Kimberly McGinn ’14 doesn’t plan to practice law in Nebraska. Nor does she intend to practice divorce law anywhere. But there are divorcing Nebraskan parents who will be helped by her work for years to come.
That’s because, at the request of Nebraska Legal Aid, McGinn developed a user-friendly program that leads parents step-by-step in the pro se creation of a legal parenting plan document. The project was part of the Suffolk course, “Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines.”
“Like every state, we have a great need for legal representation,” says Annette Farnan, assistant director of Nebraska Legal Aid. “We’re doing what we can to find efficiencies.” It’s estimated that nationally about 80% of the legal needs of low-income citizens go unmet.
One efficiency Nebraska and other state legal aid offices have adopted is offering via their website and on computers in their offices easy-to-use online programs that produce court-ready legal documents. Nebraska’s programs include document creation for divorce, conviction set asides, and protection orders. Soon, with help from Suffolk and Kent-Chicago students, the Nebraska agency will offer apps for special education requests, name changes, divorce counter-claims, plus McGinn’s parenting plan.
But why not just give clients a form to fill out?
“There’s some magic to have a guided step-by-step process,” says McGinn, especially if the user is not technically sophisticated. It also can save time with auto-fill and the elimination of N/A questions, made possible by the use of branching-logic.
McGinn believes the skills and insights from the class will give her a competitive edge when she graduates. She’s already put some of it to use in her job as a paralegal at State Street Bank, where she built a time- and paper-saving program for a Commodity Future Trading Commission filing. Her supervisor, she says, was “super happy.”