Lisa Colpoys Joins as the Justice Innovation Lead for Filing Fairness Project

The Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford Law School is proud to announce that Lisa Colpoys will be joining the Center as the Justice Innovation Lead for the Filing Fairness Project, a Center initiative focused on standardizing and simplifying court filings across multiple states. Colpoys brings extensive experience as a leader and innovator in public service and has spent her career working to create and deliver new ways for people to solve their legal problems. Colpoys most recently served as leader of Illinois Court Help, a program she launched for the Illinois Courts to help court users navigate complex court processes. Before joining the Illinois Courts, she served as a consultant to the Michigan Justice for All Project, Program Director at the Institute for the Future of Law Practice, and Executive Director of Illinois Legal Aid Online.

“We are thrilled to have Lisa join us to lead this dynamic and ambitious project,” said Professor David Freeman Engstrom, Co-Director of the Rhode Center and one of the leaders of the Filing Fairness Project, “She brings a truly extraordinary record of transformative impact on entrenched and complex systems. The Filing Fairness Project will benefit enormously from her leadership.”

“I am very excited to join the Rhode Center team and lead the Filing Fairness Project,” said Colpoys. “I look forward to utilizing all my prior experiences to help courts across the county standardize and simplify filing processes—and, in turn, improve filing accessibility and usability for litigants.”

About the Filing Fairness Project

The Filing Fairness Project is an ambitious, multi-jurisdictional effort to simplify court filing processes and improve access to and the administration of justice by leveraging readily available technology. Plain-language interview systems to gather information and generate complex forms already exist for tax filings, mortgage applications, and benefits administration. Court filings have lagged behind these applications because of institutional history, inertia, and fragmentation, which makes individual-jurisdiction solutions cost-prohibitive. This is a solvable problem.

By partnering with several state court systems, the Project aims to encourage the development of sustainable, multistate online solutions. These solutions will provide user-driven, accessible efiling options for litigants navigating the legal system and, by extension, help improve the accuracy and relevance of court filings and increase access to justice. To ensure that these solutions are sustainable, courts must see benefits in the form of cost reduction and efficiency, and technology providers must be willing to make the necessary investments, both now and over time. The initial focus is on name change petitions, fee waiver requests, and eviction answers—filing types where the challenges of self-representation are particularly pronounced.

The Filing Fairness Project is led by Mark Chandler, former Cisco Chief Legal Officer; Professor David Freeman Engstrom, LSVF Professor in Law and co-director of Stanford’s Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession (Rhode Center); Margaret Hagan, Director of the Stanford Legal Design Lab; and Todd Venook, a Lecturer in Law at Stanford Law School and Associate Director of the Rhode Center. It is supported by the Ford Foundation and the Mousetrap Foundation.

If you are a technology provider or court official interested in learning more about the Filing Fairness Project, we are eager to hear from you. Please reach out using this link.

About the Rhode Center

Through a multidisciplinary approach to teaching, research, and policy, the Rhode Center works to make civil justice more equitable, accessible, and transparent and to promote the legal profession’s commitment to the public interest. Since its founding at Stanford Law School in 2008 by Professor Deborah Rhode, the Center has become a leading voice in the scholarly and policy debates on the present and future challenges facing the profession, including particularly the crisis in access to justice, the role of technology in resolving it, and the need for increased diversity.  The Center is also a vivid example of the unique role law schools can play to connect theory with practice and translate scholarly research into real-world impact to benefit both the profession and the public.

A Note from Our Co-Directors

We write from CLP to update you on our year so far.

CLP’s academic year began with a two-day celebration of the remarkable life and legacy of Deborah Rhode. On October 15 and 16, 2021, a set of panel discussions covered a broad set of topics befitting Deborah’s wide-ranging influence and enormous impact, both academic and personal. As Paul Brest, former dean and professor emeritus here at SLS, said: “Deborah was a pioneer and leader in every field she touched—sex discrimination, professional responsibility, pro bono legal practice, women and leadership, and just plain leadership.” We are grateful for the opportunity to honor Deborah’s legacy and extraordinary life—and we are so thankful to those of you who joined us, participated remotely, or submitted remembrances from afar. We are also deeply appreciative of the Stanford Law Review’s publication of powerful reflections on Deborah’s lasting imprint at Stanford, in the legal profession writ large, and beyond.

Building on Deborah’s singular talent for conducting original research to understand problems at their root then devising and implementing solutions—which Nora, in her Stanford Law Review Essay, termed “the Rhode Treatment”—we have redoubled our efforts to keep pushing on the issues that matter.

