Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic
Leaders of the bar, judges, and the most prestigious public-interest organizations in New York City turn to students in the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic for help with pressing challenges.
While many law schools now offer law-and-technology courses, Columbia University has pioneered the study of how technology affects the practice of law. Students in the clinic learn contemporary law practice through hands-on experience using the digital technologies that are reshaping the profession.
In the classroom, students learn and practice basic skills, such as interviewing and counseling, with an emphasis on using digital technology to help make these very human encounters satisfying and productive. In addition, students employ technology as they draft pleadings, plan case strategy, and advocate in a variety of settings. Beyond learning how to implement technology in these traditional activities, students acquire the new skills that are transforming law practice—knowledge management, electronic fact-gathering, and presentation.
Clinic students work shoulder-to-shoulder, both in person and in an online environment, with lawyers for a wide range of public-interest organizations and members of the judiciary. These projects include:
- Handling eviction cases
- Advocating with administrative agencies to restore essential government benefits
- Representing victims of domestic violence
- Organizing the pro bono efforts of the private bar in the wake of 9/11
- Working with grassroots community groups to press for affordable housing
Recently, clinic students, working in collaboration with the New York City Civil Court, began to develop an online, automated tenants' response to eviction proceedings. This could serve the needs of the hundreds of thousands of tenants who face eviction each year without the hope of obtaining a lawyer. Students also benefit as they emerge with a combination of contemporary legal and technical skills, giving them a considerable professional edge as they enter the practice of law.
"I knew when I signed up for the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic that I would be entering new territory in terms of expectations for responsibility and creativity. It was a great experience, and I feel ready for anything now. It is very satisfying to work directly for clients and at the same time to be having an impact on the way law is practiced."
– Brian Agboh '03
Examples of Clinic Work
Using Technology in Public Interest Law
Students Build Website Showcasing Hearing Process to Recover Seized Vehicle
Case Example: Collateral Consequences Calculator
Clinic students tackled a complicated issue on collateral consequences of criminal charges. The consequences are not spelled out in the Penal Code, in contrast to the direct consequences such as prison or fines. For example, an undocumented person arrested on a misdemeanor charge might face an extreme consequence, like deportation.
Lawyers, often expert in a narrow area of law, simply cannot know the myriad collateral consequences of all possible charges.
To address this challenge, students in the Lawyering In The Digital Age Clinic created a calculator that pools and organizes this specialized knowledge. The web-based tool enables lawyers to counsel clients, and judges to sentence defendants, with full knowledge of potential collateral consequences. The calculator, known as the 4C’s project, currently reveals the consequences for cases involving immigration and tenancy in New York City public housing.
Future modules will track family, employment, and government benefits consequences.
In Action: Students' Work in the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic
Ryan Toteja '07 worked with 23 tenants who had begun a rent strike against a landlord who refused to make necessary repairs to their rent-stabilized apartments at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation in Washington Heights.
Read about their work and the Lawyering In The Digital Age Clinic In Action.
Professor Conrad Johnson
Conrad Johnson joined the Columbia faculty in 1989 after two years as an assistant professor at the City University of New York School of Law and many years as the Attorney-in-Charge of the Harlem neighborhood office of The Legal Aid Society.
To read Johnson’s full biography and to find his contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.
Professor Mary Marsh Zulack
Mary Marsh Zulack joined the Columbia faculty in 1990. She co-directed the Fair Housing Clinic and inaugurated and taught the seminar on Law and Policy of Homelessness.
To read Zulack’s full biography and to find her contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.
Lecturer in Law Brian Donnelly
Brian Donnelly, Lecturer in Law, co-taught the Seminar in Advanced Legal Research from 1996 to 1999. He helped to found the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic.
To read Donnelly’s full biography and to find his contact information, visit the Faculty Contacts page.