Friday, April 15, 2016
Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic Unveils Earned Income Tax Credit Information Tool Kit and Online Portal.
The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program brought millions of families above the poverty level last year. In 2014, 27.5 million low-and-moderate income workers received more than $66 billion in EITC. The average amount of EITC received by tax filers last year was more than $2400. Still, the IRS estimates that roughly $1 billion dollars is regularly left unclaimed.
Building on earlier work with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), Columbia’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Orange County on two projects. The first is an EITC “Tool Kit” that is designed to help advocates across the country explain to their clients and constituents how to qualify for EITC benefits. The second project is an EITC online information portal. This lay-focused website provides an overview of the EITC benefit, eligibility requirements and filing process. In addition, users have access to an eligibility calculator, filing forms and a list of resources for free help with filing for the EITC. Information about both the Tool Kit and Portal has been circulated to all 134 LSC-affiliated offices as well as other prominent service providers and community organizations.
One does not have to owe taxes or expect a refund to claim the EITC. Even those who are not required to file a federal tax return can apply. Also, those eligible for the EITC can go back three years to claim it.
Both projects exemplify the work of the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic. In the Clinic, students use technology to create products and services that allow public interest legal organizations and the courts to expand access to justice. In this project, the Tool Kit contains information about the EITC and gives legal services attorneys an overview of the need to promote EITC awareness. It also provides advocates a convenient set of resources geared towards encouraging low-to-moderate low wage workers to claim the benefits they’ve earned. Similarly, the Portal is designed to be an online “one-stop shop” for anyone to learn more about the EITC program. The students created the portal to break down seemingly complex tax filing information into straightforward language that is accessible to the public.
These two projects aim to address the overwhelming unmet demand for free civil legal services. Because many legal aid/legal services offices are understaffed in proportion to the communities they serve, many persons do not receive the legal help that they seek. One way to close this gap is to make information about significant resources available to the community. Here, while it is important for public interest lawyers to spread the word about vital benefits, there is no need for a lawyer to actually assist applicants in filing claims. Instead, the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic has made the information about how to file for the EITC available for free online. In so doing, more people can receive the much needed benefits they deserve.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
I am so excited to be boarding a plane in the morning to participate in LegalED's Igniting Law Teaching 2015 on Friday, March 20, 2015, at American University Washington College of Law. CALI is a co-sponsor of the event. Live viewing will be available by webcast or, if you are in the region, join us in person by registering here: Registration.
The conference will feature talks by 35 law school academics and practitioners from the US, Canada and England – including several clinicians -- in a TEDx-styled conference to share ideas on teaching methodologies. LegalED’s Teaching Pedagogy video collection includes many of the talks from last year’s conference, which have been viewed collectively more than 5000 times.
The panels for this year include: Law Teaching for the 21st Century, Applying Learning Theory to Legal Education, The Art and Craft of Law Teaching, Using Technological Tools for Legal Education, and Pathways to Practice.
The Igniting Law Teaching conference is unlike other gatherings of law professors. Here, talks will be styled as TEDx Talks, with each speaker on stage alone, giving a well scripted and performed talk about an aspect of law school pedagogy. In the end, we will create a collection of short videos on law school-related pedagogy that will inspire innovation and experimentation by law professors around the country, and the world, to bring more active learning and practical skills training into the law school curriculum. The videos will be available for viewing by the larger academic community on LegalED, a website developed by a community of law professors interested in using online technologies to facilitate more active, problem-based learning in the classroom, in addition to better assessment and feedback.
I hope you can join us on March 20th, either live or virtually.
Thursday, July 17, 2014
The International Journal of Clinical Legal Education just completed its 12th Conference titled “Clinic without Borders,” in Olomouc, a town in the Haná region of the Czech Republic dating back to the 10th Century A.D. The conference was co-organized with the European Network for Clinical Legal Education, and was held at Palacký University, which is nearly 450 years old, and is one of the oldest universities in Central Europe.
The conference was attended by nearly 200 law faculty members and social justice advocates from all over the world. Countries represented included Japan, Cambodia, China, Nigeria, Australia, Belarus, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Brazil, Italy, India, South Africa, Indonesia, Poland, Russia, Georgia, Spain, Canada, Kenya, Hungary, Sumatra, Bali, Finland, Turkey, New Zealand, and more. Approximately ten percent of the delegates were from the United States and included faculty from the Catholic University of America, NYU, American, University of California, Cornell, University of New Mexico, University of Georgia, Columbia, Rutgers, Albany, Georgetown, Washington and Lee, George Washington University, Willamette, and more.
