This post shares highlights from a presentation by Senior Lecturer Dr Genevieve Wilkinson, Associate Professor Maxine Evers, and Law student Wendy Lam. It was initially delivered at the UTS Learning and Teaching Forum, 2022.
The UTS Law Faculty’s Brennan Justice and Leadership program is a popular co-curricular opportunity for law students to further their understanding and commitment to social justice. Like many university initiatives since 2020, some Brennan program activities have shifted to online and hybrid modes, exploring formats and approaches which have sparked innovative thinking and outcomes.
The Law Tech Challenge was one of these initiatives. We share highlights from this ‘blended’ approach and the benefits it brought to both students and client partners along the way.
The Law Tech Challenge: designing apps for non-profit organisations
The highly competitive Allens Neota Law Tech Challenge (LTC) brings Brennan Program students together to work in teams to design apps for not-for-profit clients in partnership with software company, Neota Logic & law firm, Allens. The program runs from December to August, culminating in a public competition for the best app.
Having taken place every year since 2017, the Challenge had to be cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19. The following year, the Faculty determined that the Challenge would return. Using our experiences from 2020, we applied new skills and perspectives to re-design the program using a blended approach that kept our human clients at the heart, keeping the focus on innovation for our community partners.
In 2021, the Challenge was largely moved online, including activities such as the launch, collaborative work within teams and with Neota trainers and Allens mentors, engagement with non-profit clients and the grand final where teams presented their apps and social media campaigns to promote their clients’ work and the apps.
Apps in action: ThreadConnect
ThreadConnect is an app that pairs refugees, immigrants, long-term unemployed Australians and school leavers with mentors in Australia. It was created in 2022 for Opportunities Australia by UTS students Salvador Arce, Jason Claughton, Fauzia Hussein, Wendy Lam, and Zoe Said. The app took on the problem of tedious, overwhelming and time-consuming processes in determining eligibility for mentoring programs. The solution? An app that structures the data provided in a way that can generate insights and ease operational burden. Key features included a friendly and personable user experience and a preliminary scoring mechanism to determine potential matches.
The solution interviews prospective mentors and mentees and assigns each a personality score, which OA will use when making matches between mentors and mentees. You can see the team’s presentation of their solution in the video below from the Law Tech Challenge:
In our L&T Forum presentation, Law student Wendy Lam shared a few of her learnings as Project Manager of this initiative, noting that the process was a valuable way of connecting with social justice issues, developing technical and non-technical skills, understanding ways in which technology and innovation can be used to support goals, and working collaboratively with the Challenge team.
Social media and social justice success
The ‘blended’ approach to the Law Tech Challenge in 2021 was an outstanding success, with 254 attendees watching the live stream of the grand final. Our non-profit clients also shared excellent feedback, reporting that they are able to focus on their mission and core business as a result of the efficiencies created using the apps.
As part of the Challenge, teams also compete for the best social media exposure of their app development journey. Students were empowered with additional social media training to communicate the story of their app’s development and explain how technology supports their organisation’s social justice work, as well as explain their personal achievements more effectively on industry-facing platforms including LinkedIn.
Students reported that they developed valuable skills as a result of completing the LTC: coding, communication and teamwork, resilience, project management, problem-solving, research, time management, and use of software to understand data and trends.
A hybrid future for the LTC
Applying the lessons of the 2021 LTC, the 2022 program was designed and delivered in hybrid mode. This was again effective, with team members collaborating online with each other, their mentors and clients. Face-to-face opportunities, including the launch and an in-person workshop at Allens, complemented the online components. The grand final was held in hybrid mode with over 400 online views in addition to in-person attendees. This hybrid model will form the structure of the 2023 LTC.
For any queries as to this student engagement initiative, staff can email firstname.lastname@example.org
Feature image (by Daniel Snell) shows entrants in the 2022 Allens Neota UTS Law Tech Challenge.