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ABA groups build rapid-response website for immigration order

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In February, the members of the ABA Law Practice Division’s Futures Initiative sat down to discuss an agenda they had planned for three months.

But they abandoned that agenda entirely after member Reid Trautz, the practice management adviser for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, mentioned that AILA has had trouble coordinating a flood of pro bono offers since the Trump administration’s executive order banning entry to citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days and halting the U.S. refugee program. AILA wanted to make a website for this purpose, he said, but he had been stymied by the process of creating it.

“The committee said collectively, ‘Man, we could help you with that,’ ” said Ed Walters, CEO of online legal research company Fastcase, a member of the initiative and a member of the advisory board for the ABA Center for Innovation. “We basically threw away the agenda for that meeting and said, ‘Let’s [do it] immediately.’ ”

Later, the Futures Initiative and the Center for Innovation created, a portal for attorneys and others responding to the executive order.

People interested in volunteering their legal or language expertise can sign up there to work on behalf of affected immigrants. Attorneys and members of the public can also find information on the travel ban and other immigration-related issues, such as habeas corpus and detention. The site also provides resources for attorneys working on those issues and more.

Because this conversation took place at the midyear meeting, much of the work was done from a hotel conference room, said Chad Burton, chair of the Futures Initiative, a member of the governing council of the Center for Innovation and CEO of CuroLegal. Walters says there was a design session formed with the idea of creating a “minimally viable product”—something that will work until AILA can flesh it out.

Burton and Walters both lead legal technology companies—and the team included people from Avvo and Lawyerist—but Walters stressed that no software developers were involved; the team was “a handful of lawyers.” And the cost of the website—including purchasing the domain, hosting and images—was less than the cost of lunch, he says.

The ABA Fund for Justice and Education is setting up a fund collecting financial donations for the legal response to the executive order.

The Futures Initiative team documented its work in a “Guide to Rapid Website Deployment,” which is on the Center for Innovation website in the how-to part of its resources section. The goal is to help organizations respond quickly to future emergencies.

Walters believed this kind of fast work is “the new ABA,” using technology to amplify and accelerate legal work.

“We documented the process so that the next time … someone will have spelled out the steps in a couple of hours,” Walters said. It’s a “very software-development way of thinking about how to solve the problem.”

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