TUCSON, Ariz. — The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law will join forces with Brigham Young University's LawX Legal Design Lab students for the new Innovation for Justice program to explore solutions to reduce evictions in Arizona, Utah and beyond.
This new project will kick-start Innovation for Justice (I4J) at the UA and build upon the initial success of BYU's LawX, which launched in the fall of 2017. Both programs exemplify the schools' shared commitment to addressing pressing legal service issues with innovative products and solutions.
The UA class will be led by Stacy Butler, director of the UA's Innovation for Justice program. Kimball D. Parker, LawX director and president of Parsons Behle Lab, will lead the LawX initiative. Both classes focus on improving access to justice with the use of design thinking, systems thinking, technology and interdisciplinary collaboration.
"Programs like Innovation for Justice and LawX offer important learning experiences for our undergraduate and graduate students. They represent a movement in legal education to adapt and to be more interdisciplinary in how we approach the world," said Marc Miller, dean of the UA James E. Rogers College of Law. "Students get to take a deep dive into a specific project to produce a community deliverable. They engage with the community and in doing so, begin to understand how their learning can be applied outside of the classroom."
Pima County averaged 22.01 evictions per day in 2016, according to Eviction Lab. Less than 20 percent of tenants served with an eviction notice come to court. Viable legal defenses often go unheard.
"Given the sheer volume of evictions in America, we believe this is the right issue for LawX to tackle in its second year, and we welcome collaboration with the University of Arizona Law School," said Gordon Smith, Dean of BYU Law School. "This past year, our LawX students uncovered some sobering statistics on hurdles in the legal system that make it extremely difficult for a non-lawyer to respond to lawsuits, particularly in the areas of debt collection, evictions and divorce. With this legal design lab in a classroom, we are committed to identifying the best possible solutions to help close the gap for people who feel overwhelmed by the legal system. We embrace collaboration with law schools, legal professionals, court officials and service providers to help close the legal services gap one project at a time."
To tackle the overwhelming eviction problem, 12 Innovation for Justice students and six LawX students will utilize a design thinking approach throughout the fall semester to understand why tenants disengage with the civil legal system, identify innovative approaches to educating and engaging tenants, and develop strategies for delivering possible solutions into the hands of those who need help most.
The classes will check in with fellow law students via video conference and will utilize collaboration tools such as Google Docs and Slack to share research insights between classrooms. Depending on findings between both campuses, the collaboration could result in a combined project that can be applied beyond Arizona and Utah borders, or it could result in separate projects that address regional barriers to eviction reduction.
"An eviction can be life-changing to an individual or family, and it can result in homelessness; our research determined that evictions have one of the highest rates of default among those who can't afford an attorney," said Parker. "I am excited to work with Stacy on this project and believe her extensive experience with expanding the reach of civil legal services to those in need will be incredibly valuable."
This collaboration follows last year's inaugural LawX program, which resulted in the creation of SoloSuit, an award-winning software program that helps debtors who cannot afford a lawyer respond to debt collection lawsuits.
"The goals of the Innovation for Justice program are to expose students to the fact that not everyone is able to use the civil legal system as it's designed, and to empower students to close that gap," Butler said. "LawX's focus on reaching people who are not engaging with the civil legal system is critical to making the system work the way it should. I am excited to collaborate with BYU Law and to look across jurisdictions at the problem of eviction and where there's potential for meaningful change. Kimball's experience as a lawyer and legal tech entrepreneur makes him a terrific asset to this collaboration, and having a diverse set of students working together is ideal for teaching legal innovation."
Butler has two decades of experience in community advocacy and expanding the reach of civil legal services for underserved populations. In 2017, she launched Step Up to Justice, a pro bono civil legal center that delivers free legal services to low-income families in Pima County. Parker is a lawyer at Parsons Behle and Latimer and the president of Parsons Behle Lab, the law firm’s innovation subsidiary.