Arizona’s i4J Legal Program Collaborates to Empower Injustice Victims

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i4J students explore solutions in a design-thinking exercise. Courtesy of Innovation for Justice at University of Arizona Law.

How can innovation and technology promote justice?  That’s a question on the minds of students in the University of Arizona College of Law’s Innovation for Justice (i4J) program, where students research problems affecting disadvantaged communities and collaborate to develop creative solutions.

“The i4J Program offers community-engaged, project-based learning opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students from multiple disciplines,” says Director Stacy Butler.  “Each year we focus on a particular social justice issue that intersects with the legal system, and apply a design and systems thinking framework to exploring that issue with the goal of generating useful community deliverables.”

Last year i4J tackled tenant rights.  Rising housing costs are causing more evictions in Arizona, but many tenants facing eviction never defend themselves.  i4J students conducted research and interviews to understand why tenants often disengage with the legal system.  i4J collaborated with BYU and the law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati to identify innovative approaches to educate tenants, and to develop strategies to deliver solutions.  The collaboration resulted in the creation of Hello Landlord, a free web application to help tenants communicate with landlords to exercise their rights.

This year i4J turned to confront the problem of human trafficking, which is a federal crime including the sex trading of minors and abuse victims, and subjecting people to involuntary servitude.  There are millions of human trafficking victims across the world and thousands of cases in the U.S. each year.  Arizona is among the states with the highest number of reported incidences, while an unknown number of these crimes are never reported.

Once again, i4J joined together to work as part of a powerful inter-disciplinary collaboration, this time including the University of San Diego’s Center for Public Interest Law and Children’s Advocacy Institute, Duke’s Law By Design initiative at the Duke Center on Law & Technology, and Harvard Law School’s Systemic Justice Project.  These universities are partnering with Free to Thrive, a San Diego-based nonprofit providing support to human trafficking survivors to understand the problem and develop legal solutions.

While the ultimate outcomes of this collaboration remain to be discovered, we can hope an innovative solution will be developed to protect the rights of human trafficking victims.  Given the project’s participants, we can probably expect technology to be part of the solution.

i4J shows how law schools transcend simply teaching the law to program new lawyers.  By teaching innovation and collaboration, i4J is developing creative lawyers and solutions to empower communities.

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