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Lawyering in the Age of Smart Machines (Spring 2023)

Illustration of Judge in front of stack of files and computer (created by Stable Diffusion AI)
Credit: Image created using the stable diffusion AI

About Professor Steenhuis

Quinten Steenhuis,

Pronounced: STAIN-house

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. His work has been cited by the White House.

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Meeting Time


Tuesday 02:00PM - 03:50PM, Sargent Hall, Room 325

We may have 1 or more classes via Zoom, but our default will be hands-on in-person instruction.

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 different 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


There is no forced curve in this class. Grading is wholistic, focused on your growth and ability to apply the skills we learn in class.

Graded assignments

Your final grade will be based on the following work:

Legal tech assessment10% (opportunity for extra credit)
Weekly journal entries10% (pass/fail)
Plain language exercise10%
"Free tool fiesta"10% (group project)
App "teardown"10%
Final project outline10% (pass/fail)
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 participation not graded

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


Assignment due date flexibility

I have arranged a schedule of assignments that paces the work over the full semester. But I understand that it may not account for work in your other courses or life responsibilities.

If the deadline for any assignment does not work for you for any reason, I am embracing a flexible deadline approach to this course. Work may be turned in on an alternate schedule without any grade penalty. To use this flexibility:

  1. Propose a new deadline for the assignment. I will let you know if the new deadline works. (Up to 1 week will normally be automatic).
  2. Understand that it may take me longer (at times substantially longer) to review work that is not turned in on the regular schedule, which may delay your grade and feedback on the assignment.


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 10-15 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 24 Intro to the access to justice problem

In-class topics:

  • Class overview, policies
  • Growth mindset
  • What is access to justice?
  • Case study: MADE

Module 2: Introduction to computer-aided decision systems

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 2: January 31 Introduction to programming with QnAMarkup, guest David Colarusso


In-class topics:

  • Applying QnAMarkup to DACA
  • Short QnAMarkup example exercises
  • Practice time with QnAMarkup

Class 3: February 7 Overview of document automation, Guest Dorna Moini of Documate

Our guest will join for the second hour of class.

In-class topics:

  • What is document automation?
  • What is document automation good for?
  • What is the difference between:
    • A triage tool
    • A basic "fill in the blank" form tool
    • An expert system
  • Legal product case studies:
    • Hello, Divorce
    • Scholar Shield
  • Discussion: what topics can be automated? What would you need to make an automation useful?

Module 3: Speaking the right language

Learning objectives

Tools that help consumers and self-represented litigants must be easy to understand and use. But writing with plain language in mind is not easy. By the end of this module, you should be able to recognize common problems with writing that make it difficult to read and be able to make simple changes to writing to improve it.

Class 4: February 14 Fall in love with plain language, guest Maria Mindlin of Transcend


Set up a meeting with Professor Steenhuis to discuss your final project ideas

In class topics:

  • Learn about plain language basics with Maria Mindlin (hour 1)
  • Go through examples and exercises in second half of class
Learning objectives

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

Class 5: February 21 Docassemble Hello, World exercise


In-class topics:

  • Docassemble Hello, World
  • Basics of logic

Class 6: February 28 Using the Assembly Line Weaver

Due: Plain language exercise

In-class topics:

  • Starting with a form

Module 5: "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 7 Process automation and project management, guest Jared Jaskot

Due: Final project outline

In-class topics:

Second half of class: guest Jared Jaskot

Module 6: 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 14 (No class, Spring Recess)

In-class topics:

  • Discussion of different methods of evaluation
  • What are some products that a small firm might need?
    • Zero in on one kind of product. What features would you consider important?
  • Use the framework to evaluate a product you are familiar with (e.g., Microsoft Teams or Blackboard)

Second half of class, independent work time with your final project

Class 9: March 28 Free Tool Fiesta

Due: Free Tool Fiesta product evaluation

In-class time is devoted to your 5 minute presentations of a legal technology tool that might be adopted by a small firm.

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.

Due: set up a meeting with Professor Steenhuis

In-class topics:

  • Design is everywhere:
    • Visual design
    • Process design
    • Usability and user experience
  • What is legal design?
  • Just remember "CRAP":
    • Contrast
    • Repetition
    • Alignment
    • Proximity

Second half of class: guest Nicole Bradick

Class 11: April 11 "Finishing" our work, getting feedback, advanced Docassemble skills

Due: App "teardown"

In-class topics:

  • When is our work "done"?
  • Expert review vs usability testing
  • Demo of usability test
  • Perform a simulated usability test of a classmate's form

In-class work time on your final project

Learning objectives

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

In-class topics:

  • What is the line between legal information and advice?
  • What is "unauthorized practice of law"
  • Are legal apps performing "law" or "literature"?
  • What happens if only lawyers can help people with law?

Second half of class: guest Colin Levy will join us

Class 13: April 25 Final project presentations

Due: presentation outline or slides

In-class topics:

  • Class is reserved for your 5 minute presentations and feedback from peers.

