Suffolk Law Wins National Honor for Action-Oriented Innovation
Each year, after a global nomination process, the College of Law Practice Management (COLPM) honors a handful of top law firms, lawyers, technical experts and others in the legal sector, with its annual InnovAction Award.
This year, Suffolk Law’s Legal Innovation & Technology (LIT) Lab is among the winners--a small group the COLPM website describes as, “passionate professionals with big ideas and strong convictions who are making a difference,” and “unsung heroes from among our profession who make a mark in the system by daring to think differently.” Winners will be recognized on October 7 during COLPM's 2022 Futures Conference at Suffolk Law in Boston.
The LIT Lab’s Innovative Approach
At the outset of the pandemic, the LIT Lab launched the “Document Assembly Line Project,” helping citizens in Massachusetts–and later other states–access the courts through mobile-friendly “smartforms” when the courts were not physically accessible.
This effort, led by LIT Lab Director David Colarusso, Practitioner-in-Residence Quinten Steenhuis, and guided by Assistant Dean Gabriel Teninbaum, was carried out for free by a large team of academics, volunteer experts, and students. Smart forms are not static webforms, but rather interactive interviews, like Turbo Tax, that adapt themselves to earlier answers and context.
The result has been that, to date, over 20,000 smart court forms have been downloaded, including 3,500 fee waivers, 500 restraining order petitions, and 550 emergency housing injunction forms.
The Document Assembly Line Project has found a life beyond the pandemic, allowing other jurisdictions to improve access to justice through the adoption of the Lab’s free, open source tools and methods. With the Lab’s help, jurisdictions in Louisiana and Illinois are customizing court form apps, and organizations in six other states are training with the Lab to do likewise.
The Lab has worked with courts and non-profits to assure that users can complete court forms on nothing more than a smartphone, opening-up the possibility of e-filing for cases that never before had such an option. The speed of Suffolk’s smartform approach became all the more apparent when one tenant was able to stop an eviction in progress from their home, with a constable at the door.
About the Team
David Colarusso, director of the LIT Lab, is the author of a programming language for lawyers, QnA Markup, an award-winning legal hacker, ABA Legal Rebel, and Fastcase 50 honoree. In 2017, he was named one of the ABA's top legal tweeters. An attorney and educator by training, he has worked as a public defender, data scientist, software engineer, and high school physics teacher.
Lawyer and coder Quinten Steenhuis, LIT Lab practitioner-in-residence, has more than ten years of experience as a legal aid housing and eviction defense attorney. The mobile-friendly tool he created, Massachusetts Defense for Eviction (MADE), was highlighted in a White House fact sheet on important law school eviction resources and shared during the White House’s eviction summit (January 28, 2022).
Gabriel Teninbaum, Assistant Dean of Innovation, Strategic Initiatives, & Distance Education, served as chair of the American Association of Law Schools Section on Technology, Law & Legal Education last year. The ABA Journal honored him in its Web 100, calling him "perhaps the most tech-savvy law professor in the country." Disruptor Daily named him among the “Top 25 Legal Influencers to Follow on Twitter in 2018.” A Fastcase 50 honoree, he writes the Lawtomatic newsletter, which is seen by between 15,000-30,000 people every week.
A Legal Innovation Ecosystem
Suffolk Law’s Legal Innovation & Technology (LIT) programs are arguably among the most impactful in the nation at solving real-world legal problems and training students to be at the center of the solutions. The school’s expansive LIT ecosystem includes the LIT Lab, LIT Institute, LIT Concentration, and the LIT Certificate Program.