Themes included “Clinic in the Wider Curriculum,” “Growing Clinics around the Globe,” “Multi-Disciplinary Clinics,” “The Growth of Clinics in Europe,” and “Virtual Clinics,” and the papers presented ranged from “The Path to Clinics in the Middle East” to “Clinic in an Era of ‘Crisis’ for Legal Education” to “Developing a Cross-Border Clinical Legal Education Project.” It was a rich exchange of ideas, resources, and collaborative opportunities that reinvigorated many of those who participated.
One area of disappointment expressed during a debrief of the conference was the dearth of paper proposals submitted in relation to the theme of “Virtual Clinics.” According to Johnny Hall of Northumbria University (UK), digital technologies could easily become the “Fourth Wave” in clinical legal education. What caused the lack of interest in presenting on this topic?
One possibility considered is that clinical law faculty members are as uncomfortable with digital technologies as the rest of legal educators. Most of us have not been leaders in integrating education technologies into the law school curriculum, clinical or otherwise. At the same time, we recognized that many clinical faculty and students utilize digital technologies in our law school courses, practices, and lives almost every day in the form of email, course websites, word processing software and files, messaging, social media, digital document storage, internet conferencing, smart phones, tablets, laptops, Internet, scanners, practice management software, social media, clinic websites, digital recordings, and more. We just don’t think the use of these technologies converts our face-to-face clinics into “Virtual Clinics.” Thus, the issue may simply have been one of terminology in the “Call for Proposals.”
After all, we heard stories at the conference of law faculty who were actually operating clinics without a “bricks and mortar” home where students never actually meet their clients in person. Most of us who are integrating these technologies into our law school clinics still rely very heavily on the face-to-face interactions between students and clients and faculty and students that make the clinical experience so rich, especially in certain practice areas such as domestic violence, refugee law, child advocacy, family law, and more.
What would be the consequences both for our students and the populations we serve if we converted a significant number of law school clinics into “virtual” ones? On the one hand, we could better serve rural, disabled, remote, or international clients who normally would not have physical access to our law school clinics, but we also might start to favor certain practice areas such as business law that lend themselves better to remote representation than others. Having a virtual clinic could also exclude those individuals who are too poor to afford the technology needed to access the clinic. These are some of the consequences that we must consider as an educational community in the Digital Age and respond with awareness and intent in designing our courses and curricula within a world of rapidly changing technology and limited resources.
As we met at IJCLE’s 12th Conference and considered the technologies that we already have integrated into our clinical courses and practices in whole or in part, we recognized that many of us have not undergone the thoughtful and intentional design and due diligence that is normally so characteristic of clinical pedagogy. Why? What is it about technology that eschews intention, analysis, and reflection in the clinical community?
We may soon find out. The planners of IJCLE’s 13th Conference are considering organizing next year’s conference around this potential “Fourth Wave” in clinical legal education. The conference will be held July 22-28 in Turkey and will overlap with the meeting of the Global Alliance for Justice Education. Pencil the dates in your calendars now. Regardless of the topic finally selected, if it is anything like this year’s conference, it will be well worth the flight.
Tuesday, May 13, 2014
A high-impact decision was issued by the European Court of Justice today when it held that Google must adhere to the requests of individuals to erase links to information that is “inadequate, irrelevant or no longer relevant” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27388289). The case was brought by a Spanish man who did not want an auction notice for a repossessed home he had owned to be retrieved in response to searches of his name. The emerging legal concept, the “right to be forgotten,” is largely European and grows from the region’s well-established and widely-recognized body of privacy rights.
George Washington University Law Professor Jeffrey Rosen, who is also the Legal Affairs Editor of The New Republic, calls the “right to be forgotten” the “biggest threat to free speech on the Internet in the coming decade” (http://goo.gl/pq4UHC). A more comprehensive treatment of this right was published by Steven Bennett and can be found here: http://goo.gl/0nY227. Professor Rosen’s response to the emergence of the right to be forgotten is hardly surprising in a society like ours whose passion for free speech is only matched by our love of guns and money. But at what price?
Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights, and Citizenship praised the ruling as a step out of the “digital stone age.” That stone age is one in which our children are often among the most vulnerable. Over ten years ago, Michigan State University Law Professor Kevin Saunders published a book examining the effects of the First Amendment on our nation’s children, Saving Our Children from the First Amendment (http://nyupress.org/books/book-details.aspx?bookid=9489#.U3Jqumjn-1s). Since then, we have witnessed an exploding occurrence of cyberbullying, sextortion, sexting, and exchange of sex abuse images involving our children and youth. While there are clearly exceptions to First Amendment freedoms for some of the challenges our children and youth face in the Digital Age, the fact remains that many of our children will carry a burden that we have never experienced as their youthful impulses, indiscretions, and, in some cases, victimizations, will be forever published and available on the Internet for others to witness again and again, unless the United States begins to more widely recognize a right to privacy.
Who among us isn’t thankful that those cellulose acetate images of a certain Spring Break in the Bahamas or that post-college graduation train ride across Europe or the election night victory party are degrading in someone’s attic right now? After all, as Scientific American reminded us yesterday, even the brains of mice, Chilean rodents, and guinea pigs know that some things are better forgotten (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-brain-cells-erase-old-memories/?&WT.mc_id=SA_DD_20140512).
Thursday, May 8, 2014
If the law clinic listserv is any indicator, the “technology question” is alive and well in clinics across the country. Many are using the summer months to do the good and complicated work of integrating new and updated client and document management technologies. In addition to the important (and possibly impossible) question of how to set up a “fail-proof” system, I’d like to suggest a second question:
“How might we use the” technology question” to teach technological professionalism?”
As we pour over the professional responsibility rules, work with our University IT departments, confer with each other on the listserv, and choose our management systems, I hope we won't confine the experience to our departmental meetings and summer objectives. Instead, let’s bring it all to the classroom.
I suggest this for a few reasons. First, our students will often know more about the technology than we do. The Millennial students in our clinics are digital natives, and for them technology is as natural and necessary as breathing. They are the experts on what shortcuts or workarounds will be most tempting to them. Second, these responsibilities will sit squarely on their shoulders in short time. Part of becoming a lawyer in today’s digital age is knowing the duties that come along with technology use. Out of nature or necessity, many of today’s students are going out on their own. We can no longer expect them to learn the ins and outs of technological professionalism from their future employer. Third, while our students are familiar with technology, they often use new applications without thinking twice. Our role is to encourage and model critical thinking in regard to technology and its relationship to our professional responsibility. In essence, it is our job to teach that “second thought.” We have a great opportunity to address these issues by working out the technology question together in a transparent and collaborative way.
The process, messy as it is, can be a wonderful teacher. Every semester, I present the “technology question” to my students as if it were brand new….because in many ways, it is. After providing them with the the applicable rules and corresponding best practice articles, as well as a series of technology hypotheticals I created to tease out some of the more frequent missteps, I ask the students to troubleshoot our current solution. Where are the holes? What have we missed? What new technologies or applications will weaken our solution or make it obsolete? How would you change our user agreement? What apps do you think would be helpful to our work? How can we assess new technologies? What will you do in practice?
The conversation often results in enlightening observations, pushback on assumptions, and a slew of new issues to troubleshoot...in short, it does just what I hope it will do. Our clinic conversations then inform our department’s ongoing conversation with University IT. This ongoing process, as technology shifts and changes, challenges us to remain relevant and informed. Clinics, once again, are in a wonderful position to prepare our students for the real world of legal practice.
(As Warren Binford so kindly pointed out in her post "Clinics in the Cloud," I presented on this process with Pepperdine University's Chief Information Security Officer, Dr. Kim Cary, at the 2012 AALS Clinical Conference. I later developed our work into an article, Millennials, Technology, and Professional Responsibility: Training a New Generation in Technological Professionalism, 37 J. Legal Prof. 199 (2013). The article includes teaching tools and a sample user agreement that I hope others will find helpful and improve upon.)
I’d love to know how others are encouraging technological professionalism. Care to share an idea or two?
Tuesday, May 6, 2014
Last week, a clinical professor at another law school sent an email to the clinic listserv asking:
“What policies or protocols do those of you who have a cloud based case management system have in place to re-enforce confidentiality and security for students. Is access to the system outside the clinic office part of your policy, and if so, what measures are taken to ensure students remember not to access the system in a non-secure setting, such as the student center, coffee shop, at home, etc. Pepperdine has a nice series of technology hypotheticals from a few years ago that we have used in training, but beyond that, how are you addressing these challenges?”