Access to Justice Through Innovation. We continue to play a central role in ongoing attempts nationwide, and here in California, to promote innovation and access to justice through regulatory reform. David and CLP’s Lucy Ricca have been working as appointees to the State Bar of California’s Closing the Justice Gap Working Group, tasked with recommending a design for a regulatory “sandbox” that relaxes lawyer regulation in order to spur innovation in legal services. CLP is also contributing to vigorous debate via original research, writing, and press outreach. A few highlights of this work include an ongoing Policy Labthis op-ed from CLP’s Jason Solomon, this LA Times editorial, and comments submitted in support of the State Bar’s proposal to create the equivalent of nurse practitioners to work in areas like family law, housing, and debt. Meanwhile, Nora has co-signed an amicus brief in a recent challenge to New York’s unauthorized practice of law (UPL) restrictions, and she recently participated in a roundtable discussion at Northwestern discussing that potentially pathbreaking litigation.


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The Filing Fairness Project. Mark Chandler, who joined us last year after ending his remarkable run at Cisco, is co-leading still another project alongside David and Margaret Hagan, leader of the Legal Design Lab. In particular, Mark, David, and Margaret seek to design and launch an ambitious multi-state pilot effort (titled the Filing Fairness Project) to improve civil filing systems. The pilot is bringing together six states—representing roughly 1 in 6 Americans, from Alaska to Virginia—to pave the way for scalable technology that can assist self-represented litigants with acute civil justice needs. Currently, the majority of litigants are pro se—but the forms one must complete in order to vindicate one’s rights (to respond to an eviction notice, say) are bewildering, and they differ across jurisdictions. That difference, along with variable e-filing standards and other administrative burdens, prevents technology providers from offering help at any scale. The Filing Fairness Project will try to change that—with implications that are potentially enormous.


Illustration in black, red and white of a prisoner walking out of a prison cell.


Law and Lawyering into the Digital Future. The Filing Fairness Project is one way we are seeking to maximize technology’s positive impact on the legal system. We are also forging new knowledge on technology’s impact. David’s forthcoming first-of-its-kind book, Legal Tech and the Future of Civil Justice (Cambridge University Press), follows from last year’s conference of the same name and gathers expert voices from CLP and beyond on the future of law and legal practice.

Protecting Consumers and Clients. CLP has also shone much-needed light on important issues in legal ethics, including on witness recantation in criminal cases. Efforts to enhance client protection and participation will continue with a May convening regarding attorney-client relationships in multidistrict litigation—where leading scholars, practitioners, and judges will join us to discuss the present and future of aggregate litigation.


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A Stronger, More Diverse ProfessionOne aspect of strengthening the profession is ensuring that judges have the legitimacy they need in our democracy. We recently co-hosted a discussion on attacks on the judiciary, where Nora was a featured speaker. Nora also recently signed a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts urging the Supreme Court to adopt a Code of Conduct. Meanwhile, Orrick Chair Mitch Zuklie, Diversity Lab’s Caren Ulrich Stacy, and Fenwick Director of DEI Mira Dewji spoke to the class “Reforming the Profession,” co-taught by Jason Solomon and the Rock Center’s Mike Callahan, about the most promising levers and difficult challenges in increasing diversity among lawyers. We are currently considering our next project on how to best make an impact on diversifying the profession—a critical issue and major priority.


Black and white photo of Todd Venook


The Team. Todd Venook, a Yale Law School graduate and, most recently, a law clerk in the Middle District of Alabama, joined us last fall as our inaugural Civil Justice and Technology Fellow and has already made a significant contribution. We’re also looking to hire a Justice Innovation Lead to drive the Filing Fairness Project through its pilot stage. With our team more fully in place, we’re eager to broaden and deepen CLP’s imprint on critical issues facing the profession.

Many thanks to all of you who support our efforts, engage with our work, and challenge our thinking. We are grateful for your partnership, and we look forward to another successful year.

Nora Freeman Engstrom
Co-Director, Stanford Center on the Legal Profession and Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law

David Freeman Engstrom
Co-Director, Stanford Center on the Legal Profession and Professor of Law and LSVF Professor in Law

CLP + Legal Design Lab = Student opportunities in A2J + Design + Tech

On September 21, the Center on the Legal Profession and the Stanford Legal Design Lab co-hosted a gathering, titled CLP + Legal Design Lab = Student opportunities in A2J + Design + Tech (video here), to highlight the multiple hands-on student opportunities offered over the next twelve months.  The gathering, held in the law school’s Crocker Garden and within the University’s Covid protocols, was well attended by students within and beyond the law school and curious about projects focused on access to justice and leveraging design and technology.



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Professor Nora Freeman Engstrom, co-director of the Center on the Legal Profession, kicked off the event with a call to action on the access to justice crisis in the United States. The event, featured short speeches via Zoom by the Honorable Bridget McCormack, Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, and Ronald S. Flagg, the President of the Legal Service Corporation.  Both Chief Justice McCormack and Mr. Flagg spoke passionately about the American access to justice crisis and stressed that the magnitude of the crisis requires bold action aimed at truly systemic change.  Each noted, echoing a line often repeated by CLP’s Founder Deborah L. Rhode, that the American promise of equal justice under the law does not reflect the reality for most Americans facing legal problems and turning to the justice system for help.  As Chief Justice McCormack said, “I am here to tell you that disruption is what is needed right now in our legal system.”


