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Matthew Stubenberg

Researcher uses tech to increase access to justice

BALTIMORE — Legal technology was not a career path when Matthew Stubenberg graduated from law school in 2013, but his interest in computers and coding — combined with a growing recognition that computers could help increase access to justice — have landed him in the burgeoning industry.

“I got amazingly lucky that I just happened to graduate and get interested in just the right time,” Stubenberg said.

Now a researcher at the Access to Justice (A2J) Lab at Harvard Law School, Stubenberg said he fell in love with legal technology and realized he could have a bigger impact through coding than he could by representing clients.

“What attracted me was there’s a lot of really low-hanging fruit in the access to justice space and the impact you could have was really dramatic,” Stubenberg said. ”I think tech is definitely helping and it’s probably the only way to really make a big dent in the access to justice problem.”

Stubenberg, who graduated from the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law in 2013, landed his first job in the legal technology field with Maryland Legal Aid as an attorney in the information technology office. He then served as IT director for the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.

While he was with the volunteer service, Stubenberg created a tool that “scrapes” Maryland Judiciary Case Search for data to help individuals learn if they have criminal files eligible for expungement. The data are also used by academics and other researchers who are looking for trends. Other such tools were implemented in the volunteer service’s case management system to look for ways to help clients.

“The main goal was never to add work,” Stubenberg said of the applications and programs that he created for MVLS.

At Harvard, Stubenberg works with legal aid organizations, legal service providers, courthouses and bar associations that are looking to partner with a researcher to develop their programs.

Learning that things can be automated by a computer changes things for people, Stubenberg said, but he added that law firms are still “leery of new tech solutions” and remain “way behind” in that area. Stubenberg, a proponent of increasing legal technology instruction at law schools, was formerly the chairman of the technology committee of the Young Lawyers Section of the Maryland State Bar Association and taught legal coding at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Stubenberg’s work was hailed by University of Baltimore School of Law professor Colin Starger, director of the school’s Legal Data & Design clinic.

“Matthew is a visionary and a true pioneer in legal technology. Attorneys of today and tomorrow should pay attention to him and his work,” said Starger, who added that Stubenberg recently spoke to clinic students and, last semester, co-taught a Coding for Lawyers class at UB.

Stubenberg emphasized that, while attorneys don’t need to become software developers, they should have an idea of what software and programs can do.

He also offered a tip to new attorneys: “If you’re going into a law firm and everybody else is just a star associate … it’s going to be really hard to compete with that. But what could give you the edge is if you can better use technology.”

This article appeared originally in The Maryland Daily Record, a sister publication of Minnesota Lawyer.

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