ABA Annual Spotlight Program – Call for proposals

The ABA Center for Innovation is accepting proposals for its Spotlight event at the ABA Annual Meeting in New York City on August 12, 2017. The Center will select 10 speakers, who will each deliver a crisp, high-level, 8-minute TED-style talk to an elite audience about a legal innovation. Applicants may submit any legal innovation, including those that are civil or criminal, technological or process-driven, individual or systemic, implemented or in the planning stages.

Please submit by May 15, 2017 a short (500 words or less) description of your legal innovation to Descriptions should include the following:

  • Your name and your organization’s name
  • The problem your innovation seeks to address
  • How your innovation addresses the problem
  • What your innovation’s impact will be
  • Obstacles you’ve overcome

Optional: You may include a link to your website or a short (maximum 90 seconds) video about your legal innovation.

The ABA Center for Innovation will evaluate proposals using the following criteria:

  • The problem’s severity and complexity
  • The solution’s effectiveness and efficiency
  • Creativity
  • Replicability
  • Speaker diversity

Innovations can relate to any part of the legal industry, including but not limited to corporate legal departments, legal services organizations, legal education, bar associations, law firms, and courts.

In the Spotlight: Redesigning Chicago Bond Court

After a person is arrested, bond court is their first stop in the judicial system. Here a judge will decide—in as little as 37 seconds—whether the person will commit a new crime or fail to return to court if granted bail. Even if they are granted freedom, the amount of cash bond required may mean that they stay in jail, sometimes for months.
Nearly three-fourths of the inmates in Cook County Jail are pretrial detainees accused of nonviolent crimes who either were not granted bond or could not afford it. While detained, they are liable to lose jobs, become expelled from school, and otherwise miss out on life-all while being presumed innocent. It’s a problem for taxpayers, too. It costs $143/day to house a detainee, with a total cost of over $385 million per year just for Cook County.

Reformers are working on solving these issues through design thinking and technology.

Working pro bono, Cannon Design looked at the physical layout of a Cook County courtroom and found many ways to improve it. The courtroom was originally designed for jury trials and the jury box was being used to hold defendants awaiting hearings. The judge’s bench was placed at an angle that made it hard for family and friends in the audience to hear what was happening. The only pathway was in the center of the courtroom which frequently interrupted proceedings.

The new design places the judge’s bench at the center of the room and allows him or her to face the defendant. This also allows the audience to better understand what it happening. Defendants no longer wait their turn in the presence of the judge. The traffic flow has been altered so that it no longer disturbs the proceedings. Finally, the design firm made large infographic signs that explain what is happening in the court.

Technological tools are also changing the processes of the court. Originally the defendant met with pretrial attorneys who assessed the defendant based on their residence, employment, drug use, and arrest history. Depending on the answers, the attorney would create a recommendation as to bail. It has been shown that these factors unfairly penalize poor and minority individuals.
The Public Safety Assessment (PSA), funded through a grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, has replaced that process. The PSA is a computerized scoring system that was developed after studying data from over 1.5 million case records. It has been shown to be both race and gender neutral. It doesn’t replace the role of the judge, but provides another decision making tool. Since its implementation, the number of defendants released on their own recognizance has increased.

Cisco Supports Tech Effort to Help Hate Crime Victims

From Mark Chandler, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Cisco and member of the Center for Innovation’s Governing Council:

Recently I had the chance to see how smart technology, applied to vexing social problems, can help provide solutions and build a better world. Working with the American Bar Association’s Center for Innovation (ABA), we’re deeply engaged in an effort to create a better path for those who believe they’ve been victimized by a hate crime to find out whether a crime has been committed, what rights they have, and where to get help.

One of the reasons that after 20 years at Cisco I’m still excited to jump out of bed and start work every day is because we have a community and culture that is inclusive and protects and defends those who elsewhere in society may be marginalized or victimized. We’ve always emphasized the importance of celebrating difference and zero tolerance toward those who would undermine that culture. Those aspirations, while largely fulfilled in my company, are often more challenging in the society at large. Some subcultures even encourage words and actions that are designed to intimidate and spread fear, so that others are denied to chance to live in peace and freedom in our society.

For historical reasons, our legal community has built up a set of rules and practices that make it too hard for ordinary folks to vindicate their legal rights. Organizations as diverse as the FBI and UC Berkeley have done a great job at providing online information resources to help hate crimes victims learn what to do. The information tends to be specialized, however,or not directly actionable.

The ABA has seen that victims are frequently discouraged from taking action because of the multiple steps required. People are used to using clean, highly designed apps in their daily lives and the Center for Innovation’s working group sought to develop a clearly organized and user-friendly website application to determine if a hate crime had been committed, what resources are available and what next steps a victim could take with law enforcement and within the judicial system.

