Law Students Hack for the Employment Justice Center

Law Students Hack for the Employment Justice Center

Is technology rewiring the legal industry? That question is too big to answer. But we do know that technology is making a real difference in real cases.

The Employment Justice Center is a Washington, DC not-for-profit legal services organization that “uses a combination of strategies to protect the rights of low-income workers, including legal services, policy advocacy, community organizing, and education.”

And now, thanks to students in Georgetown Law’s Technology, Innovation and Law Practice course, technology is one of the Justice Center’s strategies.

When employers refuse to pay part or all of a worker’s regular wages, overtime, or other earned compensation, the worker may have a claim for wage theft based on violations of minimum wage and overtime rules. Such claims are very common among Justice Center clients.

Georgetown Law student Elizabeth Schiller led a three-person team that worked closely with the Justice Center and its Executive Director, Barbra Kavanaugh, to determine the potential for technology-enabled process improvements.

The team considered process bottlenecks, agency goals, and key legal issues before deciding what application to build. Then they analyzed legal and policy rules, audience-appropriate language, user interface design, and the most useful forms of output. Based on this knowledge engineering work, the students created the Wage Theft Advisor, a Neota Logic expert system.

Volunteers at the Justice Center use the Advisor to guide clients through an interview to assess whether they have a valid claim of wage theft. The Advisor streamlines the intake and initial assessment process, enabling Justice Center volunteers to serve more clients more efficiently.

The Course

In the Technology, Innovation and Law Practice course, students work in teams to partner with a legal services agency and develop a legal expert system that enhances the organization’s service delivery.

Legal expert systems are designed to function like a lawyer – gather facts, think about them, ask for more facts, evaluate them against legal rules, weigh possible outcomes, and deliver situation-specific legal guidance.

The students build subtle, flexible, powerful, and complex applications from the ground up. No programming expertise is required.

Each semester, students in the course present their applications – the organizational and legal problems identified, the legal analysis required, the expert system solution designed – in the Iron Tech Lawyer Competition. The Wage Theft Advisor was a prize-winner in the spring 2013 semester competition.

Elizabeth Schiller described her experience this way:

“Tech innovation will continue to shape every aspect of our lives, and the legal profession is not immune to these changes.
“A Georgetown Law education provides students with great training in analytical reasoning and creative problem solving – but it is typically applied in a limited number of ways through traditional lawyering methods.
“Law students and lawyers already possess a lot of the skills they need to design expert systems. Applying both competencies unlocks tremendous potential for creative solutions to clients’ legal challenges.”

Neota Logic provides its namesake software, Neota Logic Server, to the law school. Our Director of Education Kevin Mulcahy co-teaches the course, as an Adjunct Professor at the law school. And when the applications are ready for production, Neota Logic hosts them for the sponsoring organizations.

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