Student-Designed Apps Provide Access to Justice

April 28, 2014 — The top prize in Georgetown Law’s fourth Iron Tech Lawyer Competition “Access to Justice Edition” went to the “Unemployment Benefits Hearing Coach.” Designed by Stephany Fan (L’14), Zachary Hutchinson (L’16) and Antonella Montagna (L’14) for the District of Columbia Office of Administrative Hearings, the app educates those on both sides of a hearing: the claimant who has been denied benefits and the employer who does not want to pay them.

Approximately 60 percent of cases that come before the OAH relate to unemployment benefits, and many claimants are unrepresented, Montagna said. “It takes the judges a very, very long time to figure out what happened in the case.” 

The competition, held each semester, is part of Technology, Innovation, and Law Practice, a practicum taught by Professor Tanina Rostain. Students work with legal service providers and public interest organizations to build innovative and useful legal expert systems, increasing access to justice for those who need it most.

The award for “Best Design” went to the “Pennsylvania Children’s Medicaid Appeals Advisor,” designed by Robert Brecht (L’15), Patricia Kim (L’15) and Erica Weinberger (L’14) for the Pennsylvania Health Law Project. A “Triage and Intake Assessment System” created by Ari Atkinson (L’14), Michael Milea (L’15), Meredith Madnick (L’15) and Mauhan Zonoozy (B’09, L’14) for the Virginia Legal Aid Society took Honorable Mention.

The online popular vote, though, went to “The Den: New York City Debt and Eviction Navigator,” built by Matthew Smallcomb (C’09, L’14), Nicole Smith (L’14) and Kelly Wade (L’14). Developed for the Jewish Association Serving the Aging and Pro Bono Net, the app is designed to help social workers assist homebound senior citizens with such things as landlord/tenant and consumer debt issues. “This is a group of people who are vulnerable,” Smith said, noting that seniors are often targets for identity theft or credit card fraud. “We really wanted to bring an app to them that would help them identify issues that they often don’t even recognize.”

The seminar is co-taught by Adjunct Professors Roger Skalbeck, Mark O’Brien and Kevin Mulcahy.  Peter Gronvall of Huron Consulting Group; Associate Dean Jane Aiken, Karen Lash of the Department of Justice (participating in her personal capacity) and Tammy McCutchen of Littler Mendelson served as judges. For a full list of the apps, click here. For a list of participants, click here. To watch the video, click here.