Suffolk University Law School students are mashing up tech and the law in new ways, from an app to help juveniles in trouble with the law find treatment facilities before they’re arraigned to a mobile tool that teaches artists, inventors, and start-ups how to protect their intellectual property.
The school’s “dive right in” approach has gained the notice of Legal Business World. The publication dedicated last fall's Future Lawyer magazine to Suffolk Law technology and innovation students and faculty.
Suffolk’s legal technology program was named number one in the country by National Jurist, which also listed the school among a handful of the most innovative law schools in the country; the stories in Future Lawyer help explain why.
Protecting trademark rights at a fraction of the cost
In her Future Lawyer article, Lauren Sabino, JD ’19, writes about an app she built that helps users create a trademark cease and desist letter. A “cease and desist” contends that a user of a mark is doing so wrongfully and asks them to stop. The app walks users through a series of legal questions and then finally cranks out a complete letter. Users of Sabino’s new tool don’t require previous knowledge of trademark law.
The app was her final project in the Law School’s Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines course. Though she considers herself tech savvy, building an app was out of her comfort zone.
“My final project focused on the basic idea of helping those who can’t afford expensive legal services gain access to legal help,” she says. “It’s a solution to protect and learn about your intellectual property rights.”
Many people believe that you must register your trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to have enforceable rights; but that’s not so, she says. Owners of unregistered trademarks have legal rights within the geographic areas in which they operate. These are sometimes called "common law" trademarks.
“While my tool doesn’t specifically meet the needs of a common law rights holder, it was important to me that the app inform the user of their rights and encourage the protection of their mark,” she says.
The week Sabino submitted her final project, the firm where she now works as an associate, Bay State IP, asked for her input on software that would provide trademark registration, search and monitoring services for small businesses. It was a great opportunity to walk the team through her app and the thinking and legal technology that informed her creation.
A Shot at Redemption
In another article, Nicole Siino, JD’18, describes her work in Suffolk Law’s Juvenile Defender Clinic. She saw how difficult it was to quickly find her clients a spot in treatment or job programs before they were arraigned. Her student colleagues and public defenders shared the same concern—describing their frenzied attempts to find treatment spaces for their clients before the doors of the justice system closed.
Defense attorneys, especially when they’re handling low-level offenses like small-quantity drug possession and petty theft, often ask judges to divert their clients into social programs—from drug addiction treatment to group therapy—avoiding the scarlet letter of a criminal record.
The idea that young people would lose an opportunity for professional help and a shot at redemption largely because lawyers and social workers didn’t have a basic web resource seemed wrong. So she learned some basic coding through Suffolk’s Legal Innovation & Technology program and built one. And at this very moment, Massachusetts attorneys (and anyone else, for that matter) can check it on their phones from a courtroom.
Anthony Metzler, JD’19, a legal project manager at the global law firm Baker McKenzie, writes about the power of hackathons and design thinking competitions to generate practical, creative, user-friendly, solutions to legal challenges. He served as the managing editor of Suffolk’s Journal of High Technology Law.
Tech turned out to be crucial
Samantha Elefant, JD’18, corporate counsel at Liberty Mutual, encourages new law students to seek out courses that “will put you on the pulse of the profession’s future, in tandem with the foundational legal offerings, so that your J.D. is not already outdated by the time you are handed your diploma.” Walking in to law school she had no idea that technology, process improvement/project management, artificial intelligence, and design thinking would turn out to be crucial to her day-to-day successes, she says.
Among other projects, Suffolk’s LIT Lab—the Law School’s research and development group—is building a machine-based AI-powered issue spotter called Spot. The tool enables people to describe their problems in a simple search box using plain language and then receive actionable legal information and resources. For example, someone might type, “I’m getting kicked out of my apartment,” and then receive information about eviction as well as eviction-related resources in the relevant jurisdiction. Spot can also be used by legal aid providers and non-profits as a free triage tool, allowing them to address more of the public’s unmet legal needs.