A new technology fellowship multiplies the impact of Harvard’s legal clinics
It takes a lot of preparation to rev up a new case. That’s true in all law offices, including Harvard’s legal clinics. As a clinical law student who was cross-enrolled in an undergraduate computer science course, Jeffrey Roderick ’17 wondered whether he could streamline the process through technology. “Automating certain tasks can help students spend more time in clinics doing what they signed up for, which is to intelligently and creatively represent their clients,” Roderick says. He had the perfect person to turn to for guidance: William “Bill” Palin, Harvard Law’s inaugural Access to Justice/Technology Fellow.
With Palin’s help, Roderick developed a prototype that automates client intake and prepares the initial boilerplate documents that get a case rolling. Roderick estimates that the tool saves five to six hours per case, leaving more time for investigative fact-gathering and legal research.
That’s just one example of how Palin’s presence on campus is improving the ability of HLS’s clinics to represent disadvantaged clients.
A 2012 graduate of Suffolk Law School, Palin opened a solo practice in Cambridge. He added “software developer” to his resume after teaching himself to code with books borrowed from the Cambridge Public Library. He was creating award-winning legal apps, guest-lecturing at Yale Law School, and teaching at Suffolk Law and MIT before he came to Harvard Law School in September 2016. His task: to launch a project called “Developing Justice,” a response to the shortage of affordable legal services for poor and middle-class people who face eviction, child custody and support disputes, foreclosure, consumer fraud, and denials of benefits. Palin’s role is to imagine and custom-build technology that brings efficiencies to legal aid practice, boosts client advocacy, and expands the actionable knowledge of legal clinicians.