Skip to main content

Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines (Spring 2022)

About the Instructor

Quinten Steenhuis,

Quinten Steenhuis is a member of the Legal Innovation and Technology Lab at Suffolk where he is the technical lead of the Court Forms Online project. Before joining Suffolk Law School, Quinten was a legal aid attorney, systems administrator, and software developer at Greater Boston Legal Services for 12 years.

Quinten is also the owner of Lemma Legal Consulting and builds apps using legal technology for law firms around the world, including MADE and UpToCode. He received his B.Sc. in Logic and Computation with an additional B.Sc. in Political Science from Carnegie Mellon University and J.D. (cum laude) from Cornell Law School.

In 2021, Quinten was named a "Legal Rebel" by the American Bar Association Journal.

Twitter Website

Meeting Time


Tuesday 02:00PM - 03:50PM, Sargent Hall, Room 245

We will also have several remote classes via Zoom.

Course overview

Becoming familiar with legal technology as a consumer, author, or project manager is a competitive advantage in today's legal market. Lawyers today use technology to:

  • Run the business side of the law firm, including
    • Tracking client information
    • Reaching new clients
  • Help make decisions
  • Reduce repetitive tasks through automation and templates
  • Deliver legal services directly to consumers

Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines is a survey-style seminar that aims to introduce you to the use of legal technology in the practice of law. We will focus closely on the access to justice problem and the needs of people who cannot afford to hire attorneys.

50% of your grade will be based on a final project that incorporates legal technology. Most students will create a simple "app" that solves a legal problem using the tools and processes of the Document Assembly Line. You may also choose a different technology to develop your final project. You do not need any prior coding background or experience to earn an "A" in this class.

About half of our in-class time will be spent on discussions and exercises that get you thinking about legal technology, and about half will be hands-on training with a representative sample of legal technology tools. We will spend special attention to the free and open source Docassemble application.

We will have frequent guest speakers and readings that address different aspects of legal technology and law.

Course materials

There are no required textbooks for this class. All readings will be available online for free.

Course Goals & Learning Objectives

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to know/understand:Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to:How the student will be assessed on these learning objectives:
Students will know what technologies are being used by lawyers and others to assist with distinctly legal work, and understand the possibilities and fit of different legal technologiesIdentify different kinds of legal technology, and compare the benefits and disadvantages of different tools for differerent scenariosIn-class discussion, presentations
What ethical and regulatory issues are presented by legal technologyDescribe the current regulatory landscape and challenges posed by ethical rules for additional legal technology, as well as the potential moral considerations in both additional automation and potentially failure to automate routine workIn-class discussion
Know how to break down a process analytically into component partsMap a process and identify inefficiencies and potential improvementsDemonstrated through project work
How to build a software application that does useful legal workIdentify a legal technology need, work with clients to create a project scope, develop software requirements and automate a single process from start to finishFinal project; interim assignments
How to model legal knowledge and reasoningBreak a legal rule or piece of legal knowledge into discrete, automatable components using diagrams and software toolsAssessments and in-class discussions
What career paths are available for technologically savvy lawyersDescribe the many roles of technology in the legal practice and how technical knowledge can assist in different job functionsIn-class discussion


Your final grade will be based on the following scores:

Legal tech assessment10% (opportunity for extra credit)
Weekly journal entries10% (pass/fail)
Plain language exercise5%
Peer review5%
"Free tool fiesta"10% (potential group project)
App "teardown"10%
Final project outline10%
Final project presentation5%
Final project35% (potential group project)

My goal is to give you a chance to demonstrate your mastery of the material in multiple ways over the course of the semester and to avoid a single high stakes assessment. You will have an opportunity for frequent feedback and advice on your final project.

Class works best when everyone is an active participant. However, research shows that using class participation as the basis for grading is often arbitrary and unfair. Therefore, class participation will not factor into your final grade.


The philosophy of this course is that by becoming familiar with legal technology and using it to solve real problems, you will be able to become a better critic, regulator, purchaser, and consumer of legal products as a practicing attorney. I do not expect you to become expert software developers. You should learn "just enough" to be useful in your future work.

I will do my best to provide you opportunities for growth in this class, and I expect you to come into the class with a "growth mindset".

The process of computer programming often involves repeatedly running into errors. Errors are an opportunity to learn. In addition, creating a successful product requires iteration. The first draft is often the first chance to do real discovery about what works and what does not work.

As new coders, you will need to ask a lot of questions. I will never "hide the ball" or refuse to answer direct questions. Questions are part of the learning process, especially for new coders. Failing to ask questions may frustrate and slow you down.

Rule of thumb

If you are stuck on a problem for more than 30 minutes, ask for help! Use Teams, ask a friend, or send me an email. Chances are there will be a more interesting problem to solve after we get past your "blocker".

