My Work at NulawLab
Here is a bit about what we do at NuLawLab where I work as a part of a really interesting team of people :
Before diving into our project specifics, we wanted to highlight our approach to working collaboratively with intended end-users, which guides everything that we do. This process is often called co-design, co-creation or participatory design. The approach goes beyond consultation by deepening equal collaboration between citizens affected by, or attempting to, resolve a particular challenge. A key tenet of co-design is that people are 'experts' of their own lived experience. This summary is a helpful guide: http://designforeurope.eu/what-co-design. Our expertise can be found at the intersection of co-design and the increasing movement to arm self-represented litigants with the information and resources they need to navigate civil legal problems without the assistance of a lawyer.
RePresent Suite of Games
Back in 2014, we thought self-represented parties could benefit from an online interactive “serious game” simulating aspects of an actual legal proceeding. With no experience addressing a judge, questioning a witness, or offering documents into evidence, self-represented parties find themselves facing these tasks for the very first time in a real-life hearing environment, with a lot at stake. Because games have proven to make a positive impact on cognition and behavior as experiential learning environments that allow users, through trial and retrial, to attain the necessary (virtual) experience that will help guide future action in reality, we built RePresent - the very first digital game intended to prepare people to go to court without a lawyer. The idea was strong enough to be a finalist for a 2014 Innovative Idea Award from The Hague Institute for the Internationalization of Law – before a single line of code has been written.
Originally launched in 2014 in Connecticut, RePresent 2.0 is now available in three additional states – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. It can be played via a web browser through any one of the four states’ legal aid websites, or as a native mobile app (Apple and Android). Two months ago, we also launched RePresent: Renter, a game specifically designed to help people who are facing eviction in Connecticut and Maine. Game play data for the first two months of this year indicates a good number of people are playing the games – with over 3,000 browser plays and mobile downloads combined. We continue to expand our game offerings, with California and Spanish-language versions of both games set to come online later this year.
RePresent is a unique product: as a legal empowerment tool, interactive digital games have not yet been systematically explored and deployed. We also used a unique process of creation – a multidisciplinary project team of legal aid lawyers, technology managers, experienced game designers, legal educators, law students, and artists worked with self-represented parties, judges, court personnel, and others through collaborative design rounds that translated the civil court experience into game scenarios.
Funded by a generous grant from The Kresge Foundation, Stable Ground is addressing the complex relationship between chronic housing insecurity, its psychologically traumatic impact, and municipal housing policy through participatory community-based art and culture programming that is structured to inform the work of the City of Boston’s Office of Housing Stability (OHS). We are embedding artists, law students, and trauma experts into community/municipal settings to generate outcomes that contribute to local visual/performing arts exhibits and art-making events that will be held this coming May, June, and July. These events will include facilitated conversations among artists, residents, activists, organizers, experts, and municipal leaders, all structured to inform existing OHS services and those in development. We expect to see a greater shared understanding among project participants of the nature and scope of the traumatic impact of housing insecurity and to see that understanding reflected in policies and programs developed by OHS, and in the future community work of the other partnership organizations. We hope to influence the work of other individuals, organizations, and municipalities through our published report and evaluation.
Housing Court Re-Design and Court Compass
We have two interesting initiatives underway with our Massachusetts courts. The first is a nascent effort with our Housing Court to tackle a fundamental redesign of formal conflict resolution for an age when legal representation is no longer assured. In addition to The Commonwealth of Massachusetts Trial Court, we are partnered with the premier design and innovation consultancy IDEO. Our process will leverage the application of service and system design methodologies to approach the challenge from the perspective of the full range of end-users of our courts – represented and unrepresented parties, attorneys, judges, clerks and administrators, jury members, and many others. The targeted outcome of our project is a fully redesigned trial court experience that, after sufficient evaluation, could be scaled geographically and substantively to other trial court departments across Massachusetts as well as other jurisdictions across the country.
Our second court-based project is Court Compass, which is spearheaded by Denver University’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS). Through Court Compass, we are deploying our co-design process to re-engineer uncontested divorce in Massachusetts Probate & Family Court. Massachusetts will soon be joined by several additional states, with Iowa joining the project this coming April.
Women with Military Service
The NuLawLab worked with Stateside Legal Services of Maine - using our co-design process - to address how we might better understand and classify the specific types of legal services available to veterans and their caseworkers on a national level. As an aspect of this project, we created a robust online national survey to better understand what legal services organizations provide across the country, whether services are geographically limited or not, and how organizations prefer referrals (e.g. online intake or phone). This process has and will continue to inform the development of an online platform that links folks with the right service based organization in the right location when they complete the triage process on the Stateside Legal website. The project is currently live and can be found here. This is our second project with Stateside Legal. Our first project engaged directly with women veterans and multidisciplinary stakeholders to collaboratively design a mobile technology outreach tool that provides underserved women veterans with information about their legal rights and available benefits.
Witnessing Hate – A Social Justice Archive of the Present
We are collaborating with the NULab for Texts, Maps, and Networks and the Institute on Race and Justice to create a crowd-sourced digital archive to document incidents of hate speech and acts of violence inspired by racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. Our efforts are focused on running a trauma-informed collaborative design process that will engage victims of past hate crimes in designing key aspects of the archive, and articulating the means by which the archive connects victims to resources for legal redress. In the months since the election, social media has been used to document and share the frightening increase of incidents of violence and speech motivated by hate. In order to document these acts—and bear witness to them as a means of not normalizing such actions—the Witnessing Hate archive will bring together and further elaborate accounts that might otherwise disperse into the ocean of social media attention. This collection will provide powerful evidence in aggregate for future historians but also for victims whose stories might be discredited in isolation or for victims too afraid to report on their own. By offering a method for the victims of hate crimes to securely map and document the enactments of hate, the Witnessing Hate archive will provide the potential for deeper understanding and ultimately public redress. The Witnessing Hate archive will also provide a collaborative context for students and fellows in both labs to build upon their own expertise as well as establish exchanges among them. Rhetorical, critical, and philosophical perspectives will inform and shape the archive as much as the aspects of the criminal law issues that may affect the scope of the project. The NuLawLab team is honored to be working on Witnessing Hate with Northeastern faculty members Ryan Cordell (English), Élika Ortega Guzman (Cultures, Societies & Global Studies), and Richard Daynard (Law).