NuLawLab looks to bridge justice gap

Although a majority of the civil legal needs of Americans go unmet, many recent law graduates across the country continue to face a soft job market. Now, a newly launched innovation lab at the School of Law is seeking to tackle this problem head on and close the justice gap.

The NuLawLab, launched in May and located in Dockser Hall, is exploring new avenues for delivering legal assistance and educating lawyers in order for more people to have access to legal services. Its executive director, Dan Jackson, said the lab builds on the School of Law’s longstanding commitment to social justice.

“The time is right to bring together lawyers and a range of other disciplines to create a future where everyone has access to the legal services they need,” Jackson said.

During its launch phase, the NuLawLab has been charting its future course with the help of law school faculty and an advisory board that includes cross-disciplinary experts from the fields of law, education, art, architecture, technology, and public health. “We feel we can’t do it alone,” said Jules Sievert, the lab’s content curator. “There is great potential in cross-disciplinary collaboration.”

One method the NuLawLab is using to generate new ideas is “design thinking.” Originally employed by product designers, design thinking is now being used to spur creativity in other professions by exploring what is desired from a human perspective, what is technologically feasible, and what is economically viable.

“Design thinking holds a lot of potential for closing the legal services gap because of the emphasis it places on the needs of the people for whom you are creating the solution,” Jackson said.

To test this method’s potential, the lab is involved in a new project led by the socially engaged art studio REV- to build an information hotline that will educate domestic workers in Massachusetts about their legal rights. The project’s participants—three Northeastern law students as well as the Boston-based Brazilian Immigrant Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Civic Media—are working together to develop an information tool that can effectively reach workers who often work in isolation.

“Not only are the law students contributing traditional legal skills such as research and writing, they are also participating in the creative process from the outset,” Sievert said.

The School of Law chose a laboratory model for this new initiative in order to create a safe space for inventive experimentation in a profession that needs to flex its creative muscles. “When given the opportunity, lawyers bring tremendous inventiveness to problem-solving,” said Jeremy Paul, dean of the School of Law. “We intend the NuLawLab to provide a forward-looking opportunity for our community—a collaborative space that stimulates innovative thinking about issues in legal education, law, and technology, as well as the future of legal practice.”