Welcome Home Justice was not my first idea. My first idea was to create a platform where low-income individuals would be able to ask a question and have multiple attorneys answer the question if, for example, Attorney A thinks that what Attorney B wrote was incomplete or needed a few additional steps. I was inspired to create this platform because, unfortunately, I have seen and heard of some attorneys not representing their clients well and the client felt like s/he could not do anything about it because s/he did not know his or her rights. The benefit to the attorneys would have been that they received pro bono hours.
When I spoke with a Connecticut Legal Services (CLS) attorney, she pointed out reasons why she thought that might not work. One was because, as an attorney, she couldn't see attorneys competing like that for clients. The other more important factor that she pointed to was that legal ethics prevents a client from having two attorneys and the idea would essentially do just that, if not more.
After discussing some direct problems that were impacting CLS, I immediately switched my idea at the meeting and offered what is now Welcome Home Justice. The CLS attorney told me that they are very understaffed and that only two full-time attorneys handled 100s if not 1000s of housing cases in the Bridgeport area a year.
My thought process quickened and in those seconds that felt like minutes it occurred to me, "what if the attorneys who were not representing their clients well were also overworked and understaffed?" So I voiced that thought and asked the CLS attorney what if law students were able to help mitigate the problem? Again, she pushed back, as a proper attorney would, and stated her concerns about law students' potential incompetence, which I no doubt demonstrated earlier by not knowing about the double-representation taboo. But I pushed back too this time, offering a student screening via tests or similar standards to ensure that the volunteers would be competent. And so it went, back and forth, altering and adjusting until the CLS attorney was not against the idea.
After the meeting, I had more time to think on this new idea and to ponder if there were still aspects I could connect from the old idea. It still bothered me that poorer clients did not have the option to lawyer shop and find someone who would be a good fit for them, as I have the option to. The ultimate goal I wanted was for everyone to have an opportunity to know if certain was inappropriate. I found that this goal could be solved by creating a forum that is open to the public for anyone, poor, struggling, or loaded, to voice their grievance.
I was able to kill two tweeting birds with one stone by correcting the possible source causing occasional incompetence, while not allowing inadequacy to be the norm for low-income people.
What it does
Welcome Home Justice provides a platform that (1) allows overworked attorneys catering to underserved communities to decrease their workload by delegating repetitive, mundane, or other legal research tasks to law students; (2) allows laws students to gain practical experiences while studying the theory of the law, gain connections in the legal field, and explore a variety of practice areas without waiting until the summer.
How I built it
I used Wordpress, memory from one high school class on HTML, Google, and an old mac book pro with a dying battery.
Challenges I ran into
The first main challenge I ran into was trying to figure out who to contact first to get on board. It is difficult trying to convince one person that your idea is good and will succeed, when the idea takes multiple aspects coming together, and none of those aspects have come together at the time of the first meeting. The second main challenge I ran into was making sure that I did not violate any professional rules of responsibility concerning confidentiality, conflict of interests, and similar
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
At first, I thought that I would have to outsource the website build because I did not know how to code the features and functions that I wanted, but then I discovered plugins and that changed everything. I was able to do everything I wanted to do to get the website functioning, and for a low cost too. There are more expensive plugins that I would like to get to improve the website, but I am very happy with the way that it is now. Students and Attorneys have different levels and access to same and separate pages, students can track their log in hours, the public cannot see what attorneys and law students are working on, and more. I even had to reduce a few features. I had new money habits, but for new plugins: I could have it, so I wanted to get it.
What I learned
I learned how to aim my extracurricular passions towards my legal career. I enjoy learning new things, but as much as I enjoy knitting, tufting, hair braiding, construction, HTML coding, learning python, learning Unity basics, using illustrator, editing videos, writing novels on West African history, writing a short guide on surviving 1L year, deliberating possible Utopias and more, I know that those things alone will not help me in my legal career. But I was surprised to discover that the combination could come in handy with the law, although, not all of them. For example, I used HTML to build the website, I improved my CSS and HTML skills using the same process that helped me learn knitting and tufting, I used illustrator to make my logo and some buttons on my website, I converted my Utopian verbal theory into written articles, and I placed my short guide on 1L year in the website.
What's next for Welcome Home Justice
Phase 1: Focus on the Bridgeport, CT community and Washington and Lee students to see what works and what does not work, as well as to determine proper ratios between student helpers and attorney task posters. When successful, move to phase two.
Phase 2: Increase the underserved community area to include Rockbridge County in Virginia, home of Washington and Lee. Adjust attorneys and students as needed by recruiting from more schools and more non-profits.
Phase 3: Increase the underserved community area nationally and adjust attorneys as needed.
Phase 4: If phases 1-4 are successful, target a small for-profit firm with a similar concept, except, the for-profit firm will pay a small listing price to have their questions answered. If the questions are not answered, the firm keeps the money. However, only students who complete a minimum number of free community service hours per week or month may participate in the paid version. This would create an incentive for students to continue to prioritize service. A small percentage of the listing price will go to Welcome Home Justice, who would then distribute half of the profits to community legal centers, while the remaining half will be distributed to Washington and Lee School of Law, Access to Justice Tech Fellows Program, and kept for improvements. To be clear, I too will be paid a sum, but that would be covered under the operating costs, i.e., not profits.
As for the non-legal aspect of Welcome to Justice, I plan to grow it into a community where injustices are heard and solved instantaneously, especially since attorneys will be so close to where these grievances will be listed.