The ABA’s “design sprint” convened lawyers, scholars, designers, and coders for a daylong working session at Suffolk University in Boston, whose Dean, Andrew Perlman, leads the ABA Center for Innovation. The challenge was to develop a website application that gives those who think they have been victims of hate crimes the information and resources they need.

Cisco was a sponsor of the event and I was proud be there and witness first-hand the incredible challenges we can tackle by working together. At Cisco we’ve always believed in the power of the networking technology we invent and build to break down barriers to information. We strive to deploy that technology to empower the disempowered to build bridges.

We applaud the foresight of the ABA for establishing its Center for Innovation and tackling tough issues like this one.

ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow

The ABA Center for Innovation and Microsoft are excited to announce a unique new fellowship opportunity for recent law school graduates. The inaugural ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow will gain invaluable experience while positively impacting the delivery of legal services to those most in need of assistance.

ABA Center for Innovation

The ABA Center for Innovation encourages and accelerates innovations that improve the accessibility, effectiveness, and efficiency of legal services in the United States. Through its Fellows Program, the Center works with established and emerging leaders to develop cutting-edge legal tech and process innovations.

ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow

Among other exciting projects related to innovation in legal services, in 2016, Microsoft announced a partnership with the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) and Pro Bono Net to create statewide online justice portals. The project’s aim is to direct low-income persons to appropriate legal aid resources in each state. It seeks to transform a system that is too often opaque, confusing, and inefficient into a single, simple, statewide access point for legal aid resources.

In residence at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, the ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow will spend most of his or her time helping to advance the LSC portal project, while also contributing to a variety of other technology initiatives. The Fellow will join an exclusive cohort of ABA NextGen and Innovation Fellows, most of whom will be in residence at ABA Headquarters in Chicago Illinois. The ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow may therefore travel on occasion to meet with ABA members, staff, and Fellows at ABA Headquarters.


The Center is seeking a recent (within the last 5 years) law school graduate to spend one year in residence (August 1, 2017 – July 31, 2018) at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington. This Fellow will receive a $45,000 salary and benefits. Bar admission is not necessary.

Candidates should have the following qualifications:

  • Commitment to improving access to justice
  • Working knowledge of technology design and web development
  • Experience working in a collaborative environment
  • Curiosity about the evolution of legal services


Applicants should submit the following:

  • A short statement (500 to 750 words) demonstrating their interest in and qualifications for the ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow
  • A resume, including links (if available) to a website or professional social media profile
  • A short (approximately two minute) video or multimedia presentation, highlighting the candidate’s qualifications

Please submit your application to by April 15, 2017.

Selection Process

Applications will be reviewed by ABA members and staff, as well as by Microsoft staff. Finalists will be contacted in early April to schedule an interview.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I work during my fellowship?
The Fellows Program is a full-time commitment. Fellows should not pursue outside work.

Can I work remotely?
No. The ABA Center for Innovation-Microsoft NextGen Fellow will be hosted at Microsoft headquarters in Redmond, Washington, with occasional visits to ABA Headquarters in Chicago, Illinois.

What will the ABA provide during the fellowship?
All fellows will have access to many of the nation’s top legal innovators, educators, technologists, and designers. Additionally, they will receive a comprehensive Boot Camp training. Fellows will receive a $45,000 salary, plus benefits.

Do I have to be a programmer?
You do not have to be a programmer. However, you should have an understanding of legal tech solutions.

Do I have to be a lawyer or law graduate?
NextGen Fellows must be recent (within five years) law school graduates

ABA Center for Innovation Investment Grows

ABA President Linda Klein today announced the great fundraising success of the new ABA Center for Innovation. To date, $576,000 has been raised to support the work of the Center and its programs.

Commitments include:

1. Northwestern Pritzker School of Law has agreed to sponsor a Next Gen Fellow ($75,000) at the ABA Center for Innovation to support the work of a recent Northwestern graduate who seeks to pursue a legal innovation.

2. The State of North Carolina, in partnership with the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts and the North Carolina Bar Association, has agreed to sponsor an Innovation Fellow ($40,000) at the ABA Center for Innovation to help North Carolina develop its own Center for Innovation in accordance with the recommendations of the North Carolina Commission on the Administration of Law and Justice. The NCCALJ was created in September of 2015 by Chief Justice Mark Martin.

3. The Section of Criminal Justice has committed to fund $100K this year and $100,000 in each of the two following years for a total of $300,000 to support the ABA Center for Innovation, in accordance with the Center’s business plan, and will have a Fellow in each of the three years of sponsorship.

4. American University Washington School of Law has committed to sponsor a Next Gen Fellow ($75,000) at the Center for Innovation to support the work of a Washington College of Law graduate who wants to pursue a legal services innovation.