CLP + Legal Design Lab = Student opportunities in A2J + Design + Tech


Chief Justice McCormack and Mr. Flagg framed the issue as one of systemic challenge rooted not only in easily-recognizable issues such as underfunding, bureaucracy, and poverty, but also in the institutional design of law, the practice of law, and the legal profession.  Chief Justice McCormack highlighted the challenges facing the approximately 80% of consumers who lack legal representation and are trying to access the legal system to resolve their justice needs and act upon their democratic rights, “It’s hard to imagine another public good that would prohibit you from accessing it if you couldn’t afford [someone to help you] access it.  [Imagine if we said] ‘You can’t use that highway unless you can afford a highway helper to show you how to get on the highway.’  We wouldn’t stand for that.”  Mr. Flagg agreed, noting:

Our judicial and administrative systems for enforcing those rights were largely built by lawyers, on the assumption that people using the systems will be represented by lawyers.  And in many categories of life altering cases that assumption is simply false.  In family law cases, in many jurisdictions across the country, less than 10% of the litigants are represented.  Even more unfairly, in eviction cases in many jurisdictions over 90% of tenants are unrepresented while over 90% of landlords are represented.

The speakers noted the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the challenges already endemic in the civil justice system, increasing to the point of impossibility physical access to the courts, increasing the difficulties for people trying to go it alone, and increasing the need for virtual and other technology-based solutions.

Despite this bleak picture, both Chief Justice McCormack and Ron Flagg exhorted the students to take the opportunity of their position at Stanford and, for the law students in attendance, of a legal education, to create the disruption so needed to launch impactful systemic change.  Chief Justice McCormack said, “If law schools are only building bespoke lawyers ascending to bespoke firms to serve the elite clients who can pay those bespoke lawyers they’re not going to be part of the solution.  The work of the [Stanford policy labs], in my view, is how we will make transformational change happen.  By your faculty and all of you engaging directly with stakeholders and bringing the university’s expertise and your excellent ideas and innovation to the table.”



After the rousing calls to action from Chief Justice McCormack and Mr. Flagg, Professor David Freeman Engstrom, Co-Director of CLP, introduced the policy lab leaders to provide more detail on the projects and answer students’ questions.  Mark Chandler JD ‘81 and until recently the Chief Legal Officer at Cisco, has joined CLP as a Fellow and is leading, along with Professor Engstrom and Margaret Hagan, the policy lab titled:  Unlocking Technology to Promote Access to Justice:  A Pilot to Reform Civil Justice Filing Systems.  The policy lab will serve as a launch for a longer-term project which seeks to develop standardized and simplified formats for use by self-represented litigants and legal services organizations in simple but high need civil justice areas (domestic violence, eviction, consumer debt).   The policy lab students will be doing the initial needs finding and strategy planning for the project, conducting stakeholder interviews, identifying high potential jurisdictions and civil justice areas, and preparing for a convening of stakeholders during winter quarter.

Chandler recalled getting interested in access to justice as a law student, inspired by “my mentor Deborah Rhode.”  As General Counsel of Cisco, he was a trailblazer in developing and using legal technology, but when he and his colleagues volunteered in legal aid offices, he found they were “in the dark ages of technology,” with lawyers filling out forms when they could be helping more clients. Invoking the example of a 40 year-old single mother with two kids seeking a protective order for domestic violence in California, he pointed out that even the government’s own website for self-represented litigants made the process seem complicated.  Chandler pointed to the need for more Turbo Tax-like solutions to help self-represented litigants, and recalled his discussion with Flagg about whether to leave Cisco and pursue this project. “I asked him ‘Is it impossible?’ and he said ‘Not impossible, just very hard.,’’ Chandler recounted.  And Chandler closed by quoting President John F. Kennedy’s famous challenge in the context of going to the moon—that we tackle challenges “not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”



Margaret Hagan, Director of the Stanford Legal Design Lab, presented the Lab’s autumn policy lab Justice By Design: Eviction.  The policy lab is a continuation of the ongoing eviction work Margaret and her team have led since 2018, work that has only become more pressing during the pandemic.  The class focuses on creating, evaluating, and scaling new interventions to prevent eviction & mitigate the harms they do to families, health, and communities.  This fall, the policy lab client is the NAACP.  Students will work on 2 particular issues that the NAACP is facing, as the organization works to prevent eviction with an innovative, community-driven pilot program in South Carolina:  (1) How can courts be more involved in mitigating the harms caused by eviction?; and (2) Can we train large groups of community members to do ‘legal first aid’: spotting legal issues and referring people to services?

The event concluded with refreshments and much discussion among presenters and attendees.