Law Students Design Apps for Iron Tech

April 19, 2013 — The problem: a decades-old criminal conviction hindering a potential client’s ability to get a job. The solution: the California Expungement Adviser App.

“In California, one in five has a criminal record standing between them and employment, so this is a very prevalent problem,” said Mitchell London (L’14). “This app is modeled to be a conversation between someone who is looking for help and … a lawyer.”

London and his teammates, Victoria Cao (L’13) and Tiffany Li (L’14), introduced the app at the second annual Iron Tech Lawyer competition, the culmination of the Technology, Innovation and Law Practice practicum. The class, taught by Professor Tanina Rostain and Adjunct Professor Roger Skalbeck, gives students a chance to design computer application software (or “apps”) to make the practice of law more efficient for attorneys and the clients they serve. 

This year, the focus was on access to justice. Twenty-three students, working in teams over the course of the semester, paired up with eight legal service organizations from Washington, D.C., to California, creating the legal expert systems that those organizations believed would best help their clients and the public.

During the April 17 competition (loosely based on “The Iron Chef” television program) the student teams presented their finished products to a panel of four judges: Professor Peter Edelman; Professor Robin West; Doug Leeds (L’96), the chief executive officer of Ask.com; and Scott Rechtschaffen, chief knowledge officer at Littler Mendelson. 

Like all the student presenters, London, Cao and Li fielded a host of questions from the judges, who were not about to be sold on an app just because one exists. What happens when an individual answers “yes” to a crime for which expungement is not available? How will lawyers who do this kind of work respond to the product?

The students’ answers proved more than satisfactory, and the Expungement Adviser, which was created for California’s Center for Families, Children and the Courts, was awarded Honorable Mention. 

Awards for Excellence in Design, Excellence in Presentation and Best Iron Tech Lawyer, went, respectively, to a Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) eligibility and benefits adviser for Bread for the City; a minimum wage and overtime calculator for the D.C. Employment Justice Center; and a bankruptcy adviser for the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Program.

For a list of student teams and the organizations they assisted, click here. The project was made possible by Neota Logic, which provided the software platforms, funding and individualized training.

A webcast may be viewed here. A video about the inaugural competition can be seen below.