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First Justice Innovation Challenge winner’s app helps immigrant domestic violence survivors


The Law School Admission Council awarded its inaugural Justice Innovation Challenge winner earlier this month. And the winner is a law student who developed an online tool to help increase access to justice for immigrant domestic violence survivors.

Pocket VAWA Self-Petitions, a project by Columbia Law School student Emilie Schwarz, received the honor, along with $15,000 and mentorship to help Schwarz refine the project and further develop the solution. Using the online tool, immigrant domestic violence survivors can access justice through legal information, checklists, and pre-screening for VAWA self-petitions and U visas.

“Winning this challenge validates that Pocket VAWA seeks to serve an important public interest,” Schwarz said. “It has been a dream of mine to create a legal technology tool for survivors of domestic violence, and I am incredibly grateful to the Justice Innovation Challenge for giving me the courage and support to develop Pocket VAWA.”

Second place and $10,000 went to My Legal Needs, a web-based app created by Anna L. Stone of Georgetown University Law Center that helps LGBT and non-binary people identify their medical and legal needs. Third place and a $5,000 prize went to Cyber Civil Rights Resource Guide, an accessible resource guide for victims of online abuse, by Talia Boiangin of the University of Miami School of Law.

The challenge, which was open to all law students, invited teams to propose innovative, technology-based solutions in collaboration with a nonprofit legal services organization to address the lack of universal access to justice in the United States. Schwarz’s entry was chosen from more than 50 individual submissions and more than a dozen team submissions from law students around the country.

Judges evaluated and provided feedback on all submissions before seven semifinalists advanced to a “Shark Tank”-style pitch event Aug. 21 in front of a panel of judges that included Kellye Y. Testy, president and CEO of LSAC; Judy Perry Martinez, president of the American Bar Association; James Sandman, president of the Legal Services Corporation; Kristen Sonday, co-founder and COO of Paladin, and Elizabeth Grossman, director of national partnerships and programs for Microsoft Cities Team – Civic Engagement.

“I want to applaud the tremendous effort each of these individuals and teams put forth in bringing their projects to life,” Testy said. “Each entry embraced the spirit of this challenge and offered novel, accessible solutions that address community legal needs — and, in turn, advance LSAC’s core mission of making justice accessible to all.”

Each of the three honorees will have a chance to present their projects to a national group of stakeholders on Oct. 1 at the Justice Innovation Challenge Winners Showcase event at the Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Information from a press release was used in this post.

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