same tools? I know that in legal aid, the use of mobile/handheld devices to serve clients or applicants is just starting.  On the law firm side they have been providing handheld devices for associates longer than legal aid has.  Are there pro bono models being developed around mobile technology? Is the use of handheld tools changing the ways law firms associates do pro bono work?

I hope others in the access to justice community get as excited as I do about the work of Michael Tesh. I welcome suggestions and concrete ideas on how to tackle the challenge he so clearly dissects in our field.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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3 Responses to Guest Blogger Claudia Johnston Reflecting on Public Interest Lawyers, Technology and Change

  1. Claudia Johnson says:

    Thank you for this feedback and sharing the projects. It is great to hear about them. Any other law schools teaching clinicals or hosting public interest projects that incorporate technology as a skill that students need to master once they are out of school? In the ABA Blawg 100 competition (please vote for this blog in the “niche” category) I saw some blogs that are law student driven. Any other projects out there we should keep and eye? How about in Canada? Anyone from Canada reading here?

  2. Email is the basic structure for access to our Carolina Clerks: Pro Bono Clerks for Pro Bono Lawyers Project here at the University of SC School of Law Pro Bono Program. It is the most efficient way to reach the entire state and to quickly link students to lawyers needing help on pro bono cases. A pretty simple process but with great results, a win, win, win.

    In addition we recently used a blog to build awareness about hunger insecurity in SC. A group of 25 volunteer law students, family members and friends agrees to try to live on the equivalent of SNAP benefits for a week and blog about it. Our following was huge ( one piece of advice, put in a counter before you start, mea culpa!)
    It was a terrific way to add and share articles in between the comments and discussions. We even added a TED piece as I am a huge fan and frequently send pieces to students or to groups for inspiration or just plain thinking!

    and I love my “Tweet of the Week” as a recruiting, recognition and training tool for students!

  3. Linda Warren Seely says:

    There is an online email question and answer program developed in part by the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, a law firm called Baker, Donelson and the Tennessee Bar Association. It provides a platform for individuals of limited means to ask questions and get answers but the answers are provided by attorneys, not law students. It’s called

    I am curious about what law schools are teaching students about using technology to help clients, especially pro bono clients since I work at Memphis Area Legal Services as the Director of our Pro Bono Projects.

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