This post addresses the competition: a later post addresses the conference. For pics and other's comments you can follow the hashtag #irontechlawyer and follow @GtownLawIronTech.
I have previously covered the Iron Tech Lawyer competition; in essence, it is an app development contest targeting a legal services-type challenge. What’s great about it is that the students get to address client problems by combining their legal reasoning and analysis with advanced technology. The technology (provided by Neota Logic) is sophisticated enough to be able to embed a big chunk of their legal understanding, but simple enough to develop and use that they can provide a web-based app that actually could be useful.
I was intrigued this year by the different strengths and approaches shown by the six teams (of three or four students each). Some teams did a great job at identifying a clear user need that could be met by an app, or had carefully teased out a coherent use-case for their solution; some had thought carefully about what sort of design would be a good fit with what their users needed, or perhaps designed their app while thinking about and preparing for its further development; and some had developed a strong, coherent presentation or showed strong presentation skills. The subject matter ranged from Native Alaskan tribal child protection issues to federal disability rights to California elder law.
I especially appreciated this team's focus on what it could effectively accomplish within the time and resource limits that they had, and the way they structured the work they did with an eye towards potential expansion. That's often the way apps like these might get started in the "real world" (see Minimum Viable Product).
Their goal was to simplify legalese, keeping the language to a sixth-grade level, and also have it available either in a mobile form or via PC browser.
They leveraged an expert’s knowledge of what people commonly get wrong to provide tips and links to forms along with deadline warnings. Answers led to a list of types of eligibility, along with a set of next steps, application forms, and a .pdf download.
The app contains four separate decision trees for eligibility determinations. They hope it can be expanded beyond hurricane and flood disasters, and also to other states.
This was the winning app, according to the judges. I concur that DART did a great job focusing on a needy population and delivering targeted, well-designed help.
While it was interesting to see a foreign focus for this app, I was concerned about the leaps in judgement required of users, and potential client consequences for the unprotected information held in the app.
Being there was better than observing on the web, particularly in giving a better perspective on the presentation skills of the different teams. The Iron Tech Lawyer competition and class continues to give law students a great perspective and actual experience on what it is like to apply legal technology to solve real-world problems.