Software development is a highly results-oriented domain. It is not just okay, but expected to use libraries, prewritten code, and samples to reduce reinvention of basic components of your product. I expect each student to produce unique work, but not to waste time rewriting code that already works to achieve a goal.

Being successful in this class means:

  • Asking for help and feedback early. You will not be graded negatively if you don't understand everything right away. It's expected to need to ask many questions early on.
  • Accepting that you will run into errors and perhaps dead ends
  • Your first draft will look very different from your final product
  • It is not just okay, but an important part of the process to collaborate, share early drafts, and gather feedback.

Software development is a creative endeavor that can be truly exhilarating. There is the struggle of creation and then the excitement and joy of producing something that can live on in the world. Most of all, it should be fun.

Learn more about growth mindset



If you anticipate issues related to the format or requirements of this course due to the impact of a disability, it is important that you contact the Law School's Dean of Student Office for further information and assistance, including information on disability-related accommodations. We can then plan how best to coordinate any accommodations.

Attendance Policy

Observe Suffolk Law School's general attendance policy. All work can be turned in electronically through Teams. In the event that the University cancels classes, such as for severe weather, you are expected to continue with assignments as originally scheduled unless otherwise communicated through email.

Course Schedule

The schedule, policies, procedures, and assignments are subject to change in the event of extenuating circumstances, by mutual agreement, or to ensure better student learning. This course is a work in progress, and I'm always looking for ways to improve. Therefore, mid-course corrections should be anticipated! This online version will be the most "up to date," so if you print this, just be aware that the "official" version will be the digital version available at this web page.

Class Schedule and Assignments

You will all receive a login to the Procertas Legal Tech Assessment. This is a self-paced learning module that should take between 5-15 hours for most students to complete. It will teach you advanced Word, Excel, and PowerPoint skills. You can start this at any time.

Learning objectives

In this module you will learn about the access to justice gap and the advantages and disadvantages of the dominant method of delivering legal services in our country. By the end you should have a brief overview of the problems and possible solutions to delivering legal services in an affordable and accessible manner to the majority of the country.

Class 1: January 25 Intro to the access to justice problem

Class 2: February 1 Docassemble Hello, World; Guest Jared Jaskot


Module 2: Speaking the right language: breaking down the law into a language that your clients and a computer can understand

Learning objectives

In this module, you will learn to translate a legal problem into a form that can be understood by an average person as well as a computer. By the end of this module you should be able to create a flowchart representing a legal problem and translate it into a QnAMarkup chatbot.

Class 3: February 8 QnAMarkup; Guest David Colarusso

Due: Hello, World stretch goals (ungraded)
Due: set up a meeting with Professor Steenhuis

Class 4: February 15 Plain language, Guest Caroline Robinson

Due: Legal Tech Assessment
Learning objectives

In this module, we will take a closer look at document automation and legal process automation more broadly.

Class 5: February 22 Law firm process automation

Due: Plain language exercise

Class 6: March 1 Using the Assembly Line Weaver


Module 4: "Lean" in to Project Management

Learning objectives

In this module, we will learn the basics of project management as a technique to manage work.

Class 7: March 8 Kanban, Trello, and GitHub

Due: Final project outline

Module 5: Not every problem is a nail: choosing the right tool for the job

Learning objectives

In this module, we will learn about choosing the right tool for the right job and how to evaluate legal products.

March 15 (No class)

Class 8: March 22 Product evaluation framework and canvas; Guest Grace Barlow-Enchil

Class 9: March 29 Free Tool Fiesta

Due: Free Tool Fiesta product evaluation
Learning objectives

In this module, we will learn about user-centered and legal design. We will also consider the ethical implications and limits of traditional user-centered design.

Class 10: April 5: Guest Nicole Bradick

Due: App "teardown"
Due: set up a meeting with Professor Steenhuis

Class 11: April 12 Advanced Docassemble skills

Learning objectives

In this module, we will reflect on the ethical considerations that are raised by legal technology.

Class 12: April 19 Ethics exercise; Guest Colin Levy


Class 13: April 26 Final project presentations

Final project

Your final project should likely be a relatively simple, self-contained legal app that either does:

  • document assembly
  • or triage and advice.

An excellent project will have 10-20 screens and complete a 1-2 page form. I expect you to spend about 40 hours on your final project, including research, testing, and planning.

Many students will choose to work on a simple court form, application, or intake tool that can use the LIT Lab's Document Assembly Line project, framework that we will spend time with in class. This framework will give you a lot of autonomy to find something related to a legal problem that is of special interest to you. If you prefer to use a different tool, please feel free to come to me with an idea for an app that does not fall within the parameters above.

May 6 Final project due at 5 PM

Grading rubric

The initial project outline is due separately (in week 7) and will be 10% of your final grade.

Your final presentation will be worth 5% of your final grade.