Final project

What tools can I use?

This semester, we will spend several hours in class working with the open source tool Docassemble and the LIT Lab's Document Assembly Line project, framework. Many students will choose to use this for their final project. You will have the most support with this tool.

If you choose a Docassemble form that is appropriate to be hosted on, there is a chance that it will eventually be published (usually at least a semester later). You may also choose a Docassemble project that is suggested by a state that the LIT Lab works with, including:

  • Alaska
  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Texas
  • Vermont

You may find a form on the Form Explorer index page. Note: there is no requirement to automate a "unique" form but many high-interest Massachusetts forms have already been automated, which may reduce the chance of your work being published.

You may also use:

  • QnAMarkup
  • Documate
  • Microsoft Forms + Power Automate
  • Or any other form building or chatbot tool, even if we didn't discuss it in class (with preapproval)

What to build

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

  • document assembly,
  • intake,
  • or triage and advice.

Students are often inspired by a legal process they have been part of or that came up in a law firm they worked for. Past projects have included:

  • divorce
    • intake
    • triage between 1A and 1B
    • pretrial memo
    • simple divorce automation
  • restraining orders
    • triage between 209A and 258E
  • housing
    • eviction answer
    • motion to stay execution
  • estate planning
  • intake for a personal injury firm

How complete should it be?

Think of this as similar to a model bridge that an architecture student might build in class. Your project should be considered a useful prototype, not at the same level as a commercial tool. Specifically, it should:

  • Run through to the end
  • Make good use of plain language, a logical question order and organization
  • Be enough to convince a decision maker to invest in making a final, refined version of your tool

An excellent document assembly or intake project will:

  • have 10-20 screens and
  • complete a 1-2 page form

An excellent triage project will:

  • have 20-30 screens and
  • provide structured legal information about 3-5 possible scenarios

Expect to spend between 30-50 hours on your final project, including research, testing, and planning.

What if I can't code?

You will not be expected to know how to code before you join the class. I will teach you the skills that you need.

A large portion of your grade will be based the "soft" skills--selection of the right focus, breaking a rule into logical components, plain language, and question order and structure.

When (not if) you run into a bug or software challenge, just ask for help! That is part of the learning process, and asking for help is not just OK but expected to succeed in the class.

You may also select a tool based on the level of coding required. Choosing a tool that requires less coding knowledge will not harm your grade. But be sure that you understand the tradeoffs and fit the project to the tool.

May 5 Final project due at 5 PM

Grading rubric

Your final project grade will total 50% of your final grade, but two components are due early:

  • An outline (which should include draft questions and draft "next steps" instructions), 10% of your grade
  • A final presentation (your project will not be complete before you present - think of it as an elevator pitch), 5% of your grade.

The remaining 35% will be graded as follows:

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%

Getting started with your project

Identify a topic, a potential client, and a goal

In the process of selecting a project, consider:

  • Who your client likely is
  • What goal they would have
  • How your project can and cannot address their goal
  • What work they would need to do independently of your project to complete their goal, both before and after using your app


Use your legal research skills to identify the relevant statutes, rules, and context that your user would need to achieve their goal.

Now, put your proposed app in the context of the wider goal. Document the information that you can include in the app to help the user, and the information that you need to provide both before and after they use your app.

Document the location and sources that supports your work.

Draft an output document

Start with the output first. Identify the questions that you need to ask your user to complete the output of your app.

If you have chosen one or more forms, the output already exists. If you are creating an intake questionnaire, you may want to start by creating a simple Microsoft Word document with the information.

Write draft questions

Your questions should not be limited to the literal fields on an existing form. They will include:

  • Screening questions that decide if the tool is appropriate for the user
  • Questions that fill in the blank spaces on the form
  • Intermediate questions that help the user answer blank spaces
  • Questions that guide the user to correct "next steps"

Build a first prototype

If you are working with Docassemble, you can use the Weaver to build a prototype that can be refined.

You may also find that QnAMarkup makes a good rapid prototyping tool. can also help you diagram your work.


Your initial prototype will be the first chance for you to run the project through from start to finish. You will likely realize a lot of things that you want to change.

If you are developing a form in Docassemble, follow the editing guidelines to make some of the most common changes.

Gather feedback and refine again

Now that you have built a rough version of your tool, get it in the hands of real users. You should consider two kinds of users:

  • Subject matter experts, and
  • Users that are relatively close to the profile of your real user.

Ideally, set up a time to walk through the app together with both kinds of users. You can run through the app over Zoom. Get feedback from at least 3 to 5 users.

Follow the guidance on running a usability test to get the most out of the feedback sessions.

Create a wishlist of improvements

Getting feedback can be like drinking from a firehose. Some of it will be easy to act on. Some will contradict feedback from other users. Some will be plain wrong.

Do your best to sort through the feedback and come up with a prioritized list of future changes. Implement the top priority ones, and be ready to save the rest for a future person to pick up some day! You won't be able to implement all of the ideas within the time you have to complete this project.

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: