Innovation for Justice Celebrates Five Years of Advancing Access to Justice
In honor of its fifth anniversary, i4J will be hosting a fun and interactive event on Feb. 10
Stacy Butler is not one to mince words. She cuts straight to the point when she describes the barriers to entry, power imbalances, and flawed processes that have made access to the civil legal system difficult for so many: 92% of low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help when faced with a civil justice issue such as domestic violence, debt collection or eviction. But unlike many who might end the conversation there, having become thoroughly overwhelmed by the systemic issues faced by millions of Americans, Butler jumps right into discussing detailed solutions that have been implemented through the Innovation for Justice (i4J) lab and what developments they have planned for next.
There is a sense of urgency in the way she speaks about the work, because there is an urgent need for action to help the justice system efficiently deliver problem-solving that is fair and accessible to all, irrespective of wealth and status. But now, on the heels of i4J’s five-year anniversary, the team has a moment to reflect on the work that has been done and what is to come.
The program was founded in 2018 at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law by Butler (‘02), with the goal of designing, building, and testing disruptive solutions to the justice gap impacting millions of Americans. Since that time, i4J has taken on dozens of projects, trained over 300 students and worked with over 1,000 community members and organizations. Over the past five years, i4J has grown from an initiative directed by a single professor of practice to a nationally recognized innovation lab with a staff of 6. The work of i4J has been featured in virtually every major news outlet in the U.S., including the New York Times, NPR, Forbes, CNN, CBS. Washington Post, MSN, Newsweek, and the Democracy Journal. The research has been widely shared and published, including by the American Bar Association, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System and the National Law Review. i4J has received multiple national awards and recognition, including from the Association of American Law Schools, the American Bar Association’s Legal Rebels, Bloomberg Law and the Arizona State Bar.
“I was inspired to create i4J because I believe in the power of community-engaged, project-based learning as an access to justice solution. Students who work on i4J projects love having the chance to get beyond textbooks, learn from the people in the community who have lived experience with civil justice problems, and design solutions in partnership with community,” said Butler.
Housed at both the University of Arizona Law and the University of Utah Eccles School of Business, i4J is the nation’s first and only cross-jurisdiction and cross-discipline legal innovation lab. The lab applies design- and systems-thinking to create new, replicable, and scalable strategies to empower underserved communities. Early projects included the first pilot in the U.S. to train and license non-lawyers to provide limited-scope legal advice in the non-profit setting (advising domestic violence survivors in family law cases) and the first usability evaluation of online dispute resolution platform in the U.S. During the COVID-19 pandemic, i4J built the Cost of Eviction Calculator, a free, online tool designed to help users estimate the community cost of some of the major downstream effects of eviction-related homelessness and promote systemic shifts toward eviction prevention.
More recently, i4J has advanced projects that train and license social service non-profits to provide legal advice to their clients regarding medical debt and housing instability and completed user-experience projects targeting justice sector technologies including online self-help materials for debt collection defendants and social security disability applications. In May of 2022, i4J released an innovative Medical Debt Policy Scorecard that ranks states based on their current medical debt policies. The online scorecard was developed as a resource for policymakers when addressing a mounting medical debt crisis.
“It's hard to choose a "most proud" moment, because i4J is such a team effort,” said Butler “I work with five incredible women who have produced an amazing volume of game-changing, action-driven research at the intersection of innovation and access to justice. We've trained over 300 students, all of whom have brought incredible energy and talent to their projects. None of the work would be possible without the community members and organizations who have contributed experiences, ideas, feedback, and knowledge. And we have an amazing cohort of donors across the country who have been early adopters of the work.”
i4J is now looking forward to the future with the goal of advancing its theory of change: improving access to justice through service, system and structure reform.
“I'm excited to see what we can accomplish as we transition out of the "start-up" mode we've been in these first five years,” says Butler. “We've really refined our methodologies, our tools, our learning strategies, and our community-based research operations. With more time to focus on putting all of that to work, I'm excited to see how much faster and further we can unlock change.”
In honor of its fifth anniversary, i4J will be hosting a fun and interactive event on Feb. 10 at University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. The College will be sharing an exciting announcement during the event. Join us to share the social justice issues you care about, engage with i4J’s human-centered design tools, meet our students, learn more about i4J’s work, and discover ways you can support i4J.
What: Innovation for Justice 5 Year Anniversary Changemaker Event
When: Friday, Feb. 10, 2023, 5 PM to 7 PM
Where: The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, 1201 E Speedway Blvd., Tucson, AZ 85721