5. Suffolk University Law School will sponsor a NextGen Fellow ($75,000) to support the work of a graduate who wants to pursue a legal services innovation.

In the Spotlight: ABA Free Legal Answers

Buck Lewis sat in a hearing in a small East Tennessee town. As Tennessee Bar President, he’d heard the same testimony time and again: Low-income families had to travel long distances to find a lawyer, and working families couldn’t make legal aid office hours. As he emailed his clients back in Memphis between testimony, it dawned on him: Why can’t we advise low-income clients this way?

Buck envisioned a virtual pro bono clinic. The model was simple yet elegant: Qualifying clients post civil legal questions to a website. Volunteer attorneys select questions and provide legal advice. Client and counsel alike can log in anytime, anywhere.

Working with the Tennessee Bar Association and the Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services, and using software developed by his firm, Baker Donelson, Buck launched Online Tennessee Justice (OTJ) in 2009. Today, volunteer attorneys have answered over 13,000 legal questions through OTJ.

Why can’t we advise low income clients this way?

Seeing potential for expansion, Buck turned to the ABA Pro Bono and Public Service Committee. Soon after, ABA Free Legal Answers was born.

ABA Free Legal Answers aims to take Buck’s model nationwide. Already available in 20 states, ABA Free Legal Answers will reach more than 40 states by the end of 2017. In each state, the ABA partners with bar associations, legal aid agencies, or access to justice commissions, which recruit clients and volunteer attorneys. Since its launch several months ago, the site has served nearly 2,000 clients.

ABA Free Legal Answers combines three of our favorite things: collaboration, technology, and access to justice. We’re excited to see this project expand. If you have questions about the project or would like to volunteer, go to ABA Free Legal Answers or email You can contact Buck directly at

Center for Innovation at ABA Midyear

The Center will be presenting a program at the ABA 2017 Midyear Meeting in Miami, FL. It will provide an overview of the legal landscape and the need for innovation, along with a quick tutorial on how to successfully develop and use apps to assist with the delivery of legal services.

Program Description: There are tectonic shifts occurring in the practice of law. Technology and globalization are impacting all sectors of the profession. Understanding these trends and harnessing them for your practice is essential to being successful in the 21st century.

This workshop will enhance your ability to thrive in this new arena. From providing you with a snapshot of changing market forces, to helping you develop practical uses for technology, this program will provide hands-on tools and information on how you can be more entrepreneurial in this new world.

Attendees also will receive a tutorial on the many ways to increase access to legal services through the use of online apps, as well as a demonstration of the new ABA Blueprint project that provides a suite of services for solo and small firms.

Ramon A. Abadin, Sedgwick LLP, Miami, FL
Chad E. Burton, CuroLegal, Dayton, OH
Jordan Furlong, Law21, Ottawa, ON
Judy Perry Martinez, New Orleans, LA
Margaret Hagan, Stanford University Law School, Stanford, CA

Legal Innovations 101  February 5, 2017, 1:00-3:00pm Hyatt Regency Miami, 3rd Floor, Miami Lecture Hall

Program flyer with speaker bios.(PDF)

2017 Call for Fellows Now Open!

The ABA Center for Innovation is proud to announce its inaugural Call for Fellows.

There are two types of fellowships available with the ABA Center for Innovation:

NextGen Fellows Recent – within the last 5 years – law school graduates will spend one year in-residence at the ABA headquarters in Chicago, IL. These fellows will receive a stipend of $45,000, along with benefits, during their time in the program. The first cohort of fellows will begin August 1, 2017 and complete their work by July 31, 2018. Bar admission is not necessary.

Innovation Fellows Interested individuals are invited to take a 9-12 week sabbatical from their workplace and spend that time at the ABA headquarters in Chicago working on projects that will improve the legal sector and practice of law. There is no stipend for this fellowship, but the ABA will work with other legal and judicial organizations (e.g. courts, corporations, law schools and bar associations) to develop sponsorships to assist you. There are few limitations on areas of focus for these fellows; if it touches our justice system, it is ripe for intervention and innovation. The first Innovation Fellows will start in April 2017 and will attend on a rolling basis, determined by the length of their participation.

The application has two required parts:

  • Provide a 500-750 word project statement that outlines the problem you propose to address, what work you’ve done on this problem, what resources you think you would need to develop your project and what outcomes you hope to achieve.  Be sure to indicate which type of fellowship you are applying for.
  • Send a resume and include, if available, a link to your website or professional social media profile.

Optional: Send us a short, 2-3 minute video or multi-media presentation, highlighting what you think we need to know about you and the uniqueness you will bring to the Fellows Program. Be creative!

Please send applications to: