From idea to app in two days – the lawyers and tech companies aiding Trump travel ban immigrants

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8 February 2017


Trump: lawyers respond to ban

A group of volunteer lawyers and software developers worked over last weekend to create a new app to help travellers impacted by President Trump’s ‘immigration ban’, in what has been described as a “fantastic example of rapid prototyping and iterative design (RPID)”.

Airport Lawyer connects travellers who possess valid US visas and green cards from the seven previously banned countries, with teams of volunteer lawyers.

Using Airport Lawyer, a community member can input information about herself, or a friend or family member travelling to the US. That information is then shared securely with local teams of volunteer lawyers, who can be available at the airport to monitor the arrival.

“The volunteer lawyers are at the airport to help affected communities deal with the difficulties created by the executive order,” said volunteer lawyer Takao Yamada. “They work with concerned families to get updates and connect them with resources to help them navigate the process.”

Project lead Greg McLawsen said the situation could change immediately if the ban was reinstated, “but either way, volunteer lawyers will be monitoring the situation to ensure travellers are treated fairly”.

Airport Lawyer was conceived following a conversation between Greg McLawsen, founder of law firm Sound Immigration, Joshua Lenon, the lawyer in residence at practice management software company Clio, and Ryan McClead, vice-president of client engagement and strategy at artificial intelligence software platform Neota Logic.

Each had been researching ways to contribute to the volunteer efforts of lawyers protecting international travellers. For example, Clio has already been donating access to its suite of legal software to volunteer lawyers for free.

“Clio received several requests for a secure intake form to organise points of contact with each group of volunteers at airports,” said Mr Lenon. “I knew Neota Logic was the right legal technology to help. Ryan and his team jumped at the chance to build this missing communication tool between travellers and lawyers waiting to aid them.”

In a blog, Mr McClead explained that RPID was a concept found in design thinking. “Essentially you build a limited example of what you’re imagining and share it with stakeholders, and then take their feedback and expand or adjust your prototype.

“Then you do it again. And again. And again. Do this enough times and you end up with something that usually looks or acts nothing like any stakeholders originally imagined, but that meets all stakeholders’ needs in a much better way.”

He said that in law firms, RPID “is usually seen as crazy talk”. Mr McClead explained: “Firms are loathe to deliver anything that isn’t ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ and sometimes there are very good reasons for that.

“’Imperfect’ or ‘incomplete’ legal work may lead to ‘malpractice’. But that’s no reason to ignore the benefits of the Rapid Prototyping approach. RPID is how you ultimately get to something approaching ‘perfect’ and ‘complete’ with software development.”

The project began last Friday with the created of a Slack channel devoted to this project (Slack is an app that enables team to collaborate). By Saturday afternoon, the first prototype was ready, and a day later they were on their third prototype and had created a website. On Monday, the website and Neota Logic application went live servicing one airport.

To date, airports in the US and Canada are being covered, “with more coming in hourly”.

Mr McClead said the tool was evolving quickly, with new functionality being added every day. “This is RPID in practice. The applications I built are simply gathering and distributing data. There is no legal advice being given.

“But with a concerted effort and a passionate team, we went from idea to product that is actually making a difference in a few short days. With committed people, the right technology, and most importantly, the right approach (RPID), you can accomplish incredible things very quickly.”

He said the next step for Airport Lawyer was to build a tool to help volunteer lawyers who were not familiar with immigration law to triage the needs of incoming immigrants.



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