As someone who still has a cassette tape player in my 2001 4-Runner (and occasionally uses it!), I waited on the sidelines, but the listserv was silent. On Friday, someone contacted me off list and prompted me to respond since I had negotiated a contract with Clio last year (here is a copy of the Clio contract https://docs.google.com/a/willamette.edu/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKMjZiYWhseGlUcmM/edit and the related state bar due diligence questions https://docs.google.com/a/willamette.edu/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKQ3d1N0REM1FneVE/edit).
As I explained in my response, Jack Lerner and I are just beginning to write a short law review article intended to help clinical faculty and administrators with cloud-based practice management systems, but it is not likely to be completed until later this year or sometime next year. In the meanwhile, I do think that Brittany Stringfellow Otey’s article, Millennials, Technology, and Professional Responsibility: Training a New Generation in Technological Professionalism, is the best that I have seen dealing with the specific concerns raised. Here is a link to Brittany’s article on SSRN: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2420153.
Although I am not “high tech,” I explained generally:
“We basically provide students with a fairly detailed manual of policies and procedures that includes confidentiality obligations, review the content in class, and then do another review in a ‘Game Show’ format we call ‘Legal Jeopardy.’ Thus, the students have exposure to what they can and cannot do three times, but then we rely on their own self-discipline. We have gone through these concerns many times with our tech folks and we have not found a way to impose external controls that still allow for seamless 24/7 access.”
I offered copies of our confidentiality provisions (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKODJQSFljOWZDbXM/edit?usp=sharing), the “Legal Jeopardy” PowerPoint we use for review of our manual's policies and procedures (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKNno2QUNzbVdTdkk/edit?usp=sharing), and a copy of our clinic manual (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKeWhPaXZEdzBpS2s/edit?usp=sharing) to anyone interested. I have received dozens of requests for these materials offlist and so decided to upload them all to Googledocs so that anyone with a link can access them. I decided to add our Digital Technology Usage Policies (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKYmh6R1hkNlFIdlk/edit?usp=sharing), which are part of our clinic manual.
Jack Lerner of USC’s Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic also sent a copy of the confidentiality pledge he requires student to sign in his clinic (https://drive.google.com/file/d/0BwSIrKM39nhKNFVFRjF0VGE4eEk/edit?usp=sharing), and explained that he also has students run utilities at the end of the semester that erase clinic-related files from their laptops. I found information on one of the programs he recommended for Windows (http://eraser.heidi.ie/). MacOS has its own built-in utility, according to Jack. I have already begun exploring with our tech support colleagues here at Willamette the possibility of adding this protocol to our end of the semester practices, and encourage you to consider doing the same.
I hope that these resources are useful to some of you, and think it would be wonderful if we could create a database on Googledocs where we could create a digital commons comprised of useful documents (syllabi, manuals, PowerPoints, etc.) for the entire clinical community to access. Here is an example of what Sandy Ogilvy created for the externship community (http://lexternweb.law.edu/program.cfm). Anyone want to take the next step?
Thursday, May 1, 2014
The day after I published my first blogpost, my 11-year-old daughter persuaded me to buy The Ultimate Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. We pretended it was for her, but I knew better. Shortly after she handed me the text, I noted Chapter Five was titled “Mean Streets: Urban Survival,” which included an entry on “How to Clean Up Your Online Reputation.” One post and I already felt compelled to do damage control. The fact that the advice could be found somewhere between “How to Cross a Piranha-Infested River” and “How to Outrun a Pack of Zombies” pretty much cinched it for me.
What titles better capture the anxiety of a 40-something law professor venturing into the realm of social media? Don’t they know that law professors don’t do media? Heck. We don’t even do “social.” That is why we are professors! Many of us aren’t even trustworthy with a “Reply All” email function after a rancorous faculty meeting (http://www.uomatters.com/2014/04/uo-law-school-prof-angry-about-plan-to-use-his-raise-for-scholarships.html), let alone a digital platform that transports our late night ramblings instantly and permanently to 2.5 billion Internet users all over the globe.
But Worst-Case Scenarios can bring out the Indiana Jones in all of us, and right now, legal educators need to dig deep into our “Urban Survival” kits. Moody’s recently downgraded several independent law schools (http://www.nationallawjournal.com/home/id=1202651992392/Independent+Law+Schools+Suffer+CreditRatings+Slips%3Fmcode=1202617074964&curindex=2); The New York Times reported this month that five law schools have closed in the past two years (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/business/bold-bid-to-combat-a-crisis-in-legal-education.html?_r=0), although legal educators struggle to identify them (http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2014/04/five-law-schools-have-closed-in-the-last-two-years.html); and all the while, enrollments continue to plummet (http://www.lsac.org/lsacresources/data/three-year-volume). So we law professors are starting to do something truly radical (at least for us): we are trying new verbs. We are tweeting, blogging, posting, tumbling, linking, and more. But do we know what we are doing or why? Of course not! Thus, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a series of articles in The Digital Campus this week helping all of us to better appreciate and understand the importance of social media in the academy (http://chronicle.com/section/The-Digital-Campus-2014/715/).