CategorySummaryDue datePercent of final project grade
ResearchDocument the work done to understand the form's purpose and meaningGraded at end15%
CompletenessHow well does the project solve the problem?Graded at end27%
Polish and refinementHow refined is the user experience, including use of language, input types, and question order?Graded at end27%
Iteration and use of feedbackHow well did the student solicit and incorporate feedbackGraded at end16%
Final project descriptionHow well did the student document the process of development?Graded at end10%
Preparing for handoffHow well did the student document the next steps to continue refining the project?Graded at end5%


Use your research skills to identify the relevant statutes, rules, and context that your user would need to navigate your app.

Document the location and sources that supports your work.

Initial outline

A legal app is an intervention at a single point in a client's journey. To be effective, it should address the client's needs before selecting the app, during the time they use it, and after they walk away.

Your intial outline should answer all of the questions below, either written out in order or in a narrative form, if you prefer. Most students will have an outline that is 3-4 pages, including draft questions.

In some cases you will not yet have enough information to answer each question fully. Identify sources that you can use to fill in the missing details. Do your best to be complete.

Before beginning, review your final project's output document. Put yourself in the position of an attorney sitting across the table from your client and filling in the form or providing advice.

  1. Who is your client? What goal do they have?
  2. At what stage of their legal problem are you intervening?
  3. What information do you need to complete the form or provide advice? Write a list.
  4. What would your client need to know before they meet with you? What documents might they bring? What might they need to look up in a third-party source?
  5. What questions would you want to ask? Try writing a draft of the questions.
  6. What information and context would your client need? Write down an outline of the information your user would need.

Next, think about what your client will need to know when they walk away from your app. In your outline, start a draft of instructions that you might give someone when they download and print or e-file your form.

If you are not sure yet, identify sources that you can use to fill in the missing details. Do your best to be complete.

  1. What steps does your client need to take after they meet with you?
  2. What real-world actions might happen in response to your advice or filing the form?
  3. When and how will the client receive a result from the form or advice?

Final presentation

You will be asked to present your work to the class during our last class session. This does not need to be a completed project. You will still have 2 weeks to finish your work. Your final presentation should be about 5 minutes, and include:

  1. A description of the problem you were trying to solve.
  2. A walkthrough of your ideation and research phases.
  3. A demonstration of your proposed solution. (screenshots or diagrams are OK)
  4. A discussion of your project's impact, and if applicable, testing.

You are welcome but not required to incorporate slides and a live demo. It's okay if you only demo a few screens. Errors are to be expected but your final product that you turn in should run through to the end.

Completeness, polish and refinement

Focus on:

  1. Logically ordered and constructed questions.
  2. Use of appropriate inputs (e.g., area fields, radio buttons), at least noting where you wanted to use a different input but were stuck.
  3. Grouping fields together logically and making thoughtful choices about the length of screens.
  4. Use of clear, readable language.
  5. Provision of helpful information and context to your user.
  6. Creation of an appropriate set of "next steps" instructions for your user to take with them after they finish using your app.

Most of these steps can be documented in a Word document or in a series of wireframe mock-ups even if you run into issues with code. Focus on the substance, not the code, and ask for help when you are stuck.

Iteration and incorporation of feedback

  1. Send a prototype of your app, or app outline, to an expert early to get advice and feedback. (If an expert is available).
  2. Send out your app for feedback from members representing your potential clients. These can be friends, family, or peers.

Most forms should have experts available, either inside the university or the Court Forms Online volunteer project. If there is no expert for your form, it may not be the right form for you.

You should document all feedback but not all feedback will be actionable. Be thoughtful about what feedback you decide to implement and which you decide against. You may also have feedback that is a good idea but is too advanced to reach in the context of this class. Write that down, too.

Documenting feedback is not all you should do: use the feedback to revise, improve, and extend your app's capabilities. You may choose to document this process with screenshots along the way, or with the GitHub commit log.

A model app will have at least 3-4 revisions and feedback from 3-4 individuals, although not each revision will get its own round of feedback.

Final project description

Your final project description is my best way to know how you did with each of the separate graded components above.

Describe your work process, the form itself, and reflect on how well you achieved each of the gradeable components of the project.

A model project description will be at least 2 pages, but may extend longer especially if it includes excerpts from user feedback or next steps.

Preparing for handoff

Code-based projects, however, can always be extended, improved, and refined. If you chose a form on the Court Forms Online Assembly Line, your form may be picked up by a student in the next months or years. Even if you did not, part of your grade includes:

  1. Identifying work that you did not complete but that would meaningfully improve the form.
  2. Identifying feedack from an expert that you ran out of time to implement or that was outside of the scope.

If possible, your next-step action items should be recorded as issues in GitHub. If you are not using GitHub for your project, you can include the action items in a more detailed way in your final project description.

Course-specific websites

Software tools used in this class

We may make use of some of the following free websites and software applications:

Required software will not need to be installed on your computer. You can use a Windows, Macintosh or Linux computer for all course assignments.

Independent reading

If you would like to stay up to date with the legal tech world, I recommend: