By: Lisa ’17
Come gather ’round people Wherever you roam And admit that the waters Around you have grown And accept it that soon You’ll be drenched to the bone If your time to you is worth savin’ Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone For the times they are a-changin’
– The Times They are A-Changin’ by Bob Dylan
Like many students at NUSL, I chose to attend this school for two reasons: first the experiential learning approach to legal education, and second because of the school’s focus on public interest law. If this rings true for you, I recommend taking the NuLawLab’s Laboratory Seminar in Applied Design & Legal Empowerment. The NuLawLab is focused on developing better ways to deliver legal services to underserved communities. The Lab primarily uses human-centered design methods to achieve that goal, but also is working to integrate creative arts and technology into the law. It is a truly unique endeavor. The seminar is a three-week intensive that takes students through the design process beginning with a design question and culminating in a tested prototype solution. My class addressed the question, “How Might We Make Residential Water More Affordable in Boston?”
The course guides students through the design thinking process, the approach used at companies such as Google, Facebook and Twitter, and which is outlined in Tom & David Kelly’s Creative Confidence. The conclusion of the three-week course is a pitch of the prototype to a group of multidisciplinary stakeholders, including people with expertise in the field.
My class developed a mapping app geared to simplify the policy making process for regular citizens. We wanted to create a system that allowed people to research different municipal water policies across the country and contact their elected officials about a policy they felt should be considered for Boston. The result? Pirates of Policy, a ‘pirate map’ identifying different policies in nearby states by location, alongside the average water rate in the state. The idea is that individuals can become ‘policy pirates’ by exploring existing policy options and ‘pilfering’ the policies they liked by sending them to local decision makers. We hoped to make a fun, engaging, and useable tool for understanding, critiquing and shaping the decisions impacting the cost of water in Boston.
Another component of the course was learning how to code a variety of tech tools developed either by or for the NuLawLab. We learned how to develop three different tech tools; NuLawMaps, QnA Markup Editor, and the Mad Science game scripter. NuLawMaps stood out to me particularly as a valuable tool for legal advocacy. Maps created using this platform can (and should) be explored. The mapping platform is unique, as it not only allows the creator to geographically mark data; it also incorporates multimedia storytelling through its waypoint and timeline components. For those interested The Civil Rights and Restorative Justice Project: Alabama Cold Case Files is a great example the platforms multimedia storytelling ability.
I found the seminar so engaging that I applied for the Legal Intern Co-op position at the NuLawLab, where I am currently working. I chose the Lab for my first co-op because I believe that the Lab’s human-centered design approach is a valuable skill and the co-op has offered me the opportunity to further develop my understanding and practice of this methodology. I have had the opportunity to work with artists, game designers, and activists on some of the most important social justice issues in our country. Through this co-op, I have learned how to convey legal information in a way that is digestible for those without legal training. I have made connections in the small but growing legal tech industry. But most of all I have truly enjoyed the experience of being able to contribute my growing legal knowledge to strengthen the work of others.
The reality is that for those of us who want to increase access to the legal system it is necessary to consider taking a less traditional approach to the legal profession. NUSL prepares students well academically and professionally to enter the practice of law. The NuLawLab is one of the many NUSL initiatives that offer students the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to guide the profession into the 21st century.