If a Luddite like me (who cannot figure out how to turn off iTunes on her iPhone after listening to a little Eddie Vedder) can figure out how to Tweet, so can you! Here are some fast facts about social networking and survival tips for those of us who are Twittering on the brink.
Ever wonder what your students are doing in class? They are on Facebook posting or reading someone else’s posts or messaging, possibly about your suit, but let’s hope it is about the class discussion (in a good way, of course). Don’t believe me? Sit in the back of a large lecture hall and witness it yourself. Eighty-four percent of 18-29 year-olds and 79 percent of 30-49 year-olds are on Facebook (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515). Heck. Even my 90-year-old grandma is on Facebook. But my grandma is not why you need to be on Facebook, it is because our students are, as are our alumni, and our competitors…er, colleagues, at other law schools.
Facebook is where our students engage, sometimes even when they are in class. It is the digital town square where people go to socialize and engage, so if you are not in the town square, you are not part of the conversation. But here’s the irony: law school social media etiquette is that most professors and students do not become Facebook friends until after they graduate. Why? Professional boundaries. You really don’t want to see that picture of your students with their buddies and a pile of empty PBR cans when they are supposed to be studying any more than they wants to see you vacationing at your cabin with your family when you are supposed to be grading.
So why do it? Once our students graduate, there is a little more distance and Facebook provides a wonderful way to keep in touch with our former students. We get to witness weddings, new babies, moves to new cities, travel, and more. It allows our professor-student relationships to be transformed into lifelong friendships, and that is worth learning new tricks, at least for this old dog.
So what social media can you use with your students while they are still your students? LinkedIn. Of all the mainstream social media platforms, LinkedIn is consistently the most formal and professional. Currently, LinkedIn is used by 15 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 27 percent of 30-49 year-olds (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515). It is the only social networking site surveyed that is used more by people in the $75k+ salary range than in any other salary category (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-53515). Given that most of our students will enter this demographic shortly after graduation, we need to model for them how to use LinkedIn and so I routinely “link” with potential new law school students whom I meet as well as students enrolled in my courses every semester. It helps them develop a professional profile and network and allows you to become updated quickly on the professional activities and positions of your students and alumni. This is especially important when you are asked to serve as a reference or write a letter of recommendation or simply help your law school compile placement data.
Dare to Tweet
Another social media platform to consider using to engage with your students (and potential students) prior to graduation is Twitter. A 2013 Pew Research center survey found that 31 percent of 18-29 year-olds and 19 percent of 30-49 year-olds use Twitter (http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/social-demographics-2013_b53515#more-5351). Twitter's use among adults under 40 years of age (law schools’ key demographic) has more than doubled since 2010 (http://www.emarketer.com/Article/Twitter-Use-Rises-Across-US-Age-Groups/1010119), and the latest data shows that 71 percent of
Twitter users are 29 years of age and younger (https://www.sysomos.com/docs/Inside-Twitter-BySysomos.pdf); in other words, the age of our students and potential students.
The beauty of Twitter is that it is a one-way street (unless you decide to reciprocate). You simply put your ideas and observations out there for any of the 300+ million Twitter users to read, and if you are interesting (at least to some) or a celebrity, you might develop a following. The pain of Twitter, especially for law professors, is that you are limited to 140 characters per Tweet. Some say it makes Tweeters better writers, but others would argue that any communication forum that encourages the dropping of vowels and the use of contractions should be shunned forever.
In any event, Twitter allows you to share links to recommended readings for your students (or other followers), post links to your publications, update your followers on lectures, and more without getting as personal as one might on Facebook, for example. At the same time, The Chronicle published an opinion this week suggesting that getting at least a little personal on Twitter might make you appear more authentic (http://chronicle.com/article/In-Defense-of-Getting-Personal/145945/). And don’t worry, as painful as limiting your thoughts to 140 characters might sound, there are plenty of resources (see, e.g., http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2387516,00.asp) to teach you how to tweet in a way that won’t make you look too much like, well, a law professor Twittering on the brink….