Northeastern University School of Law’s NuLawLab is an innovation laboratory that exists to imagine, design, test, and implement pioneering approaches to providing legal information, legal services, and legal education. Led by a full-time executive director, full time program developer/content curator, and a part-time project coordinator, the NuLawLab seeks outcomes that advance the democratization of law by:
• partnering with individuals and communities to identify unmet legal needs and design responsive solutions;
• cultivating knowledge and experiences from multiple disciplines and social perspectives to shed new insight on barriers to legal empowerment; and
• transforming legal education to create new means of connecting people to law, legal information, and legal services.
What makes NuLawLab different from other legal innovation initiatives is our focus on joining the power of community-designed solutions with the insight derived from multi-disciplinary collaboration. We believe a community-based approach can make legal services, institutions and programs more responsive to human needs and, therefore, more successful by engaging the community “end user” as an active participant in surmounting legal, social and educational challenges. We are proud that the NuLawLab is the only law school laboratory to receive a mention in the American Bar Association’s new video promoting access-to-justice innovations.
An example of our initial project work with community demonstrates our approach. With the anticipated passage of Massachusetts’ Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, the NuLawLab recently provided three upper level law students with the opportunity to work alongside the Brazilian Immigrant Center and the MIT Center for Civic Media, in a project led by Studio REV-, to develop a creative legal information hotline. Outcomes became a key component of REV’s Project Nanny Van, a public art project featuring a roving resource connecting workers and employers to pathways promoting fair labor practices. For the NuLawLab, this was an opportunity to partner with socially-engaged media artists to enliven and expand legal outreach and services to those in need by applying media design principles to our exploration of legal information delivery. Our work with this community has now been scaled out into Connecticut, where we are deploying our expertise in storytelling and new media to give domestic workers a voice in the legislative process, as well as a visible platform from which to build public momentum towards passage of the Connecticut Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.
To enhance our community efforts, we continue to grow a robust network of internal and external cross-disciplinary collaboration partners. Internally at Northeastern University, the lab is partnering with Professor of Sociology Liza Weinstein to study the impact of access to legal information and services on housing security in India, and is joining the University’s Game Design program to create an interactive gaming tutorial that will give self-represented individuals training and experience in basic courtroom advocacy skills. Externally, we are joining efforts underway by faculty from Roger Williams University School of Law and the law firm DeLuca & Weizenbaum to develop and launch an innovative, holistic non-profit public interest law center dedicated to expanding the availability of affordable legal services to underserved communities in Rhode Island.
Design Thinking and Other Tools
The NuLawLab applies a variety of structured creative processes, including “design thinking” — a term coined by David Kelley, founder of California-based design firm IDEO and Stanford’s d.school — to describe a process that brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. It allows those who are not trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges. In short, it aims to make institutions and programs more responsive to human needs and, therefore, more successful. The NuLawLab is employing these creative processes to explore issues as essential as curriculum reform and its assessment, professional development, organizational and economic structuring, community interaction and access, and communication among constituencies. The NuLawLab encourages individuals and institutions to participate flexibly, collaborate broadly, experiment thoughtfully, innovate boldly, think creatively and, ultimately, transform legal education and practice.