IIT Chicago-Kent student Hanna Kaufman addresses White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice

Hanna Kaufman, a third-year Honors Scholar at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, addressed the White House Forum on Increasing Access to Justice on April 14 in Washington, D.C.

The forum, which was co-sponsored by the White House and the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), was attended by senior officials of the Obama administration, federal agency representatives, members of the federal and state judiciary, policymakers, lawmakers, LSC board members and LSC-grantee legal aid organizations. Kaufman was the only law student invited to address the forum.

In her presentation, "Law Students + Technology = Closing the Justice Gap," Kaufman discussed ways in which law students are moving beyond traditional curriculum paradigms, learning "lawyering skills of the future," and how those skills can help the next generation of lawyers and legal organizations provide access to justice for underserved groups and individuals. [Watch a video of Hanna's presentation on YouTube.]

Kaufman described her experiences as a second-year student in Professor Ronald W. Staudt's Justice & Technology Practicum, a hybrid course of clinical and classroom methods that help students frame a problem and understand how access to justice issues affect self-represented litigants. There, Kaufman learned how to use technology—specifically A2J Author® software—to help self-represented litigants generate the forms they need to navigate the legal system.

"Through a series of different activities," Kaufman told those assembled, "students use technology to help maximize the capabilities of [legal aid] organizations to serve their clients."

For her class project, Kaufman, a former secondary English teacher, worked with the California court system's Center for Families, Children and the Courts to automate the process of changing child support payments. Buoyed by the success of that project, Kaufman joined with three IIT Chicago-Kent students the following year to create a similar program in Kansas to help individuals fill out legal forms and advocate for themselves in family law matters.

Kaufman also discussed how the IIT Chicago-Kent program, which began in 2010, has had an impact beyond the state of Illinois, now involving more than 100 students in seven law schools that have partnered with legal organizations in 17 states.

Following her remarks, Professor Staudt, who also attended the conference, said, "Hanna was just great today. She was poised and engaging and delivered a compelling message. A dozen luminaries sought me out to praise her speech. Many subsequent speakers made reference to her themes and her skill."

On the night before her presentation at the forum, Kaufman attended a reception at the U.S. Supreme Court co-hosted by the Legal Services Corporation and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom she met briefly.

For her part, Kaufman said, "I was thrilled to be surrounded by what felt like ‘my people'—legal professionals who are deeply passionate about and committed to increasing access to justice, particularly for poor and underserved populations. I was happy that the forum managed to capture the tension between our need to figure out innovative ways to maximize legal aid organizations' existing resources and Congress' responsibility to return funding for civil legal aid to at least pre-Reagan levels so that the resources we are working with aren't so inadequate in the first place."

"I was also particularly inspired by the panel of judicial leaders and excited to hear of their many initiatives to reach greater numbers of unrepresented litigants," she added.

Kaufman is a May 2015 candidate for a J.D. with a certificate in public interest law and a passion for immigration law. She serves as a certified mediator through the Center for Conflict Resolution in Chicago, and she has mediated small claims, landlord-tenant, and custody/visitation disputes among unrepresented litigants in court. Kaufman actively volunteers as a guardian ad litem with the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights, where she provides comfort and a voice for children who have been separated from their families and now face removal proceedings alone.

Kaufman completed her undergraduate education in sociology at Brown University and earned a M.Ed. in secondary English education from Lesley University.

Founded in 1888, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law is the law school of Illinois Institute of Technology, also known as Illinois Tech, a private, technology-focused, research university offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, science, architecture, business, design, human sciences, applied technology, and law. IIT Chicago-Kent is dedicated to supporting students, alumni and those in the legal community pursuing the public interest through its Certificate in Public Interest Law, initiatives, events, curriculum, student organizations and faculty.

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